Arsenio Hall, if you’re not familiar, was a talk show host with the nervous self-deprecation of Conan O’Brien and the raw natural likeability of Carson Daly, but slightly blacker than that sounds. Also he dressed like a local newscaster dressing like a black man for a Halloween Party that he was not invited to the next year. He kicks ass, I guess is what I’m saying here. That’s why the ‘90s gave him a talk show, and it was a monstrous success… for like two years. See, the problem with Arsenio was that he’s too accommodating for an interviewer. No talk show host is there to throw hardballs about endemic racism at Chris Pratt, his brain would just start smoking and his PAs would have to soft reset him with lots of taffy and Vitamin Water. But Arsenio Hall didn’t lob softballs, he kicked back and let any famous lunatic word themselves out of a job. I guess he was the kind of like the Joe Rogan of the ‘90s, back when Joe Rogan was just a dumb guy you’d hire to play a bit part as a garbageman in a Rob Schneider comedy.
Steven Seagal, if you’re not familiar, is an action star who peaked in the ‘90s, barely, and went immediately mad with fame. His vibe was that of a low-rent Stallone, an Italian tough guy who looked like he broke knees for ziti money. He was kind of like Chuck Norris but without the charm, humility, or intelligence. So he was exactly like Chuck Norris. Also, he’s not my boss but Seanbaby would still fire me if I let a paragraph about Steven Seagal pass without mentioning that he runs like a drunk ostrich discovering sand. He runs like a frightened chimp on ice skates. Like you programmed an AI to design bipedal motion and set no dignity parameters.
Here’s what happened when Arsenio Hall, a total pushover with a huge audience, met Steven Seagal, a lunatic narcissist just blasting off into fame and detaching the booster rocket of sanity. I cannot stress this enough: all dialogue in the images is 100% accurate. This isn’t a fun one where I make up wacky things for them to say, because I cannot beat reality. This is basically journalism.
Arsenio starts the interview as he starts every interview — by jumping out of his chair to check for ponytails. He finds none.
Steven Seagal clearly supplied all of the questions and talking points for this interview, and Arsenio Hall doesn’t think it’s his job to camouflage that. He just lets Steven Seagal say, on live television, “somebody stole my ponytail.” And then, after it lands as a joke, Seagal doubles down and implies that those Hollywood motherfuckers at Warner Brothers let it happen. He eats his own laugh and farts out unhappy silence.
Arsenio then points out that Michael Jackson is Seagal’s neighbor, and immediately wonders if Seagal could take him in a fight. Again, it’s painfully obvious that Steven Seagal supplied every bullet point in this interview, so that’s what he thought to bring: “I could fight my neighbor.” Steven Seagal set up the question, had all the time in the world to prepare an entertaining response, and here’s what he said he’d do if Michael Jackson tried to kick him.
Maybe he meant like he would hide, joking that he’s afraid? It’s impossible to tell: As with everything Steven Seagal says, this line is delivered like he’s threatening a yoga instructor over added sales tax. If this were any other human, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. I do not give Steven Seagal the benefit of the doubt, even though he has surely starred in Benefit of the Doubt alongside a sound guy who could kind of act and was somebody’s cousin. No, I fully believe Steven Seagal set up a bit on the nation’s largest talk show about how he would pin down and fuck Michael Jackson.
We’re just a few minutes in and he’s coming off like he eats the placenta of stillbirths to stave off misfortune. Just full unappealing, unsexy lunacy. Let’s take a quick break.
In 1992 I wore bermuda shorts over basketball shorts because I couldn’t afford those shorts that are like, double-shorts. That’s what I did on purpose. I thought about it, I put it together, I executed it. I wore it to school. I got beaten up and pantsed twice, and in 1992 I was still a cooler caucasian than Steven Seagal. But again, Steven Seagal wrote every word of this interview. Steven Seagal absolutely handed a KFC napkin to Arsenio Hall that read, in his own head-injury toddler handwriting, “Steven Seagal is the coolest caucasian on the planet.” And Arsenio Hall said “it is my job to tell this to the people with no further comment.”
We’re back! Let’s jump right into this interview which, again, is going perfectly-
Steven Seagal is wearing a bizarre bracelet with a coded message in nautical flags, and he wants Arsenio Hall to talk about it. Is it to honor his father, a recently deceased sailor? No, of course not. It’s his own name, to honor himself, who has just finished filming a movie on a boat. Steven Seagal learned that nautical flags have associated letters, but he did not learn that each also has an associated meaning.
