Hall may be naive to think that he can change the way cultures communicate by simply putting black and white entertainers together on one talk-show couch, but one senses a sincerity of purpose, as if the message spurring him on is the same that has resounded in black churches for years: "We've come too far to turn back now."
So it's particularly ironic that Hall, who calls himself "the Martin Luther King of Comedy" because of his commitment to employing minorities and women, is being sued by an official of the NAACP.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 28, 1989 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4B Times Magazine Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
As a result of an editing error, the Los Angeles Times Magazine stated erroneously that Arsenio Hall opens his talk show with the greeting "We be havin' a ball." The phrase became his trademark when he hosted Fox Broadcasting's now-defunct "The Late Show," but he does not use it on his present show. --The Editors
For the record By The Editors
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 4, 1989 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 8B Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
The profile of Arsenio Hall ("Fresh Talk," by Itabari Njeri, April 16) neglected credit to Ron Rinker Custom Clothing as the designer of Hall's on-air wardrobe.
Hall emphatically denies that he said there were no qualified blacks he could hire for major positions on his show, as Willis Edwards charges. And Edwards is equally vehement in denying that he ever attempted extortion. A Superior Court judge recently denied Hall's motion for dismissal of the suit, and it appears that the case may go to trial.
Hall maintains that his staff has more women and minorities than most of the talk-show competition. "I set up a power regime of me and two people," Hall says. Producer Brown "handles the creative side of my decisions" and Corky Lee, a black man, handles technical matters.
"I set things up so that black people are in key positions," Halls says. "I have five talent coordinators, and two are black," including head talent coordinator Kim Swann. Three of the four cameramen are black. And Hall has instituted intern and job-placement programs for minorities.
As for writers, he says, "I'm going to hire the funniest," based on the material submitted. "I asked them (NAACP officials) for a list of joke writers. They never sent me a list." Instead, Hall says, Edwards sent him names of black screen writers and sitcom writers. A stand-up comedian needs jokes, Hall insists, and "it's hard to find black joke writers."
"It's so depressing," he says, "to find that my biggest obstacle didn't turn out to be what people said: 'You're young, you're black, you're going against the legend--Carson.' The biggest stumbling block turned out to be my black organization, the NAACP."
"What drives me crazy," he adds, "is you look in the mirror and say, 'Your job is making people laugh.' Why the controversy and the pain? I'm just a guy trying to do something good."
And he'll keep trying to send out his bicultural signals, even though some people will never get the message. "I have this black friend who will go anywhere to see Patti LaBelle," he says. But her white boyfriend can't understand the singer's appeal. Hall assumes his nerdiest white voice: " 'When she starts screaming and kicking her shoes off like that, that's not singing. Singing is more like, ah, ah, Vic Damone.'
"You look at a comment like that," Hall says, and it's understandable why some people have a problem with his show--and why he can't give up. "I'm Patti LaBelle," he says defiantly. "And I'm screaming."