Sitcom Queen Tichina Arnold Got Funny to Avoid Spankings - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because sometimes being a latchkey kid is all about parental promises and getting ahead.

By Pallabi Munsi

Tichina Arnold might be the funniest person on screen, and a large part of her appeal comes from her willingness to tell it like it is. Daughter of a “star” sanitation worker mother who made the lives of hundreds of New Yorkers easier by removing snow during the winter and a police officer father, Arnold didn’t have family money to support her dream of breaking into the entertainment business. 

But she knew she wanted it. In fact, she vividly remembers the exact moment.

“I was 3 years old and I remember this. There were a bunch of people in the church, and they were singing. And I looked at my mother and I said, ‘Ma, I want to sing.’ And my mom being the mom that she is, she said, ‘My daughter wants to sing.’ So she told the elders to call me up.”

After being handed the microphone, Arnolds says, “all I remember was seeing all of that crowd out there, and everybody’s eyes were on me. And the moment I felt that control, because it felt very … I was like, ‘Whoo, this is crazy.’ Some people shy away from it, and I sang my ass off as best as I could. I love the attention.”

“When you do what you love to do, you are unstoppable. Nobody can hold you back. Nobody. They will try … but they can’t,” Arnold says in the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show.

And she has been performing ever since. Here are some key moments from Watson’s discussion with Arnold.

Carlos Watson: Who do you admire in entertainment?

Tichina Arnold: I love and admire Gladys Knight, No. 1, because when I started singing at the age of 3 in church, once I got into the world … she was the voice that really inspired me as a singer. And then, now that I’m 51 and I’m looking at this beautiful, gorgeous woman who has maintained herself, maintained her beauty, her talent, maintained her lifestyle, maintained who she is or who she has presented herself to be to the world, I respect that because it’s not easy. And especially being in the music world. The music world, that’s a whole different ballgame. That world, I’ve always shied away from it, which is why I don’t have an album, which is why I never depended upon music to be an income for me, because I wasn’t ready to play those games that the music industry was playing.

I didn’t want to compromise myself that much, but the playing field has been leveled out. So now it’s easier for artists to put out their own music. You don’t have to rely upon Capitol Records or a record company. You could literally put yourself out there, but Gladys Knight is one of those people because she is just a beautiful person. And I got a chance to meet her. And I think she’s done really, really well.

Watson: How does a young Black girl, 11 years old, in New York City, who doesn’t have big, rich, fancy parents, how does she get a chance to pursue her passion and develop her skill?

Arnold: Well, what happens is, is that your mother wakes up one day and says, “Listen, I can’t lose another day or miss another day of work taking you on your auditions. I’m going to show you if you … Do you really want to do this?” And I’m like, “Yes, I really want to do this.” So by the age of 12, I was a latchkey kid. My mom gave me a key to the house, showed me how to take three trains and a bus to the city and back, and then showed me how to do it with my sister, because I had to take my sister with me as well, but that’s when I knew she knew I really wanted it.

And so, since 12 years old, I have been pursuing my career of what I love to do. I know how to do other things, but my gifts, my passion, what God has given me is to entertain and make people feel good and change lives in the sense of through what it is that God gave me. And that is whether or not I make you cry, whether or not I make you laugh, whether or not … I just want to make you feel something, but whatever it is that I make you feel, it is my duty, it is my honor to do it, so that’s my service to what I can attest to what I love doing.

Watson: And what would you tell your younger self, or what do you tell young people who want to become actors, who look at you and say, “It feels like she has had hit after hit after hit. I want that. I want to be able to move people like she moves people.” What do you know about how to entertain, about how to act? Are there a handful of things that you would tell the young Tichina?

Arnold: There’s one thing that I tell everybody. “You better love it. You better love it, because when the entertainment industry or the business of show does not love you back, you can handle it.” See, this is what happens to a lot of young actors, and old actors as well. You’re not ready to deal with the business side of it. The business side is what wears you down. I’ve had moments where I’m literally on set, waiting to do a scene, my lines are ready, I’m geeked up, ready to go. And they’re like, “Oh well, we got to do something else,” or, “Wait, this has to happen,” because you have to wait for everybody else.

So it’s hurry up and wait. You got the lighting. Everything has to be in sync. So it’s not just about you. So you have to find your moments where you may not get the feedback that you want, but you got to walk away knowing that you did everything that you can to bring that character alive.

Watson: When did you start getting funny? If I had met you at 11, were you funny even then, when you first started doing television and Broadway?

Arnold: I’ve always been a goofball, man. Always. Me being a goofball got me out of being on punishment with my mom. Literally I got less spankings because I was funny.

Watson: Who has been generous with you? Obviously your parents and your family, but who else has been very generous with you?

Arnold: I take whatever is shared with me. I had a friend of mine who passed away. He was like a dad to me. So it was the first time that I felt real pain of losing somebody. And he would give me lessons without making me feel bad about what I did and he was able to teach me. So I put people who are able to teach me in high regard, because I always say, “You learn until the day you die,” and you can learn something from the bum on the street. You can learn something from anybody. And I have been blessed to be around people who have tugged me along the way, without even being in show business.


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