That bracelet is not saying a name, it’s sending a message. Here is, no shit, that actual message:
S – Engines going astern.
T – Keep clear!
E – Altering course to starboard…
V – Require Assistance!
E – Altering course to starboard…
N – No!
S – Engines going astern!
E – Altering course to starboard!
A – Diver Down! Keep clear!
G – Want a pilot!
A – Diver Down! Keep clear!
L – Stop instantly!!!
This is a tragic short story about a ship spinning out of control — possibly because of a dead captain — and surely about to kill their own diver. At first they beg for help, and then they just try not to take anyone else with them as they accept their inevitable destruction. That’s what Steven Seagal means in nautical flags. If you were a random sailor seeing that, you’d think it was a tasteless way to honor the Lusitania, or maybe he’s just proud of the time he murdered a scuba diver.
This is mundane madness. This is a Steven Seagal Tuesday, which he has renamed Stevensday, and demands gifts of salted meat and neck jewelry from anyone who makes eye contact on his special day. Here’s the part of the interview Arsenio Hall actually had some notes on.
(Those notes were not taken.)
Flawless segue, Arsenio. He gets more specific-
That transition was so clumsy and obvious, it’s like Arsenio Hall was trying to signal that he was not in control of this interview. This is how you say “Host is down / Show going astern” in Late Night Flags.
Also take note of the one woman who screams “YES!” at the idea of Steven Seagal not voting. I’m not sure if I’m on her side or not. On the one hand, you absolutely should vote, on the other hand, maybe not if you’re Steven Seagal. Don’t worry: She will make her stance plain in time.
Again, Arsenio Hall is using every tool at his disposal (aside from mild confrontation) to let the audience know that he is not piloting this Steven Seagal segment, that it is spiraling and you should stay far away. The bracelet was foreshadowing.
Here’s how little Arsenio Hall wants to engage with Seagal’s views on AIDS: He doesn’t even frame it as a conversation they’ll have, he just points to the audience and says “talk to them.” And fuckin’ Steven Seagal, the ape we didn’t teach quite enough sign language, he turns to face the audience and says-
It’s… it’s almost adorable.
Like he thinks the audience is a singular identity, a ‘90s hive mind with burning questions about his views on disease vectors. I am positive he thought they were going to ask, in one voice, “where did AIDS come from, Steven Seagal? And can you stop it?”
Arsenio Hall, with the patience of a young mother trying to explain blue to a slow baby, circles back to set up Steven Seagal’s talking points for him again. Steven Seagal came on this show to promote Under Siege, a movie about slapping bad guys on a boat, had total control over the interview process, and devoted most of it to talking about AIDS. He thinks the idea that AIDS did the Ol’ Bushmeat Shuffle from monkeys to humans is the most vile lie ever told, and he’s so sure that he’s doing something brave here-
He pauses for… applause? What he gets is a single woman screaming-
So he presses on:
It has to, it simply must be the same woman who said “YES!” to Steven Seagal not voting that also screams “that’s RIGHT, Steven Seagal!” after he tells the largest black-demographic talk show of the ‘90s that he thinks AIDS is some kind of manmade weapon built to murder Africans and homosexuals. There can’t be two women like that in this audience, right? If there were, you know they found each other after the show and remained best friends for years, until tragically falling out over a blackmarket ponytail.
Arsenio, having gone deeper into the Seagal-hole than a Bizarro Michael Jackson, finally gets permission to move on as his frantic producers spell out ‘BAIL ON THE AIDS’ in Producer Flags. He does this with that classic Arsenio Hall style and grace, by turning to the audience and saying, “GULP! I should get back to the movie! DOUBLE GULP!”
Arsenio Hall must’ve caught Contact Lunacy, because the very next words out of his mouth are chastising Steven Seagal for not smiling.
Okay, but he was just talking about the AIDS crisis. I get that he was saying comic book shit about it, and he’d get laughed out of a tire shop lobby for his political views being too stupid, but it was still a serious moment. It’s completely nuts to ask him to smile after that, and it would be absolutely bugfuck nuts for him to do it.
Yeah, I was right. That’s nuts.
Anyway take us out, Steven Seagal’s patented ‘prayer hands into standing flourishing bow into prayer hands again.’
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme, Curious Glare: Who is such an excellent patron that we got them the greatest gift of all — a dedication without an AIDS joke.