How Dick Gregory Took Himself Off The Main Stage And Why | HuffPost
That would be the point when they say, “But seriously, folks . . . .”
And the audience that loved the funny stuff says, “Huh?” and heads for the exit.
Gregory, who died Saturday at the age of 84, hit that point in the early 1960s, when he added serious-minded activism, at first for civil rights, to his standup comedy.
Over the next decade he waded deeper and deeper into causes, from the Equal Rights Amendment to the anti-war movement.
Eventually he walked right out of standup comedy, which he knew meant trading a broad-based audience for the various groups that embrace causes. With civil rights that was still sizeable. It became more niche when he began preaching homeopathic nutrition and conspiracy theories.
If he ever regretted the defection of folks who loved his comedy and were puzzled by some of his later directions, he never showed it.
He charged into the miracle of coconut water as enthusiastically as he had once won over an audience of Southern businessmen at the Playboy Club by joking that he knew the South well, because “I spent 20 years there one night.”
As recently as Wednesday he was saying he couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital because there was so much to say and he couldn’t wait to say it.
The difference is that over the last half century he wasn’t saying it on The Tonight Show. He had moved to lecture halls, college campuses and friendly media spots like the Imus in the Morning radio show.
It will be worth hearing what Imus has to say about Gregory’s death. They had a rapport, and not only because Gregory stayed with Imus after the radio host lost a job over insulting comments about the mostly black Rutgers women’s basketball team.
While Imus and Gregory disagreed on as many points as they agreed on, Imus found him smart and articulate as well as funny. Okay, and sometimes a loose cannon.
All of which Gregory had worked at evolving into.
As a standup, his jokes about America ran toward wry observations like this one: “When the cavalry won, it was a major victory. When the Indians won it was a massacre.”