Arsenio Hall on Hosting His Talk Show During the L.A. Riots: ‘I Was Twitter’

Arsenio Hall Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation

Believe it or not, before there was Clubhouse, people used to actually get in a room together to talk things out — no masks required. Arsenio Hall reflected on holding one of these events, which at this point feel as distant to us as Plato’s symposium, in a new Esquire profile. The Coming to America star hosted The Arsenio Hall Show from 1989 to 1993, during which he introduced America to new talent like Mariah Carey and established himself as not just a comic legend but a cultural icon. On April 30, night two of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which occurred after a trial jury acquitted the four officers who used excessive force against Rodney King during an arrest, the network was ready to air a rerun. But Hall wanted to bring the conversation to the forefront. “I’m the guy that needs to do a show,” he told Esquire. So he called Reverend Cecil Murray of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church and gathered South Central community members, including the Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, Sinbad, and Sean Penn. They discussed the trial, particularly the racial demographics of the jury, complained about the LAPD, and, most important, listened to each other. At one point, actor Edward James Olmos encouraged viewers to help him clean up South Central. “It created these news photos of Black people and white people sharing water and sweeping,” Hall recalled. “I loved being able to be that guy. When I look back, I realize I was Twitter.”

Legend status aside, Hall has no plans to bring his talk show back. “There’s plenty for me to do, but it isn’t that,” he resolved. Right now, he’s promoting Coming 2 America, which sees Hall and Eddie Murphy return as several hilarious characters. “The immediate response on Twitter was, I hope they don’t fuck it up,” he said, confident that they did justice to the original. The sequel follows Murphy’s Prince Akeem as he searches for a long-lost son to add to his brood of daughters. KiKi Layne stars as his ambitious eldest, Meeka, who aspires to be queen, and Jermaine Fowler stars as his son, Lavelle, who’s had it tough as a Black man in modern America. “What we say the loudest in this movie is about the old school versus the new school, and I love it,” Hall said. “Things must change.” Coming 2 America is out on Amazon Prime Video on March 5.

Arsenio on Hosting Show During the LA Riots: ‘I Was Twitter’