16 Blacks Who Added Flavor to Late Night

As BET's T.J. Holmes makes his talk-show debut, we recall other stars who brought laughs after dark.

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    Arsenio Hall (Multimediamouth.com); T.J. Holmes (BET)

    When former CNN anchor T.J. Holmes debuts his new talk show, Don’t Sleep! Oct. 1 at 11 p.m. ET on BET, he’ll be facing more than stiff competition from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and late local news. Attracting an audience at night has been a challenge for even the most talented stars. Here are 16 African Americans who’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to rule the late-night roost.

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    Hall and President Bill Clinton (Mulitmediamouth.com)

    Arsenio Hall

    The Arsenio Hall Show, which premiered in 1989, quickly became the favorite of a young, urban audience long ignored by late-night legends Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Hall’s signature “Woof! woof! woof!” became the calling card of the MTV generation. A certain saxophone-playing presidential candidate named Bill Clinton discovered the path to the White House went through Hall’s studio. Declining ratings, especially following a controversial interview with Louis Farrakhan, combined with increasing competition led to the show’s cancellation in 1994. However, Hall will be returning to late night in the fall of 2013.

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    Johnson and Howard Stern (Jobus-rum.com)

    Magic Johnson

    NBA legend Johnson may have been a smooth passer on the basketball court and a savvy businessman off it, but he was neither smooth nor savvy when he appeared on his late-night talk show, The Magic Hour, which debuted in June 1998. Critics, especially shock-jock Howard Stern, knocked Johnson for his diction and overly fawning interviewing style. Stern’s appearance on the show, in which he questioned Johnson about his HIV-positive sex life, gave the show a brief ratings boost. But ultimately the show was cancelled three months after it premiered.

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    Wayans and Michael Jordan (YouTube.com)

    Keenen Ivory Wayans

    The brains behind the first two films from the Scary Movie franchise and the sketch-comedy show In Living Color — which launched the careers of Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez and many members of Wayans’ family — couldn’t find success with his eponymous talk show, which premiered in August 1997. The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show was cancelled after only six months. No matter — he and his kin (brothers Damon, Shawn, Marlon and nephew Damon Jr.) have built a comedy dynasty with hit movies and TV shows.


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    Chris Spencer (magweb.com); Sinbad (harryallen.info)

    Chris Spencer, Sinbad

    Spencer served as the first host for Vibe, the talk show that was a spinoff of the magazine founded by Quincy Jones (he served as one of the show’s executive producers), which first aired in August 1997. Two months later, Spencer was replaced by comedian Sinbad. By the summer of 1998, the show was off the air.

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    Mattias Clamer

    W. Kamau Bell

    The San Francisco comedian got a major career boost when Chris Rock decided to produce his show, Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, which premiered in August on FX. His irreverent take on politics and current events puts him in the same class as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, albeit with an urban edge. Segments like the one on stop and frisk managed to bring humor and humanity to topics adversely affecting the black community.

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    Baisden, Morris Day and George Wilbom (nydailynews.com)

    Michael Baisden

    The radio personality’s show, Baisden After Dark, was billed as “strictly for grown folks” when it aired on TV One from 2007 to 2008 (you can still catch repeats of the show). Guests would usually sit in a roundtable format and discuss a wide range of topics, from relationships to race. Morris Day of The Time served as the show’s bandleader.

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    D.L. Hughley

    The comedian’s show, D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, was definitely a departure for CNN, which aired the show from October 2008 to March 2009. Hughley would often riff on current events — one segment featured an interview with “Freddy Mack,” a pimp described as “the mack daddy of federal home financing.” He also conducted real interviews with entertainers and politicians. An interview with then-RNC chairman Michael Steele and rapper Chuck D caused some controversy when Hughley compared the mostly white 2008 Republican National Convention to Nazi Germany.

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    Whoopi Goldberg

    Before joining The View, Goldberg was a solo act as a late-night talk-show host from 1992 to 1993. The Whoopi Goldberg Show, which aired 200 episodes, took a minimal approach, with no house band, no sidekick and only one guest, giving the show a more intimate vibe. Goldberg had no problem tapping her star-studded Rolodex to attract a wide range of celebrities, including Billy Crystal, Glenn Close, Ozzy Osbourne, Charles S. Dutton and Al Gore.

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    The outspoken comedian’s popular talker, The Mo’Nique Show, was one of BET’s highest rated shows when it launched in October 2009. Guests included celebrities and politicians from Steve Harvey to NAACP President Ben Jealous. The show, still as popular as ever, was put on “indefinite hiatus” (i.e. cancelled) in 2011 just as Mo’Nique’s star was on the rise when she won an Academy Award for her role in Precious.

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    Michael Tullberg/Getty Images Entertainment

    Eric Andre

     This “show,” currently part of the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, isn’t so much a talk show as a parody of one. Andre, a jittery, obnoxious prankster with no discernable interviewing skills, holds court on a set that resembles a 1970s public-access show. Celebrity impersonators come on to mock the stars they’re pretending to be. Real celebrities — mostly C- and D-listers — come on the show at their peril.


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    Rock and George Carlin (YouTube.com)

    Chris Rock

     The Chris Rock Show, which aired on HBO for five seasons starting in 1997, featured the comic’s provocative brand of humor in a talk-show format. It also gave the world Pootie Tang. Hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash was the house DJ, and musical acts were always top-notch (Jill Scott gave one of her first TV performances on the show in 2000). Like his protégé W. Kamau Bell, Rock also did a stop-and-frisk segment, albeit one that is definitely NSFW.


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    Wanda Sykes

    Sykes (who, along with Louis C.K., served as a writer on The Chris Rock Show) hosted Fox’s weekly The Wanda Sykes Show on Saturday nights starting in 2009. The show featured guests such as Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson in a casual setting, around a table with drinks in hand. Unfortunately the show failed to catch on and was cancelled after 21 episodes.

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    Smiley and Bill Russell (38thnotes.com)

    Tavis Smiley

    Radio personality Smiley made his mark on television as host of BET Tonight from 1996 to 2001. In 2004, he launched his late-night talk show, Tavis Smiley, on PBS. The show features a mix of celebrity and political interviews. Smiley, a perpetual multitasker, continues to host his radio show and is currently on a tour with Cornel West to raise awareness on poverty.

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    Ed Gordon

    Gordon, who began working for a fledgling BET in the late ’80s, replaced Tavis Smiley on BET Tonight in 2001. He and many from the news department were let go in 2002 when BET decided to make more room for movies and other entertainment ventures. Gordon returned to the network in 2010 to host Weekly With Ed Gordon, an in-depth news program that aired Sunday nights. Gordon, who currently isn’t on BET’s schedule, recently launched a weekend radio show that airs in D.C. and Detroit.

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    Byron Allen

    With little fanfare, Allen has been slowly building a media empire while most people are asleep. The Entertainers With Byron Allen was the first show he produced through Entertainment Studios, an independent TV production and distribution company he founded in 1993. His current late-late show, Comics Unleashed, features a panel of comedians doing what they do best — make the audience laugh.

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