Arsenio Hall returns to late night talk show ‘wars’

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He’s baaack! Arsenio Hall, who made a groundbreaking leap into TV talk in 1989, is returning to the late-night chatfest scene with the new, nationally-syndicated “Arsenio Hall Show,” debuting at 10 p.m. Monday (WGN-Channel 9).

Since his old program was canceled back in 1994, Hall largely slipped out of the popular consciousness — until his recent triumph, becoming the winning contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

During a recent Chicago visit,  I sat down with Hall over breakfast at a Michigan Avenue hotel — where he expounded on the crowded late night talk show scene, how he’s changed and what he thinks he can bring to the TV game today.

Q: Since you left late night in ’94, a lot has changed. How will you adjust to that?

A: You have to, no question. First of all, reality TV has had a huge impact on the whole scene, including who you might want to get as guests. Also, when I left there were no cellphones. Google was usually a mispronunciation by somebody with a speech impediment or something. And Twitter! When I went off the air everybody was trying to be pretentious — and they were big Hollywood stars.

Now, you wake up in the morning and you say hello to your followers! It is no longer at a distance, waving at a parade once a year. Social media has totally changed the relationship between entertainers and fans.

But I will try to find a balance between my old show and doing new things. At the end of the day, I’m a standup [comic] and the great thing is it is so much easier to do what I do, because now the boundaries are stretched a lot more than they were in the early ‘90s.

Q: You were the first African-American to host a national late-night talk show. Today that isn’t a big deal. How do you see it?

A: Absolutely true. I remember when Tupac [Shakur] said to me, and I quote, ‘You ninja — if you don’t put me on [TV], ain’t nobody gonna put me on.’ And, he didn’t say ‘ninja.’

So, happily, today, you turn on Letterman and he’s got rappers on. Or Leno’s got Kobe [Bryant] or a Black comic doing standup — and it all feels natural. That’s good.

Q: You’ve talked about how the world has changed — how have you changed over the past two decades?

A: I’ve’ changed a lot. I hope I’m a little smarter. I think the best possible thing in the world is for a man to have a child. I have a 13-year-old and nothing can take some of that selfishness — like you get so much of in Hollywood — and put it in check, than to have a son.

Q: Will you get political at all?

A: I’m a Republicrat when it comes to comedy. I’m going to do everything from Obama’s ears to going for the Tea Party’s base.

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