Redd Foxx was known for being very dirty. Once, he even auditioned to do comedy at a strip club but was deemed too raunchy. His frank jokes often addressed taboo topics related to race and sex. Tommy Chong, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and Jamie Foxx have all credited Foxx as a major influence. Redd Foxx was a game changer.
Foxx was born 1922 in St. Louis. When he was 13 years old, he ran away to Chicago to play washboard in a band. After they broke up, he moved to New York. It was there he began to run around with a young Malcolm X before he reformed as the iconic Muslim and civil rights leader. Foxx started doing comedy, but he was making all his money from selling weed. In 1949, he was busted for selling to an undercover cop. Following the charges, Foxx fled New York for Los Angeles.
He began doing radio bits with another comic, Slappy White. The two gained so much popularity that Dinah Washington asked them to be her opening act at the Apollo in 1951. For the next four years or so, Foxx travelled the the Chitlin Circuit. After seeing him perform in LA, Dootsie Williams, record executive of Dooto Records, asked Foxx if he wanted to make a comedy album. Initially, Foxx turned down the offer. The comedian thought no one would have any interest in seeing his act live if it was on a recording. However, he was also desperate for money. He recanted his refusal, and went ahead with the idea. In 1956, Redd Foxx made history. He became the first comedian with an authentic stand up album. His crass humor was recorded with such jokes like, “Confucious say, ‘Man who fishes in other man’s well catches crabs.’” He had about 50 more albums to follow.
From the albums, Foxx’s fame grew. He started getting TV spots. In 1972, Norman Lear teamed up with the comic to create the historic TV show, Sanford and Son. Foxx used his status to hire Chitlin Circuit performers, and give them parts, like Lawanda Page as Aunt Esther. The show was about a grumpy junk dealer Fred G. Sanford, played by Redd Foxx, who was watched over by his loving son Lamont Sanford. The two would end up in schemes to make money or finagle their way out of a dilemma. Foxx’s catchphrase was calling his fictional son a “dummy.” While in reverse, the son referred as to the elder Sanford as an “old fool.” Foxx’s character also had a running gag where he would have fake heart attacks and saying something similar to, “This is The Big One, Elizabeth! I’m coming to join ya honey!” The show pioneered the voice for black situational comedy. It lasted until 1977 when ABC made Foxx an offer he could not refuse.
They gave him a variety show, The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour. It lasted one year before the network cancelled it. However, the comedian continued performing. He made his way to the Las Vegas Strip, and he had his own club in LA where Paul Mooney and Richard Pryor honed their chops. Eventually, Foxx was featured in the movie Harlem Nights alongside Pryor and Eddie Murphy. This scored him another show, The Royal Family, where he ironically died from a heart attack. The incident occurred during filming, and the comedian was calling out for his wife at the time.
By making comedy albums, he forever changed the course of stand-up. That alone makes Redd Foxx a game changer. Between his raunchy stand-up and race related TV firsts, Foxx just made the game that much deeper.