Tichina Arnold is clear: Never count her out, because she’s not going anywhere, but up.
The actress, known for her iconic role as Pam on “Martin and having a career that has spanned more than three decades, is back on network television playing Tina Butler on the CBS hit comedy, “The Neighborhood.” Acting alongside the beloved Cedric the Entertainer, their freshman sitcom centers on how one African-American family adjusts to a white Midwestern family moving into their predominantly Black Los Angeles neighborhood.
The season finale, which airs on April 22, tackles white privilege head-on by using humor to interrogate how Black and white folks get treated in certain spaces i.e a nearby snooty country club. Not surprisingly, Arnold is absolutely hilarious in it and the episode provides us with a much-needed lesson on motherhood, white privilege and the power of friendship.
HelloBeautiful sat down with the seasoned actress to talk about the comedy’s finale, the importance of tackling issues of race through laughter and how blessed she feels to be working in the industry that she loves.
HelloBeautiful: So, the first season of “The Neighborhood” wraps tonight! How are you feeling?
Tichina Arnold: Oh, it feels great. It’s been such an amazing experience to be on this show and tonight’s episode is something special.
HB: The season finale focuses on white privilege, which we know can be a heavy topic. Why is engaging in these conversations about race and gentrification with laughter important to you?
TA: The show’s concept is loosely based on the life of the show’s creator Jim Reynolds. He was the new white neighbor and knows first-hand what these conversations and experiences look like, so what a better way to teach people and broaden people’s horizons and thinking through laughter? Laughter is great for the soul, it can help usher in life lessons and teach us how to get along and accept each other’s differences.
HB: Did the topics from the season finale, especially around white privilege, spark any interesting conversations among the cast?
TA: You know, the cast talks about this topic all the time. We’re pretty open and speak about it amongst ourselves, especially at the table reads, which is important.
But the key for me is not take yourself too seriously [with the material] because that would make “The Neighborhood” a different show. But we definitely want to ask these tough questions and don’t shy away from them. We also want to know what our viewers think. We love to hear your opinions!
HB: Did the topics the show addresses attract you to the role?
TA: Most definitely! The idea of gentrification is real to a lot of people, including my own family, my parents. We lived in different neighborhoods that were gentrified by different cultures and it’s a huge change that a lot of people don’t initially accept. They worry about what it’s going to do, will it be good and how will these changes impact them.
HB: And rightfully so…
TA: Definitely. During the season, we see that Calvin was pretty resistant to that change and with good reason some of the time. [Laughs] But I also kind of see him like Archie Bunker—ignorant to certain things, things he’s never experienced. So it’s a journey for him, but also a means for him to teach others too.
In one episode, he explains to Dave [played by Max Greenfield] how his family lived in that neighborhood for a very long time and when the white people moved in and then left, the town went down and the Black residents worked hard to keep it together. Now, that the white people are back, the area got better. There’s a frustration there and these are important points that need to be heard.
HB: Speaking of Cedric, you two have such amazing chemistry on the show!
TA: It’s been crazy…I’ve known Cedric for a very long time and he’s one of my favorite celebrity friends that I’ve never worked with all these years! So I was pretty excited about being cast with him on the show. It’s all love between us. And having a genuine love and respect with someone right there is a winning combination. You just can’t lose.
HB: For your character Tina, what do you love about playing her?
TA: Tina is so open and wants to learn more and that’s magic. I also love the relationship between Tina and Gemma [played by Beth Behrs]. It’s not often that we see a white woman and a Black woman be friends [as equals] and have this organic relationship. We’ve gotten such a great response to them and it’s refreshing to see people from totally different ethnic backgrounds getting along and having fun with one another.
HB: I recently saw that you have Beth have also become good friends in real-life too.
TA: Our friendship has truly impacted my life. We have so much fun together and we are not afraid to ask each other questions. If there is something in the script [about white people] I just do not understand, I will ask her, “Beth, what is this? What is froyo?” [Laughs] And she’ll tell me it means “frozen yogurt.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s a white girl thing.” We just laugh.
But she is so kind-hearted and loud and she can even twerk.
HB: The two of you are the queens of physical comedy on the show with Beth recently telling PEOPLE that she looks at y’all as Lucy and Ethel from “I Love Lucy.”
TA: Ha! I’d say we are more Laverne and Shirley. But we LOVE physical comedy and to be able to do that on this show is incredible. We both were class clowns as little kids and Beth is so fearless. So to be able to act with someone who is the same way as you is amazing. And I can get wild. Like they will tell me on set, “Tichina relax, calm down!” But I can’t help it.
HB: Why do you love to make people laugh?
TA: When I was a little girl, in order in get out of trouble, I used to make my mother laugh so she wouldn’t punish me for whatever thing I had done. Then I realized that I loved to act a fool and make my family crack up. I truly believe that laughter is a wonderful gift and helps us live longer.
HB: So…good news: “The Neighborhood” got picked up for a second season! Congrats.
TA: Thank you! We were so happy and shocked, because with TV you just never know! But we’re ready for next season.
HB: If you could have anyone guest star next season, who would it be?
TA: Ooooh…Rita Morena! I was able to act with her in “Happily Divorced.” She’s fantastic. Also, Garret Morris—who was on “Martin” with me and “Two Broke Girls” with Beth. It would be a little family reunion!
We had Marla Gibbs on the show before and I like people like Marilu Henner (from “Taxi” and “Evening Shade”), actors who are established and have had long careers on TV. It’s always good to see them still working, because trust: Actors love to work.
HB: Finally, looking at your 36-year career, did you ever expect you would be here?
TA: I was pigeonholed for a minute in my career and not a lot people know that I wasn’t always working over the years. It was hard, but that’s the nature of the business. You have to keep proving yourself over and over again and through the work. For me, I always knew that I had a gift to give to the world and I never gave up. And in show business, you have to love it, even when it doesn’t love you back. You just keep going on, and here I am.
The Neighborhood Season 1 finale airs Monday, April 22 at 8/7c on CBS.
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