I’m in my early 40s, which means I was a teenager in the early 1990s. For someone my age at that time, anything important that happened in pop culture happened on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” It was a big deal.
One of the most memorable moments during the hip late-night talk show’s five-year run came in June of 1992, when presidential candidate Bill Clinton threw on a pair of shades and played sax with Hall’s band. It sounds a bit goofy today, but Hall’s soaring TV ratings helped introduce Clinton to a younger audience that helped put him in office.
Hall, also an actor and comedian who returns to Las Vegas to perform for the first time in years this weekend, told me about how he had another encounter with Clinton that was just as memorable.
“He was going to a soccer game and he gave me a call — well, you know, you go through a few people and then he finally gets on the phone — and asked if I wanted to go,” says Hall. “I went with him, and at one point during the game he turns to me and says, ‘Don’t you ever think I forgot that you’re partially responsible for me being president. I will never forget.’ It was the coolest thing.”
Hall gave late-night TV another shot on CBS four years ago but only lasted one season. “When I left late night it was me and Johnny [Carson] and Dave [Letterman], and when I came back there were nine white guys named Jimmy,” he jokes. “But it’s all timing. Maybe because I’m a comic I blame everything on timing, but that’s the word.”
Now he’s a self-proclaimed empty-nester, with a son away at college, which has prompted a return to the stand-up comedy arena. Hall is a unique famous comic because he’s not really famous as a comic. “I want to do the things I never did as a young man because I never got to hit the clubs and theaters and perform for people who come just to see you,” he says. “I stayed in L.A. because I wanted to be a TV star. This is a whole different game and I’m loving it. I keep telling my agent: Don’t forget, I was not famous the last time I did this. I played at Caesars opening for Patti LaBelle, and under her name in tiny little letters it said ‘Arsenio Hall,’ and I think people thought that was the name of the place she was playing.”
He’s planning to get around as much as possible, hopefully including return trips to Las Vegas. “I used to think in Las Vegas, it always seemed like the people [in the audience] closest to you were given tickets and they weren’t really fans, so I thought it wasn’t the greatest place for stand-up,” he says. “But I came to watch somebody work recently and now I think that’s not necessarily true. People come to Vegas because they need a break for some reason, and I want to be that break.”
Arsenio Hall performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Orleans Showroom (4500 W. Tropicana Ave., 702-365-7111), and more information can be found at orleanscasino.com.