Paul Arnold is busy flittering among the crowded dining room at Northeast Mesa’s Red, White & Brew. When he’s in between tables, he sits down and takes a deep breath.
The tall and lanky former basketball player leaves customers laughing – and enlightened – even before the food hits the table.
For the last 10 years, the 51-year-old Mesa resident pursued comedy, as a way of preserving his sanity. He’s been at Red, White & Brew for three years. He slaps hands with his coworkers and has secret handshakes with others.
“There are a lot of things going on in life nowadays,” Arnold said. “I was always taught if you’re laughing, you don’t have time to think about the negativity. Everybody needs that.”
Arnold has had a storied life. When he was a youngster, Arnold and his family moved from St. Louis to Oakland, California, where his home had a basement.
“My mom kept her records down there: the 78s, the 45s,” he recalled. “I went down to the basement as a kid and started fumbling through things. I saw Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson and Moms Mabley recordings.
“My mom had a loose tongue, too, and she rocked it. She’d drink her Johnny Walker Red and all hell broke loose.”
It’s easy to see that Arnold’s mom meant a lot to him.
“She’s the one who really inspired me to do what I wanted to do,” he said. “I grew up in the Bay area. I went to all-white schools. There wasn’t but a handful of black people there. I had to deal with the adversity coming up as a kid. I would nip that in the bud by entertaining everyone.”
Racism also played a part in his love life. His high school girlfriend, who was of Italian descent, was forced to break up with him because her father didn’t approve.
When Arnold’s mother died, Arnold, a single father, packed up his kids and moved to Mesa. They wanted to spare his children the crime in California. While here, he has performed at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy on High Street in North Phoenix and Tempe Improv.
“Anyone can tell a joke,” Arnold said. “But can you sit there and tell a story and get the crowd going? I want the crowd to visualize what I’m saying. I might trigger something that’s familiar, and that’s hella funny.”
But there’s a happy end to this story. Arnold is renting his own venues in Northeast Mesa – where he said there’s a lack of live comedy – and he reunited with his high school girlfriend. He said he never stopped loving her. He wears a necklace with “ciao bella” emblazoned on it.
“Her dad, being a full-blooded Italian, didn’t mess around,” he said with a laugh. “He said he wasn’t having ‘that’ in his family. We were 15, 16 years old. That’s puppy love. We didn’t know what love was.”
When the mother of Arnold’s children left, he fell into a “dark place” – until he saw his high school love at a reunion that he headlined. He stood on stage and told her he never stopped loving her.
“I didn’t know what she was going through, but we lifted each other’s spirits,” he said. “When I heard she was separated, I thought that was my window. I had to climb through it. I told her, ‘I have been loving you for all of my life.’ I never loved anybody else and never could. She moved here in April.”
Arnold has had a rollercoaster life, but he stays positive and that reflects on customers at Red, White & Brew and his shows.
“Look, I’m not a ‘woe is me’ type of person,” he said. “People say the glass is half empty. Mine is always overflowing. I owe the Lord everything because without him I’m nothing. I need to make the most of my life here. I don’t want to be a beautiful casket. I want to be an ugly one.”