When we think of the Late Night Wars that erupted when Johnny Carson retired in the early ’90s, we tend to recall the conflict as fought between two fierce adversaries: David Letterman and Jay Leno. There was, however, another dog in the fight as well: Arsenio Hall, who came out guns blazing in 1989 and, once Leno had officially taken over Tonight, memorably promised to “kick Jay’s ass” in the pages of Entertainment Weekly.
Of course, by now, all that bad blood is ancient history. Leno and Hall would eventually make up, enjoying a mutual friendship and respect — and clearly, Hall feels the same way about his other onetime rival. Or does he?!
After announcing the news of Letterman’s impending retirement on his syndicated series, Hall noted that late-night talk-show hosts seem to be an endangered species: “Man, they are dropping like flies! First Jay, now Dave…” Which led, of course, to the perfect punchline — “My plan is working perfectly!“ Dig that Evil Overlord Laugh, Arsenio.
But seriously, folks: Arsenio has nothing but kind words for his fellow late-night soldier. “David Letterman is a legend,” he said later. “I have had the unique pleasure of watching him as a fan and competing against him as a fellow host. He has set a standard for comedy in late night that I strive to achieve every single day. When I decided to come back to late night and compete against Dave, I received a phone call asking me to be a guest on Dave’s CBS show for the first time. Dave put me on his show 72 hours before I debuted.” (Given that The Arsenio Hall Show is distributed by…CBS, Letterman’s gesture may not have been entirely altruistic.)
“Dave showed that the only thing that matches his comic genius is his class,” continued Hall. “Late night might fill his time slot but it can never fill the void he will leave behind. He is simply the best.”