Tag Archives: comedy

Happy Birthday Dick Gregory

5Today, on Brother Gregory’s birthday, I want to applaud him for the gift of his commitment, wisdom, and his genius! Dick Gregory, whose government name is Mr. Gregory was active in the civil rights movement from the beginning.

He came to Selma, Alabama and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as “Freedom Day” (October 7, 1963). In 1964, Gregory became more involved in struggles for civil rights, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, anti-drug issues, conspiracy theories, and others. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes.

There are few people, who dare to speak truth to power. Brother Gregory is a fearless champion of the African American people, and dare I say the world. He has been at the forefront of Civil Rights before it was known as such. His is a comedian, writer, entrepreneur, social activist and critic.

Dick Gregory began his career as a comedian while serving in the military in the mid-1950s. He was drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. After being discharged in 1956, he returned to the university but did not receive a degree. With a desire to perform comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago. He said of his early career, “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.”

Gregory attributes the launch of his career to Hugh Hefner, who watched him perform at Herman Roberts Show Bar. Based on that performance, Hefner hired Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club as a replacement for the white comedian Professor Irwin Corey. Shortly after that Gregory’s first TV appearance was on the late night The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar, which positioned him to begin appearing nationally and on television.

Gregory currently stands at number 82 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-up comics of all time and has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. There is a grassroots effort afoot to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, spearheaded by Radio One host Joe Madison.

Mr. Gregory was active in the civil rights movement from the beginning. He came to Selma, Alabama and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as “Freedom Day” (October 7, 1963). In 1964, Gregory became more involved in struggles for civil rights, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, anti-drug issues, conspiracy theories, and others. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes.

Gregory began his political career by running against Richard J. Daley for the mayoralty of Chicago in 1967. Though he did not emerge victorious; this would not prove to be the end of his dalliances in electoral politics. He also unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party.

He wrote the book “Write Me In” about his presidential campaign. One interesting anecdote therein relates the story of a publicity stunt that came out of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago where the campaign had printed dollar bills with Gregory’s image on them, some of which made it into circulation, causing considerable problems, but priceless publicity. The majority of these bills were quickly seized by the federal government.

He was an early outspoken critic of the Warren Commission findings that President JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. On March 6, 1975, Gregory and assassination researcher Robert Groden appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s late night ABC talk show Goodnight America. An important historical event happened that night when the famous Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination was shown to the public on TV for the first time in history. The public’s response and outrage to that showing led to the forming of the Hart-Schweiker investigation, which contributed to the Church Committee Investigation on Intelligence Activities by the United States, which resulted in the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation.

In 1998 Gregory spoke at the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with President Bill Clinton in attendance. Not long after, the President told Gregory’s long-time friend and P.R. Consultant, Steve Jaffe, “I love Dick Gregory; he is one of the funniest people on the planet.” They spoke of how Gregory had made a comment on Dr. King’s birthday that broke everyone into laughter when he noted that the President made Speaker Newt Gingrich ride “in the back of the plane,” on an Air Force One trip overseas.

At a Civil Rights rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Gregory criticized the United States, calling it “the most dishonest, ungodly, unspiritual nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes 96 percent of the world’s hard drugs”.

Gregory announced a hunger strike on September 10, 2010, saying in a commentary published by the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal that he doubted the official U.S. report about the attacks on September 11, 2001. “One thing I know is that the official government story of those events, as well as what took place that day at the Pentagon, is just that, a story. This story is not the truth, but far from it. I was born on October 12, 1932. I am announcing today that I will be consuming only liquids beginning Sunday until my eightieth birthday in 2012 and until the real truth of what truly happened on that day emerges and is publicly known.”

His most lasting impression resulted from his 1984 founding of the Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight loss products. With this company, Gregory made efforts to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believes is being hindered by poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse. In 1985 Gregory introduced the “Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet,” a powdered diet mix. He launched the weight-loss powder at the Whole Life Expo in Boston under the slogan “It’s cool to be healthy.” The diet mix, drunk three times a day, was said to provide rapid weight loss. Gregory received a multimillion-dollar distribution contract to retail the diet.

As we celebrate this his born day, I want to pay homage to the Honorable Dick Gregory for his commitment and dedication to speak truth to power and for the knowledge to empower all of us. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Amos ‘n’ Andy: The Mystic Nights Of The Sea

aWhen I was a child, there was a television show called “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Considering the way thing were during that time, the only black people we saw on TV were maids, nannies, and Buffon’s; you know the subservient type of “colors” white folks liked so much. This show was a comedy, but these black folks lived like whites – professionals and owned businesses.

However, the NAACP and others decried the show, protested and had it removed from the airways. It is worth mentioning that at the time white folk still dressed in black face until the 1950s, yet the NAACP had no problem with those performances and images! I have spoken about the NAACP and consider them not much better than Messy Jessie and Brother Al. I have asked, and nobody can answer the question; what significant thing has the group done for black people? Other than keep black people passive and quiet!

Moving on: here is the back story of the show that might surprise you:

It was on this day in 1926 that a two-man blackface comedy series “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted on Chicago’s WGN radio station. Two years later, after changing its name to “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” the show became one of the most popular radio programs in American history. The show later became one of the first television series to depict black people as something other than maids and servants.

Though the creators and the stars of the radio show, Freeman Gosden, and Charles Carrell, were both white, the characters they played were two black men from the Deep South who moved to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Blackface performances by whites were normal for the time. This was the result of the famous Jim Crow character popular around the Civil War that white actors performed in the “blackface” tradition. Gosden and Carrell, both vaudeville performers, were doing a Chicago comedy act in blackface when an employee at the Chicago Tribune suggested they create a radio show.

When “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted, it became an immediate hit. In 1928, Gosden and Carrell took their act to a rival station, the Chicago Daily News’ WMAQ. When they discovered WGN owned the rights to their characters’ names, they simply changed the name. As their new contract gave Gosden and Carrell the right to syndicate the program, the popularity of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” soon exploded. Over the next 22 years, the show would become the highest-rated comedy in radio history, attracting more than 40 million listeners.

By 1951, when “Amos ‘n’ Andy” came to television, changing attitudes about race and concerns about racism had virtually wiped out the practice of blackface. With Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams took over for Gosden and Carrell, the show was the first TV series to feature an all-black cast and the only one of its kind for the next 20 years. This did not stop African American advocacy groups, and eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, from criticizing both the radio and TV versions of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” for promoting racial stereotypes. These protests led to the TV show’s cancellation in 1953.

The final radio broadcast of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” aired on November 25, 1960. Fast forward to the trash we see depicting African Americans in television shows today. Was Amos ‘n’ Andy really a negative upon society? Imagery is very important and, in my opinion, the show should have been praised for showing a people long denied the spotlight represented as professionals in a time of segregation, i.e., separate but equal. The truth of the matter is that this show in large part contributed greatly to removing the horrible practice of “blackface”.

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Could it have been that the society at large did not want the black people to think they could live the American dream? And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Black History: The Original Queen Of Comedy

2I love to resurrect the ghosts of the greats, particularly when it is about someone who opened doors and made a significant impact on the African American culture. So it pleases me to bestow the honor of this writing onto a veteran of the Chitlin Circuit of African-American vaudeville. This stand-up comedian was born Loretta Mary Aiken, who was known to us as Jackie “Moms” Mabley. However, we affectionately called her “Moms” and was billed as the Funniest Woman in the World.

Moms career began at age 14 and became a teenage runaway joining the Negro troupe of Henry Bowman and Tim Moore and, in a short time, became a success. She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony in a 1970s interview that he’d taken so much from her; it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s.

She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first triple-X rated comedians on the comedy circuit. Quick-witted and quick-tongued, Mabley’s unorthodox, self-assured routines as an outspoken grandma while wearing bag lady clothes with old-fashioned print dresses and floppy hats. She was a favorite with Black female audiences, particularly when she was lampooning the psychology of men. Her career spanned five decades, although white audiences did not know of her until the early 1960s.

