Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory (born October 12, 1932)
Dick Gregory is the effing man. He represents so much more than an old comedian from yesteryear. I don’t believe this man gets the respect deserved when being address on most stages today. I don’t believe today’s new jacks of comedy give this man his just desserts. I’ll be the first to apologize for this crime. I knew of Mr. Gregory, but never to the extent I do now. I now understand his place in comedy history. We often talk of who we consider the greatest comedians. We speak of their record sales, concert sales, who’s the highest paid, who had the most successful sitcoms or movies, etc, etc. What we don’t speak of is who was able to achieve these accolades while still being treated as a second citizen.
Dick Gregory became great in a time when it was damn near impossible for a black comic to reach that level of success outside of the chitlin circuit. As DG put it:
Blacks could sing and dance in the white night clubs but weren’t allowed to stand flat-footed and talk to white folks, which is what a comic does.
He would go on to be discovered by Hugh Hefner who booked him for weeks – which ultimately turned into years. This would help Gregory skyrocket to stardom and solidy him as one of the highest paid and sought after comic, black or white, of his time.
We as comics today don’t understand what it took for an African-American comedian to break barriers and become successful at his/her craft then. We get pissed at clubs that seem to segregate us though we are more than welcomed to walk into these establishments. We are pissed at the minuscule number of black comics that are hired on various shows, passed at various clubs and just respected in general. This sucks, I know, but I believe if you just remember your comedic predecessors and the struggles they faced, the things that bothers you now won’t mean shit to you later.
Guys like Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge overcame incredible hurdles to pave the way for us to bitch and moan about what we may or may not have in this field. I respect their struggle. I can’t even fathom what it must have been like to live in the 50s/60s let alone try to do comedy then. I imagine being booked at some spots must have been incredibly unnerving. Driving through some towns back then to get to a gig could have cost them their life. This is why I get pissed when these legends are not mentioned in today’s comedy conversations or acknowledged on shows about comedy.
Our current superstars of black comedy should take the reigns and shout out legends like Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, etc. so they are etched into the minds of the next generation of comics and the audiences that love them so much. These legends dealt with extreme prejudice while creating some of the most memorable stand up ever. They were grossly underpaid and unlike white comedians, they would not be interviewed after their TV performance. Now that’s sad.
Dick Gregory was the first black comedians to be interviewed after performing on the late show, Tonight Starring Jack Paar.
Dick Gregory would go on to leave the spotlight and join the civil rights movement. This man means a lot to me and here are a few quotes of his that stick with me:
There are some things worth dying for, I learned that in the Civil Rights Movement. There’s nothing worth killing for.
We represent light. All that other craziness – they represent darkness. The problem is when your light become afraid of their darkness – then your light is no longer light. You’ve got more light than the CIA, the FBI, the military, thugs will ever have! But the reason they control it is because of your fear.
Wearing your pants low is no felony. I don’t think I ever heard that the folks that killed Jesus Christ had their pants below their belt. When these thugs that ripped off the banks and didn’t have to pay for it was wearing their pants– I’ve seen the mob in New York. I’ve seen how they’re portrayed in the movies. They look immaculate.
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