Dick Gregory

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Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory 2010.jpg
Dick Gregory in March 2010
Birth name Richard Claxton Gregory
Born (1932-10-12) October 12, 1932 (age 81)
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Medium Stand-up, film, books
Nationality United States
Years active 1953–present
Genres Satire/Political satire, Observational comedy
Subject(s) American civil rights, American politics, American culture, African-American culture, racism, race relations, vegetarianism, healthy diet
Spouse Lillian Smith (1959–present) 10 children
Notable works and roles In Living Black and White
Nigger: An Autobiography
Write Me In!
Website www.dickgregory.com

Richard Claxton "Dick" Gregory (born October 12, 1932) is an American comedian, social activist, social critic, writer, and entrepreneur.

Gregory is an influential American comedian who has used his performance skills to convey to both white and black audiences his political message on civil rights. His social satire helped change the way white Americans perceived black American comedians since he first performed in public.

Early life[edit]

As a poor student who excelled at running, Gregory was aided by teachers at Sumner High School, among them Warren St. James. Gregory earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.[1] There he set school records as a half-miler and miler. His college career was interrupted for two years in 1954 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. The army was where he got his start in comedy, entering and winning several Army talent shows at the urging of his commanding officer, who had taken notice of Gregory's penchant for joking. In 1956, Gregory briefly returned to SIU after his discharge, but dropped out because he felt that the university "didn't want me to study, they wanted me to run".

In the hopes of performing comedy professionally, Gregory moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he became part of a new generation of black comedians that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, and Godfrey Cambridge, all of whom broke with the minstrel tradition, which presented stereotypical black characters. Gregory drew on current events, especially racial issues, for much of his material: "Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?".[2]

Career[edit]

Dick Gregory began his career as a comedian while serving in the military in the mid 1950s. He served in the army for a year and a half at Ft. Hood in Texas, Ft. Lee in Virginia and Ft. Smith in Arkansas. 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[3]

In the beginning of his career, Gregory experienced his share of failure and success. In 1958, Gregory tried his hand in opening a nightclub called the Apex Club in Illinois. The club failed, landing Gregory in financial hardship. However, in 1959, Gregory landed a job as master of ceremonies at the Roberts Show Club.[4]

Gregory performed as a comedian in small, primarily black-patronized nightclubs while working for the United States Postal Service during the daytime. Dick Gregory was one of the first black comedians to gain widespread acclaim performing for white audiences. When Dick Gregory was starting out, it was nearly unheard of for black comics to perform in white night clubs. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Gregory describes the past role of black comics as limited. “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.”

In 1961, while working at the Black-owned Roberts Show Bar in Chicago, he was spotted by Hugh Hefner performing the following material before a largely white audience:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, "We don't serve colored people here." I said, "That's all right. I don't eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken."

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, "Boy, we're giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we're gonna do to you". So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, "Line up, boys!"[5]

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.[6]

Gregory's first TV appearance was on the late night The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar.[citation needed] He soon began appearing nationally and on television.

Early in Dick Gregory’s career, he was offered a gig on The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar. That particular show was known for helping to propel entertainers to the next level of their careers. At the time, black comics were allowed to perform on the show but were not allowed to stay after their performances to sit on the famous couch and talk with the host. Dick Gregory declined the invitation to perform on the show several times until finally Jack Paar called him to find out why he refused to perform on the show. Eventually, in order to have Gregory perform, the producers agreed to allow him to stay after his performance and talk with the host on air. This was a first in the show's history. Dick Gregory’s interview on The Tonight Show spurred conversations across America. His interview provided an opportunity for European-American viewers to see an African American in a positive and humane light. After the show aired, several people began calling the show and saying things such as, "I didn't know black children and white children were the same."[7] Gregory’s appearance on The Tonight Show propelled his career, leading to other television appearances. His pay increased from $250 per week to $5000 per night. [8]

Post career[edit]

Gregory is number 82 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of all time and has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[9] There is a grassroots effort afoot to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, spearheaded by Radio One host Joe Madison.

Gregory is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

He was a former co-host with radio personality Cathy Hughes, and is still a frequent morning guest, on WOL 1450 AM talk radio's "The Power", the flagship station of Hughes' Radio One. He also appears regularly on the nationally syndicated Imus in the Morning program.

Gregory appears as "Mr. Sun" on the television show Wonder Showzen (the third episode, entitled "Ocean", aired in 2005). As Chauncey, a puppet character, imbibes a hallucinogenic substance, Mr. Sun warns, "Don't get hooked on imagination, Chauncey. It can lead to terrible, horrible things." Gregory also provides guest commentary on the Wonder Showzen Season One DVD. Large segments of his commentary were intentionally bleeped out, including the names of several dairy companies, as he made potentially slanderous remarks concerning ill effects that the consumption of cow milk has on human beings.

Gregory attended and spoke at the funeral of James Brown on December 30, 2006, in Augusta, Georgia.

Gregory is an occasional guest on the Mark Thompson's "Make It Plain" Sirius Channel 146 Radio Show from 3pm to 6pm PST.

Gregory appeared on The Alex Jones Show on September 14, 2010, March 19, 2012, and April 1, 2014.

Gregory gave the keynote Address for Black History Month at Bryn Mawr College on February 28, 2013.[10] His take-away message to the students was to never accept injustice. “Once I accept injustice; I become injustice. For example, paper mills give off a terrible stench. But the people who work there, don't smell it. Remember, Dr. King was assassinated when he went to work for garbage collectors. To help them as workers to enforce their rights. They couldn't smell the stench of the garbage all around them anymore. They were used to it. They would eat their lunch out of a brown bag sitting on the garbage truck. One day, a worker was sitting inside the back of the truck on top of the garbage, and got crushed to death because no one knew he was there.”[11]

In 2013, Dick Gregory continues to be a ringing voice of the black power movement. Recently, he was featured in a Fantagraphics book by Pat Thomas entitled Listen, Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975, which uses the political recordings of the Civil Rights era to highlight sociopolitical meanings throughout the movement.[12] Comedian Dick Gregory is known for comedic performances that not only made people laugh, but mocked the establishment. According to Thomas, Dick Gregory’s monologues reflect a time when entertainment needed to be political to be relevant, which is why he included his standup in the collection. Dick Gregory is featured along with the likes of Huey Newton, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes and Bill Cosby. [13]

Personal life[edit]

Gregory met his wife Lillian Smith [14] at an African-American club; they married in 1959. They have ten children, not including one son, Richard Jr, who died at two months old: Michele, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (aka Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna, and Yohance.[15]

Activism[edit]

Political activism[edit]

Dick Gregory at the Miami Book Fair International of 1984

Active in the civil rights movement, on October 7, 1963, Gregory 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).[16]

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.

Dick Gregory in 1965

Gregory unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace and Freedom Party. He garnered 47,097 votes (including one from Hunter S. Thompson[17]) with fellow activist Mark Lane as his running mate in some states, David Frost in others, and Dr. Benjamin Spock in Virginia[18] and Pennsylvania[19] garnering more than the party he had left.[20] The Freedom and Peace Party also ran other candidates, including Beulah Sanders for New York State Senate and Flora Brown for New York State Assembly.[21] His efforts landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents.

Gregory then 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. A large contributing factor to the seizure came from the bills resembling authentic US currency enough that they worked in many dollar-cashing machines of the time. Gregory avoided being charged with a federal crime, later joking that the bills couldn’t really be considered US currency because "everyone knows a black man will never be on a US bill."

Shortly after this time Gregory became an 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.[22] 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.

Gregory was an outspoken feminist, and in 1978 he joined Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Margaret Heckler, Barbara Mikulski, and original suffragists to lead the National ERA March for Ratification and Extension, a march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the United States Capitol of over 100,000 on Women's Equality Day (August 26), 1978 to demonstrate for a ratification deadline extension for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, and for the ratification of the ERA. The march was ultimately successful in extending the deadline to June 30, 1982, and Gregory joined other activists to the Senate for celebration and victory speeches by pro-ERA Senators, Members of Congress, and activists. The ERA still narrowly failed to be ratified by the extended ratification date, however, but the Women's Movement was largely successful in securing gender equality in the laws and society.

