The comedian Dick Gregory, who died last week at the age of 84, lived a full and important American life as a comic, candid social satirist, and political activist (who famously ran for president in 1968). He once said he earned $5,000 a week “for saying out loud what I’d always said under my breath.” Gregory earned a living as a first class headline interpreter who was able to communicate his satire to an appreciative, integrated audience during fractious times. His work influenced countless comedians, including Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.
In the liner notes to Gregory’s 1961 (and first) comedy album Dick Gregory in Living Black and White, Alex Dreier wrote that Gregory is “neither Ralph Bunche nor Amos ‘n’ Andy. Gregory’s humor is not ‘negro humor’ in the traditional sense. Nor is it ‘shock’ type humor. It does not jar you, nor does it ‘shake you up.’ It doesn’t depend on dirty little words, or dirty big thoughts. No matter what his subject, Dick Gregory will not make you angry. Nor can the most vitriolic race-baiter anger him. This record carries no message, unless the message is this: There is no problem so serious that it cannot be leavened with humor. This is Dick Gregory’s credo.”
There are several excellent tributes to Gregory on the web, the best of which that I have found is on the DemocracyNow! website, which includes a documentary film and lengthy interview with Gregory. You can visit it by clicking here
A few clips of Dick Gregory in performance and in conversation: