Game Changers of Comedy: Whoopi Goldberg
July 27, 2016 Bridget Flaherty Features, Game Changers
According to Wikipedia, only 12 people have reached EGOT status. EGOT is an acronym for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. This week’s game changer is one of them. In 1991, she became the second black woman to receive an Oscar. In 1994, this week’s game changer was the first woman to host the Oscars solo, and she did it again in 1996, 1999, and 2002. She is also a notable humanitarian. She is Whoopi Goldberg.
Born in 1955 as Caryn Johnson, Goldberg was raised in Manhattan, NY under the Chelsea Housing Projects. From a young age, she knew she wanted to be an actress. This inspiration actually came from Star Trek’s Uhura, a central black character who “ain’t no maid.” She changed her name to Whoopi like the cushion, and Goldberg from her mother’s family Jewish lineage. Goldberg travelled all over trying to make a name for herself including some time in Berlin. She even studied under Uta Hagen, famed drama teacher.
After struggling to find stage time, Goldberg turned to comedy. She created a one woman show, The Spook Show. In this production, she performed stand-up monologues of several different characters. Her performances have been compared to Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, and Lenny Bruce. The difference in theirs and hers is she talked directly to the audience. The crowd’s reaction was as much as part of the show as what she prepared. Thus, the performance was a unique improvisation.
The show was such a success that it earned her a 1984 Broadway run and by 1985, the Grammy winning HBO special, Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway. The special included five characters: Fountaine the self described junkie, a 13 year old surfer girl, a five year old who wants to be white, a Jamaican woman, and a disabled woman who dreams of it would be like to have fully functioning limbs. Each character describes defining elements of their life to the audience as well as some very dark comical moments. She also created simple physical differences for each character. Each one had their own voice with an accent and cadence. Each had respective mannerisms and gestures. Goldberg has cited comedians Lenny Bruce and Moms Mabley as influences. The show made the comic in demand.
Goldberg’s achievements have been remarkable, especially in a world where black female comics are scarce. She has starred in many movies– some hits and some not-so-much. She even had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has done nighttime TV, daytime TV, radio, and game shows. In 2005, she resurrected her Broadway show. She added two more characters: Lurleen the Southern matriarch and Ordery the Law & Order fan. Today, Goldberg continues to do some stand-up. She is to be a judge for Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle at this year’s Just For Laughs Montreal.
All the while, she has worked with humanitarian causes. She has participated in AIDS activism since the late ‘80s. She joined Billy Crystal and Robin Williams to perform in the 1986 Comic Relief, a benefit for homelessness. In 2010, she launched Give a Damn, her campaign for straight allies with LGBT. Goldberg is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
In the last 30 years, EGOT winning Game Changer, Whoopi Goldberg, has made huge strides for women, African Americans, and humans on the whole.