Here’s what I will tell you. I remember Dick Gregory when I was coming up and him appearing on The Jack Paar Show for the very first time. Now I didn’t know what was going on, but as it turns out, he had actually turned down The Jack Paar Show, which would usually have Black entertainers on and they would do a bit then he’d shoo them off like flies on a windowsill.
But in Dick’s case, he said, “I will not do your show unless you allow me to sit on the couch and make a connection with the audience after I’ve done my routine.” And eventually, Jack Paar relented and Dick Gregory went on to respond to the show and in that one moment, broke the color line in terms of comedians on late-night television.
When I saw it as a kid, all I thought was, “Isn’t this great to see a Black comedian.” At the time, he was doing comedy that nobody else was doing. He was doing political comedy. Talking about the Kennedys, you know, what was going on in the world and how those things connected Black people, either him or friends he knew, whatever the situation was. That’s what I thought about it.
I thought this was just amazing. It was something I’d never seen before. I mean I had heard comedians do their routines, but their routines were like you know comedy stuff. This was a man talking about Black people in America and the interesting things that happen to them and what history’s response to those things were and you’d never heard anybody talk about that before. At least I hadn’t, so I was absolutely taken by it.
— As told to Shantell E. Jamison
Follow the social media hashtag #EBONYBHM for more of our Black History Month content including our monthlong "In My Lifetime" narratives. Click here for other entries in the series.