During the 1920s and 1930s, she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of “The Emperor Jones” with Paul Robeson and recorded several of her early “lesbian stand-up” routines. Mabley was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, eventually recording more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.

She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she became known to a wider white audience, playing places like Carnegie Hall and making a number of mainstream TV appearances. This is to include her multiple appearances when that CBS show was number one on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new audience. At the height of her career, she was earning $10,000 a week.

One of her regular themes was a romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers”. She was able to get away with it courtesy of her stage persona, where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes like her (completely serious and melancholy) cover version of “Abraham, Martin, and John” that hit #35 on the Hot 100 on 19 July 1969. At 75 years old, Moms Mabley became the oldest living person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.

All of the modern comedians own Moms a debt of gratitude for opening doors for them, particularly, women comedians! Moms, I loved you, and the world continues to miss you. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Happy Birthday To The Comedic Genius

If you were to lookup Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor in the dictionary; it will say GENIUS! Known to most of us as “Richard” a comedic genius, the most profound and prolific American stand-up comedian, actor, social critic, writer, and MC. Pryor was, if anyone ever was, ahead of his time and the greatest comedian to ever live. His genius derived from an uncompromising examination of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed colorful vulgarities, and profanity, as well as racial epithets.

The great comedian Bill Cosby reportedly once said, “Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.” His body of work includes a list far too numerous to mention in this writing that included concert, movies, and recordings. He collaborated on many projects with actor Gene Wilder and frequently collaborated with actor/comedian/writer Paul Mooney.

Mr. Pryor won an Emmy Award in (1973) and five Grammy Awards (1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, and 1982). In 1974, he also won two American Academy of Humor awards and the Writers Guild of America Award. The first ever Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was presented to him in 1998. Pryor is listed at Number 1 on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians.

Mr. Pryor had what he called in his autobiography Pryor Convictions an “epiphany” when he walked onto the stage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas when he looked at the sold-out crowd, exclaimed over the microphone “What the f@#k am I doing here!?”, and walked off the stage. Afterward, Pryor began working profanity into his act, including the use of the “N-word”.

In the 1970s, Pryor wrote for such television shows as Sanford and Son, The Flip Wilson Show, and the Lily Tomlin special, for which he shared an Emmy Award. During this period, Pryor tried to break into mainstream television. He was a guest host on the first season of Saturday Night Live. He had his own show – The Richard Pryor Show which premiered on NBC in 1977, but was canceled after only four episodes. Television audiences did not respond to the show’s controversial subject matter, and Pryor was unwilling to alter his material for network censors.

In 1979, at the height of his success, Pryor visited Africa. Upon returning to the United States, Pryor swore he would never use the word “nigger” in his stand-up comedy routine again. However, his favorite epithet, “mother@#ker”, remains a term of endearment on his official website.

Despite a reputation for constantly using profanity on and off camera, Pryor briefly hosted a children’s show in 1984 called Pryor’s Place. Like Sesame Street, Pryor’s Place featured a cast of puppets, hanging out and having fun in a surprisingly friendly inner-city environment along with several children and characters portrayed by Pryor himself. However, Pryor’s Place frequently dealt with more sobering issues than Sesame Street. Pryor co-hosted the Academy Awards twice, and was nominated for an Emmy for a guest role on the television series, Chicago Hope.

In 1989, he appeared in Harlem Nights, a comedy-drama crime film starring Eddie Murphy. It was a financial success, grossing three times the amount it cost to make it (worldwide) and is well known for starring three generations of black comedians – Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Redd Foxx. In 1990, Pryor suffered a second and more severe heart attack and underwent triple heart bypass surgery.

By the early 1990s, he was confined to using a wheelchair as well as a motor powered scooter for the remainder of his life to get around when his multiple sclerosis began to take its toll on his body. On December 10, 2005, nine days after his birthday, Richard Pryor left us for the great beyond and on that day his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was covered with flowers, beer bottles, fan letters etc. Just the way Rich would have wanted it.

I will tell you that on that day in December the world lost a treasure and I lost a hero – a man that only comes this way once in a lifetime. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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