Arsenio Hall is about to have lunch with Eddie Murphy, but first, he wants to talk stand-up comedy. This is fitting, considering Hall began his career as a stand-up comic while Murphy easily ranks among the most popular and influential comedians in the history of the game.
“I’d been trying to get Eddie to do stand-up again, and I thought it was gonna happen,” Hall said on a recent phone call. “But then he and his girlfriend had a kid, and Eddie wasn’t feeling going out to the clubs. But I started doing it again and fell back in love with it.”
Hall has been touring for the better part of the past 12 months, including a pair of sets this Friday and Saturday night at the Houston Improv. This is no accident. Hall’s son left for college around that time, and life as an empty nester afforded Hall far more time than to which he was previously accustomed.
“Once my son was born, I didn’t want to be in the clubs every night working on new material; I wanted to be there for every second,” Hall said. “But now that I’m an empty nester, stand-up is so very important to me right at this minute. It’s like a form of therapy I needed, and once it started, I couldn’t stop.”
But back to Eddie Murphy for a minute. The two are long-time friends, but today’s lunch date isn’t just a catch-up session. Rather, Hall and Murphy are meeting to read script pages for the long-rumored Coming to America sequel.
The film unquestionably stands at the pinnacle of Hall’s filmography, and this makes sense, considering Hall found far more success on television than in cinema. Murphy, however, is a different story, considering Eddie Murphy was once the biggest movie start on the planet. This is a man who, in a six-year span in the '80s, starred in 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, a worthy Beverly Hills Cop sequel, and the aforementioned Coming to America.
Murphy’s career in the '80s is rivaled by few, and this is where the announced Coming to America sequel comes into play. Eddie Murphy has released some of the most iconic comedies in the annals of film, and yet, Coming to America for whatever reason, stands apart. Not only is it, per Hall, Murphy’s favorite movie starring himself, but it holds up to this day. Even now, perhaps on a Saturday afternoon or during some random Eddie Murphy movie marathon, Coming to America boasts some major rewatchability. The movie is hilarious, but it also has heart.
And while Murphy and Hall’s involvement in the sequel is the subject of much speculation, Hall is admittedly giddy at the thought of an on-screen reunion. Hell, he even rattles off a few celebrities who have invited him to Coming to America-themed parties, from Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys to Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
“For many people, that movie really resonates with them,” Hall said. “It’s been passed down from generations, and it’s nice for Eddie and myself to still see that. But I still want to get him in the clubs. If he got in the clubs and saw how people reacted, he would fall right back in love with it.”
Hall has returned to the stage at an appropriate time. For a time in the late '80s and early '90s, he hosted one of the most pioneering and popular late night talk shows in television history. Whereas programs like The Tonight Show skewed older in their demographics, The Arsenio Hall Show catered to a younger, hipper audience.
So it made sense that, five months before the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election, a rising political star named Bill Clinton took to Arsenio’s stage for a saxophone rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.” The appearance resonated with Hall’s youthful audience and certainly played a role in Clinton’s election night victory that November.
“He did my show and he was on MTV,” Hall said of Clinton’s presidential campaign. “It was genius politics.”
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More than 25 years after Clinton took office, the current state of American politics is certainly a hot topic of conversation on news programs and late night shows. Hall finds humor in that, in part because he won Season 5 of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, a show starring, you guessed it, future President Donald Trump.
For a stand-up comedian, whose job is to convey his place in the here and now, Hall finds comfort in his ability to return to the stage and discuss both the current state of affairs, as well as his opinions on such.
“For people who do jokes for a living, this administration has almost been a call to arms,” Hall said. “I feel like there’s a renewed interest; society has to go somewhere at night to get its bearings. So comics and the late-night people are helping tell the story while we all watch it happen."
Performances are scheduled for March 2 and 3 at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday at Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. All shows are 18 and up. For information call 713-333-8800 or visit houstonimprov.com. $25-$35.