Monday, April 17, 2006 04/20/06-Dick Gregory

In today’s excerpt--comedian Dick Gregory. Gregory became the first black superstar in the post-World War II era, coming to prominence in the 1960’s, and going on to be a crucial leader in the black civil rights movement. He broke through to white audiences in 1962 in a performance at Chicago’s Playboy club, then one of the nation’s premiere comedy venues:

“…he was ready when the call came, unexpectedly, from the Playboy Club to replace Irwin Corey, who wanted to take a Sunday night off…The club that night was full of frozen-food-industry conventioneers from the South, whom Gregory quickly disarmed, much to the relief of nervous Playboy Club executives. As Gregory moseyed out onstage, his cool demeanor didn’t betray the turbulence beneath: ‘Good evening…glad to see all you fine Southern people here tonight. I know a lot about the South. I spent twenty years there one night’ He bent racial stereotypes back on themselves, like his classic line about going to a restaurant and being told, We don’t serve colored people here.’ ‘That’s all right,’ was his reply, ‘I don’t eat’em. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.’ By the end of the set, the southerners were eating out of his hand…

Joan Rivers once spent an evening out with Gregory when he was at the height of his success, going with him to see some black comics. She remembered: ‘He had just met Eleanor Roosevelt and kept talking about how she would not have had anything to do with him six years before, when he was a chauffeur. 'The anger and bitterness in him were so great you could see he would not last long as a comic. He could not keep himself from making a statement—and you cannot make statements through comedy.’ And yet, what better way?—‘You know the definition of a southern moderate? That’s a cat that’ll lynch you from a low tree’…’Shouldn’t be no race problem. Everyone I meet says, ‘Some of my best friends are colored,’ even though you know there ain’t that many of us to go around.’ “

Gerald Nachman, Seriously Funny, Back Stage Books, 2004, pp. 491, 503


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