During the '90s, people tuned in every week to see comedian Martin Lawrence and other actors in the sitcom Martin. On that show, Tichina Arnold was Pam, Lawrence's foil who could match him insult for insult.
Since then, Arnold has kept herself very visible, playing roles such as the mother in the TV series Everybody Hates Chris, which was based on the life of comedian Chris Rock. She now co-stars with Fran Drescher, Rita Moreno and others on the TV Land sitcom Happily Divorced, in which Drescher's character lives with her gay ex-husband (a scenario based on Drescher's actual life).
Arnold talked with Windy City Times recently about the show, Whitney Houston and politics.
Windy City Times: I saw you on the Wendy Williams Show recently.
Tichina Arnold: Yeahthat was really fun.
WCT: I'm curious, because I interviewed [Williams] once: How do you find her?
Arnold: With Wendy, I had a problem with her once because, you know, she trashed a lot of people when she had her radio show. But I've been on her show twice, and she's been very pleasant. Eventually, you have to let bygones be bygones, and move on.
WCT: Let's talk about Happily Divorced. For our readers who may not know, could you describe the [premise] of the show?
Arnold: Yes. The show is based on Fran Drescher's life. She married her childhood sweetheart, who's an actor as well [Peter Marc Jacobson], and years later he told her he's gay. She was obviously devastated; they were friends and with each other for so long. To this day, though, they're still joined at the hip; they're very good friends and both executive producers of the show. It's wonderful that they were able to take something that could've been so negative and destructive, and make it work.
I'm even more happy that this show has gotten viewers we didn't expect to get. We have a lot of young people who are gay themselves and are afraid to come out who watch our show. Peter just told me that he gets a lot of hits on his Facebook page from people thanking him for coming out and for the show.
WCT: You mentioned how they basically turned potential tragedy into triumph, so to speak. Isn't that a sign of the times, in a waythat you can take your own personal drama and make a show out of it?
Arnold: Of course. I was just on [the BET show] 106 & Park talking about music and stuffand, by the way, I don't watch a lot of videos, as I'm really into politics (I'm watching MSNBC right now)and I said that music makes the world go round; I was raised in it. Through music, you can touch so many hearts.
Then [the host] Terrence asked me about reality shows, and I'm like, "Back in the day, there were talk shows and before that, there were soap operas." Everything comes full circle; we're now in that reality-show stage. I think show business is a wonderful outlet to tell stories, and I think some celebrities take for granted that we have an amazing platform to teach and to get positivity out there. That's what has taught me as a mother; I can't just take any role.
WCT: You mentioned reality shows. It seems like the very definition of "celebrity" has changed over the years.
Arnold: Yeah. Our jobs have become less because of reality shows. That's why I'm happy to be on TV Land Network. TV Land gets itthey've put out some good shows, like Hot in Cleveland. I'm not [slamming] reality shows but there's something to be said for variety. After all, we have 80,000 channels. [Laughs] When I watch TV, I want something that takes me away.
WCT: How is the second season of Happily Divorced different from the first?
Arnold: I don't think it's that different, but there are different situations. Fran is still telling a lot of stories that happened to her and Petertheir struggles and triumphs. That's actually another subject, altogether. You have this bad economy, and you have a lot of people who are divorced but who are forced to live together; they have to co-exist.
WCT: You also work with Rita Moreno...
Arnold: Oh, my Godshe is a hoot. [Both laugh.] I love her so much. She's so amazing. She's so old-school, but she's so new-school. She's everything rolled up in one. She has a foul mouth; we curse like sailorsand she says whatever's on her mind. She's like, "I'm 80 years old. I say whatever the hell I want to say."
WCT: You've talked about music and I know you're a singer, so I have to ask: Where were you when you found out Whitney Houston had died?
Arnold: That's when you know somebody impacted your lifeyou know where you were when that person passed. I was traveling; I had just gotten to New York. I was heartbroken. I was just staring at the TV; I couldn't leave. It took me two days to get it together.
I had the privilege and honor of meeting and dining with Whitney. She gave me such an inspirational talk. No one has ever inspired me like that, except for Wanda Sykes. I was introduced to Whitney by [gospel singer] BeBe Winans, a good friend of mine. When I met Whitney, I was just awestruck. She was just a homegirl. I was, like, "Oh my God. She's normal." She would say, "Girl, come on. Pass the bread."
I would always sneak into Clive Davis' [pre-Grammy] party because the security would know me from Martin. I was standing there one year and I see this big crowd of people and I'm like, "Oh my God. That's Whitney Houston!" So we're watching them and Bobby [Brown] sees me and he waves hello. Whitney then saw me, said "Tichina," and then walked over to me and talked to me for over seven years about how much she appreciated my work. I'm not even supposed to be in this party! I was in shock. That was my last memory of Whitney. The world lost a great oneand I don't want to bury my mother [like Cissy Houston did]. I felt the same way as I did when Aaliyah died.
WCT: I do want to switch gears. How often do you get called Pam?
Arnold: Oh, every day of my life. [Both laugh.] It doesn't upset me at all; it means it did my job right.
WCT: Speaking of Martin, do you have a favorite insult?
Arnold: I liked when he didn't expect to [joke]; he would crack up. We had laugh competitions on the showwhoever would be the first to crack up would lose. Tommy would always be the first to go. Me and Tisha would hold out the longest.
WCT: And then there was Everybody Hate Chris...
Arnold: I wish we could've gone on a little longer. We had two years left on that show.
WCT: How many times would you get a script and be reminded of your childhood?
Arnold: Every day. When I read that script for the first timewe had a table readTerry Crews [who played the father] and I knew we'd have a successful show. They did a really good job of structuring the show, but if they didn't care for something in the script they'd change it on the spot. I had to learn pages of dialogue 10 minutes before we shot; it kept me on my toes.
WCT: And that Terry Crewshe works out.
Arnold: OK? He loves his body, honey. If he gets a chance to be naked, he will.
WCT: I saw him like that in the movie Gamer.
Arnold: If you worked out as much as he did, you'd show your body, too. He loves working out. Somebody's gotta do it, but I sure don't. [Laughs] I just maintain; I don't eat pasta and bread, and I don't like chocolate.
WCT: Wow. My last question is this: Since you follow politics closely, what do you make of this whole presidential race?
Arnold: I think the GOP presidential race and the candidates are all fools, to put it simply. It's unfortunate that they are starting racial discourse, and saying things that are detrimental to the country. It's disrespectful to the president. I just hope the average person can rise above it and vote with their heart. They're taking away women's rights, voting rightsthey're trying to go back to where we used to be. People have fought and died for us to get where we are.
I'm impassioned about politics. I like to learn. It's a serious business, and there are things happening in the political arena that are just disgusting to me.
Happily Divorced airs on TV Land Wednesdays at 9:30 CT. See www.tvland.com .