Dick Gregory is a trailblazing machine. He has ran for mayor. He has ran for president. He is an entrepreneur with his own line of health drinks. He beat cancer without chemotherapy. Instead, he created a special vegetarian diet with the help of cancer specialists, and he no longer has any signs of lymphoma. He is a notable feminist. President Clinton praised the comic saying, “He is one of the funniest people on the planet.” He is the first comedian to address civil rights struggles in his act. He is the first black comedian to perform in “white clubs” without a minstrel act. He is a living legend. Dick Gregory is a Game Changer.
In the mid 1950s, Gregory realized his talent for performing comedy while serving in the army. Once he was discharged, he dropped out college, stating the school, “didn’t want me to study. They wanted me to run.” He moved to Chicago and started performing in nightclubs which were predominately black. His big break would happen in 1961.
Another comedian at the time, “Professor” Irwin Corey was headlining at the Playboy Club in the city. He was looking for his replacement, and he frequented black clubs. There, he discovered Gregory, and the comic a gig. Originally, the deal was for Gregory to headline for a few weeks. His first night at the club was dicey. There was a blizzard making it difficult to get to the show. There was also a large group of white Southern businessmen in the audience. The club tried to call Gregory and cancel. He never got the message, showed up late, and went on anyway. What could have been a disaster or a huge race conflict actually turned out to be a triumphant comedy show. Gregory killed. Not only did he win over the audience, he did it without having to play a stereotype or lower intelligence.
Hugh Hefner signed Gregory for a three year gig with Playboy that night. He was featured in Time, Newsweek and many other major publications. He went on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, and he was the first black comic to have an on-air interview with Paar after his performance. Gregory played it smart. He did his research and wrote most of his material to appeal to the “whitey.” He reeled in his white audiences to come in big with the real issues of civil right struggles. This was unprecedented.
The media dubbed him after the famed satirist as the “Black Mort Sahl,” and friends referred to Mort Sahl as the “White Dick Gregory.” As he continued on, he chose protests marches over gigs. He’s likely been arrested more than any other comic in his fight for equality. Dick Gregory built the road for black comics and took satirists to new heights.Today, he is still going strong. The 83 year old continues to make his mark. He is still making waves by writing, speaking, and performing.