SALT LAKE CITY — Forty-four minutes, 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, one dire stomach bug.
Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game,” as it came to be known, has become lore since the buzzer sounded at Salt Lake City’s then-Delta Center more than 20 years ago. It put the Chicago Bulls up 3-2 against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals. The image of an exhausted Jordan, helped off the court by teammate Scottie Pippen, is among the most iconic from the Delta Center’s history — second only to, well, that one shot.
Arsenio Hall was there for the former; he said Jordan got him tickets to the game. Afterward, as the comedian stood in one of the arena’s tunnels, he watched Jordan and Pippen walk past him toward the locker room.
“And I just remember Scottie holding Michael,” Hall told the Deseret News during a recent phone interview. “Michael said nothing, is breathing really hard with his eyes almost closed. And Scottie said, ‘Wassup Arsenio, we’ll talk to you in a minute.’”
It was Hall’s first and only visit to Utah. That’ll change on March 29 and 30, when Hall headlines Wiseguys Comedy Club in West Jordan.
Unsurprisingly, Arsenio Hall has a lot of stories like that. He hosted the hugely successful “Arsenio Hall Show” from 1989 to 1994, during which he interviewed practically every famous person of the time while becoming a major celebrity in his own right. During our interview, he mentions folks like Magic Johnson, Dave Chappelle and John Landis.
As we talk, Day One of March Madness is in full swing. A number of games were down to the wire that afternoon. Hall shared a Magic Johnson anecdote, which seemed fitting: Visiting the UCLA campus with Johnson, they watched a group of college basketball players each shooting 100 free throws — and making practically all of them.
“But then you watch the same young college player miss a free throw that you know he can make, in a big game,” Hall said. “And that’s what standup is. You have to shake the rust and lose the nervousness so you can be who you are.”
For the past three years, Hall has returned to standup comedy after nearly 20 years away. Why the wait? Hall said it’s because of fatherhood. Growing up in Ohio, Hall said his mother worked two jobs and his father was a Baptist preacher — “I was a latchkey kid,” he explained. With his own son, Hall said he wanted to do it differently.
“I was at every game and every PTA meeting, and I always knew his favorite color and his best friend,” he recalled. “And as soon as he went to college — I mean, literally the day he went to college — I started doing standup again.”
For a standup comedian, 20 years is a long hiatus. Things have changed a bit over the past few decades. Hall recalled a recent gig in Alabama, when a woman in the front row filmed him with her iPad for the entire show. Then there was an event with fellow comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. Chappelle has attendees store their phones in locked bags before each show — and Hall remembers someone actually chewing through their own locked bag.
Cellphones and social media, Hall said, have also made crowds hungrier for topical comedy. They’re constantly digesting current events, and want to hear jokes about it. Hall can do current events comedy — he did it nightly for six seasons on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
“When you’re a talk show host, you may do a brilliant joke one night, and never see it again,” he said. “When R. Kelly stands up in front of Gayle King, it looked like he was about to sing, ‘I believe I can lie.’ Those things come quick for me.”Comment on this story
While the modern age of outrage has turned standup comedy into perhaps the riskiest career move, Hall wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is the greatest time to do standup,” he said. “If jokes were dollar bills, God is making it rain every day. From Kim Jong Un to Jussie Smollett, every morning you wake up, and the dollar bills are just flowing.”
If you go …
What: Arsenio Hall
When: March 29 and 30, 7 and 9:30 p.m. each night
Where: Wiseguys Comedy Club, 3763 W. Center Park Drive, West Jordan
How much: $25 (ages 21 and older only)