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The Magical Tale of Cleveland Native Arsenio Hall

[courtesy: Harper PR]

When it comes to comedy in Cleveland you only need to say his first name: Arsenio.

Cleveland's Arsenio Hall soared to national fame when his syndicated late-night show premiered in 1989, not long after his co-starring role in the box-office hit "Coming to America" with Eddie Murphy. 

This Saturday night Arsenio returns home for a show at the Hard Rock Rocksino.

As a boy growing up in Cleveland's Kinsman district in the 60s and 70s, it was literally magic that saved him from a rough childhood.

He would often take the bus downtown to Jean's Novelty and Magic Shop as a boy.

"At one point [Jean] died and his wife said, 'You're here all the time, you should work for me.' So I started selling magic tricks for her," Hall said.

The young Arsenio became so good at sleight-of-hand magic that he would perform at Karamu House during intermissions of shows.

The Karamu gig led to an opportunity to perform in New York City for the CBS affiliate when he was about 12 years old.

But his mother was a single mom who couldn't get off work to take her son to the Big Apple for the big show.

"I couldn't go without a guardian.  So this guy in our neighborhood flew there with me because everybody in my neighborhood was like: 'That boy is going to be something! He ain't messin' with gangs.'  I always had that vibe from people," he said.

Eventually the money Arsenio saved from his magic gigs helped him start college.

He later realized, however, that the magic of his act wasn't his sleight-of-hand tricks but his comedic timing.

After placing second in a magic competition, an older magician gave him advice he'd never forget.

"He said to me, 'You'll be first if you leave the magic.  Son, you have to talk for a living.' And that moment changed my life," he said.



It took a village to raise a young @arseniohall (Kinsman, to be exact). Full interview at ideasteam.org #kinsman #arsenio

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Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.