Though he’ll admit he did go too far a few times back in the day.
“Once, Rosanne called to say, ‘That was a f----- up joke you made about me.’ And I had to agree. Another time I come home and somebody says, ‘Oprah just called.’ You know you’re in trouble when Oprah calls. She didn’t like one of my jokes. I tried to explain what I meant by it but all she said was, ‘I would have preferred if you had said nothing at all.’ ”
What was the joke?
“Oh, I forget,” Hall says and grins.
Who is he tight with these days? Part of the success of Hall’s old show was the sense audiences had that he was close to a much younger, much cooler crew of entertainers than his not-so-edgy competitors hung out with.
“I may have come across that way. But I’m just a hick from Cleveland. I didn’t know nobody. I mean, I was close with Magic [Johnson] and Eddie [Murphy], but that’s about it. It’s not real that all these people you hug and kiss on your show are your close friends. What you can do is get caught up in that illusion and find out when your movies don’t work that those were never your friends.”
Although he’s a dad now, and eligible for AARP membership, Hall isn’t worried about being able to deliver on the cool factor.
“I should probably just let my son do all the booking. But there’s a part of this that is just about personality. I can relate to the way Fallon works. It may be just an illusion, but you get the sense that Letterman is doing what he gets paid to do but that Fallon would show up every night even if they didn’t send him a check. It’s that kind of energy that audiences connect with. And that’s the kind of energy my show always had.”
Any guests in particular he’ll be gunning for when the new show hits the air?
“Anybody named Taylor I want. Taylor Lautner, Taylor Swift, Lawrence Taylor.”
Hall edged out singer Clay Aiken to win Celebrity Apprentice last year. But what was it like dealing with the clearly out-there Donald Trump?
“Yeah, Trump is a piece of work, but I would throw out quotes from his own book, The Art of the Deal. And he would pout that lip out and look at me. He knew what I was doing. From the chess match you have to play every day to the unnatural sequestering — it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
When Hall quit the talk show, all he wanted was to take a break from the limelight. He wound up sitting out longer than he intended. Any regrets along the way?
“I got a call once. ‘Do you want to do a movie called Bad Boys with Martin Lawrence?’ I had 24 hours to decide or they were going to call Will Smith. But that was around the time when I thought what I really needed was a break from it all. At the end of the day, I’m kind of a recluse. I’m a Baptist preacher’s son. But yeah, there were moments later when I wondered if I had made the wrong decision. But then I would be at a Little League game watching my son play and I’d think, ‘This is beautiful. You didn’t need Bad Boys.’ ”