Arsenio Hall on Living His 'Dream' After Hosting Basement Talk Shows as 'Just a Weird Kid with a Strange Name'

Hall reflects on breaking ground for Black entertainers — and introducing Snoop Dogg to America — even as some called his Emmy-nominated late-night show "too Black"

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Hall with then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. Photo: Reed Saxon/AP/Shutterstock

Arsenio Hall's career has reached heights beyond what he ever could have imagined as a kid.

When the actor, comedian and host launched The Arsenio Hall Show in 1989, he created a platform to help pave the way for other Black entertainers by introducing them to the world.

"It was my lucky timing–meets–pop culture!" Hall, 67, exclusively tells PEOPLE. "Every artist in showbiz wasn't a good fit for The Tonight Show audience in those days. I created a show for people who didn't have a show. A place for [MC] Hammer, Prince, New Edition and New Kids on the Block. A place for comics from Chris Rock and Lea DeLaria to George Lopez!"

The Arsenio Hall Show/Courtesy CBS Television Distribution

Among the list of famous celebrities who appeared on the show, Hall also helped one rapper in particular make his debut during a time when many Paramount executives already thought The Arsenio Hall Show was "too black."

"Take Snoop Dogg," Hall recalls. "I remember telling Paramount executives about this guy, Calvin Broadus … that Dr. Dre told me about. He wasn't famous, so it wasn't an easy sell. But I knew Snoop Dogg was special. It was at a time when focus groups thought my show was too Black! Snoop came on and did something called 'freestyle.'"

Hall jokes that Snoop's improv rhyming was decidedly not a favorite of the Paramount lawyers, who had to be ready to censor the performance at any time.

But still, he says, "You didn't see [that] on a television talk show back then. He killed! Murdered! To this day Snoop is a household name!"

Mike Windle/Getty Images

Because The Arsenio Hall Show was around before social media, too, Hall became virtually the only avenue through which the soon-to-be stars who appeared on his show could "break ground" with their "young audiences."

One of those soon-to-be '90s stars even famously stopped by The Arsenio Hall Show to play the saxophone.

"I definitely saw the campaign road to the White House change with my Bill Clinton sax sit-in and interview," Hall says. "When I grew up, you went on Meet the Press when you ran for the highest office in the land. Now, you almost have to do Jimmy Kimmel [Live] if you want to be President of the United States. I also think [my show] showed Hollywood that ratings could be garnered with hip-hop and a potpourri of new Black talent never heard of by the mainstream."

Ted Thai//Time Life Pictures/Getty

When Clinton was elected president in 1992, The Arsenio Hall Show still had another two seasons to go on air (it ended in 1994).

"I could never have imagined what happened to me on Paramount's stage 29," says Hall of his achievements. "I believe that anybody who succeeds in show business is living a dream. I 'imagined' getting my degree from Kent State. A person could never 'imagine' what's happened to me since the day I arrived in Hollywood."

He continues, "As a kid, I used to do a talk show in my basement. But honestly I thought, actually everyone thought, that I was just a weird kid with a strange name. Who knew I'd ride the dream to the finish line?"

For more on Arsenio Hall, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE — on newsstands now!

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