On July 21, 1979, Gregory appeared at the Amandla Festival where Bob Marley, Patti LaBelle, and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others, had performed. Gregory gave a speech before Marley's performance, blaming President Carter, and showing his support for the international Anti-Apartheid movements. Gregory and Mark Lane conducted landmark research into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which helped move the U.S. House Select Assassinations Committee to investigate the murder, along with that of John F. Kennedy. Lane was author of conspiracy theory books such as Rush to Judgment. The pair wrote the MLK conspiracy book Code Name Zorro, which postulated that convicted assassin James Earl Ray did not act alone. Gregory has also argued that the moon landing was faked and the commonly accepted account of the 9/11 attacks is incorrect, among other conspiracy theories.[23][24]

Gregory was an outspoken activist during the US Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran. In 1980 he traveled to Tehran to attempt to negotiate the hostages' release and engaged in a public hunger strike there, weighing less than 100 pounds (45 kg) when he returned to the United States.

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.

Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma in late 1999. He said he was treating the cancer with herbs, vitamins, and exercise, which he believes kept the cancer in remission.[25]

Since the late 1980s, Gregory has been a figure in the health food industry by advocating for a raw fruit and vegetable diet. He wrote the introduction to Viktoras Kulvinskas' book "Survival into the 21st Century". Gregory first became a vegetarian in the 1960s, and has lost a considerable amount of weight by going on extreme fasts, some lasting upwards of 50 days. He developed a diet drink called "Bahamian Diet Nutritional Drink" and went on TV shows advocating for his diet and to help the morbidly obese. He is probably best remembered for his attempts, chronicled in the media on daytime talk shows in early 1988, at helping 1,200 pound (540 kg) Long Island resident Walter Hudson lose nearly 600 pounds (270 kg) in only a few months on a liquid diet. In 2003, Gregory and Cornel West wrote letters on behalf of PETA to Kentucky Fried Chicken's CEO, asking that the company improve their animal-handling procedures.[26]

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".[27]

Gregory announced a hunger strike on September 10, 2010, saying in a commentary published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation 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."[28]

Health Enterprises, Inc.[edit]

In 1984 he founded 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.[29] In 1985 Gregory introduced the "Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet", a powdered diet mix.[30] 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. [31]

Discography[edit]

  • In Living Black and White (1961)
  • East & West (1961)
  • Dick Gregory Talks Turkey (1962)
  • The Two Sides of Dick Gregory (1963)
  • My Brother's Keeper (1963)
  • Dick Gregory Running for President (1964)
  • So You See... We All Have Problems (1964)
  • Dick Gregory On: (1969)
  • The Light Side: The Dark Side (1969)
  • Dick Gregory's Frankenstein (1970)
  • Live at the Village Gate (1970)
  • At Kent State (1971)
  • Caught in the Act (1974)
  • The Best of Dick Gregory (1997)
  • 21st Century "State of the Union" (2001)

Books[edit]

  • Nigger: An Autobiography, with Robert Lipsyte, E.P. Dutton, September 1964. (one account says 1963) (reprinted, Pocket Books, 1965-present)
  • Write me in!, Bantam, 1968.
  • From the Back of the Bus
  • What's Happening?
  • The Shadow that Scares Me
  • Dick Gregory's Bible Tales, with Commentary, a book of Bible-based humor. ISBN 0-8128-6194-9
  • Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature! ISBN 0-06-080315-0
  • (with Shelia P. Moses), Callus on My Soul: A Memoir ISBN 0-7582-0202-4
  • Up from Nigger
  • No More Lies; The Myth and the Reality of American History
  • Dick Gregory's political primer
  • (with Mark Lane), Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Assassination of Martin Luther King
  • (with Mel Watkins), African American Humor: The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today (Library of Black America)
  • Robert Lee Green, Dick Gregory, daring Black leader
  • African American Humor: The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today (editor) ISBN 1-55652-430-7

Filmography[edit]

  • "One Bright Shining Moment" (2006)
  • The Hot Chick (2002)
  • Children of the Struggle (1999)
  • Panther (1995)
  • Sweet Love, Bitter (1967)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dick Gregory, AEI Speakers Bureau. Accessed December 11, 2007. "A track star at Sumner High School, Gregory earned an athletic scholarship in 1951 to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and became the first member of his family to attend college."
  2. ^ Segregation Joke.
  3. ^ http://www.dickgregory.com/about_dick_gregory.html
  4. ^ http://www.visionaryproject.org/gregorydick/
  5. ^ Joke Gregory Told That Got Him Hired By High Hefner.
  6. ^ Lutz, Phillip (February 19, 2010). "A Bit Slower, but Still Throwing Lethal Punch Lines". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Saunders, Lonna (February 27, 2013). "Dick Gregory: "What I'm Running From" Bryn Mawr College Feb. 28". Huffington Post. 
  8. ^ Saunders, Lonna (February 27, 2013). "Dick Gregory: "What I'm Running From" Bryn Mawr College Feb. 28". Huffington Post. 
  9. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Saunders, Lonna (February 27, 2013). "Dick Gregory: "What I'm Running From" Bryn Mawr College Feb. 28". Huffington Post. 
  11. ^ Saunders, Lonna (February 27, 2013). "Dick Gregory: "What I'm Running From" Bryn Mawr College Feb. 28". Huffington Post. 
  12. ^ http://lightintheattic.net/releases/685-listen-whitey-the-sounds-of-black-power-1967-1974
  13. ^ Semioli, Tom (October 30, 2013). "Listen to This Book: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975". Huffington Post. 
  14. ^ Yes, The (2011-06-19). "Journalist Lillian Smith with her mentor Human Rights Activist Dick Gregory. | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 2012-04-04. 
  15. ^ With my wife Lillian I have 10 kids.
  16. ^ Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Beacon Press, 1994; rev. ed. 2002, p. 58.
  17. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. (1979) [1974]. http://books.google.com/books?id=VHxgGvF9ugAC&pg=PA20&dq#PPA19,M1 |chapterurl= missing title (help). The Great Shark Hunt. Gonzo Papers 1. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 20. ISBN 0-7432-5045-1. "Hubert Humphrey lost that election by a handful of votes — mine among them — and if I had it to do again I would still vote for Dick Gregory." 
  18. ^ "People's Party Nominates Dr. Spock For President". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. November 29, 1971. pp. B5. 
  19. ^ "Spock, Gregory To Be on Ballot". Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian. March 6, 1968. p. 10. 
  20. ^ Gregory's 1968 run for POTUS
  21. ^ Freedom Party Nominees
  22. ^ Zapruder film on Good Night America - 3/6/75 Robert Groden and Dick Gregory.
  23. ^ Wiley, Ed (2006-11-09). "The 9/11 conspiracy: Rubbish or reality? - US news - Life - Race & ethnicity - msnbc.com". MSNBC. Retrieved 2012-04-04. 
  24. ^ "Dick Gregory's Role as Michael Jackson's Adviser", NPR, July 12, 2005.
  25. ^ "Dick Gregory Talks About His Fight With Cancer". Jet. June 2000. 
  26. ^ "PETA Recruits Comedian, Activist in Anti-KFC Push," Nation's Restaurant News, 24 November 2003.
  27. ^ Gregory Speaks:US Has Just 5% Of World Population,Yet Uses 96% Of The World's Hard Drugs!
  28. ^ "WTC 1 and 2: Justice and 9/11 Demands Accountability. Forensic Evidence Indicates Presence of Controlled Demolition Material". GlobalResearch.ca (Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalisation). 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  29. ^ http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/dick-gregory-funny-blunt-civil-rights-advocate
  30. ^ Ebony, August 1985, p. 87.
  31. ^ http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20088677,00.html

External links[edit]