Pioneering comedian Dick Gregory dead at 84

Aug 19, 2017 by Ian Evans

Dick Gregory, comedy legend and civil rights activist, has died at the age of 84. His son, Christian wrote on Instagram, “It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr. Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington, D.C.” Gregory died of heart failure after falling ill last week.

Gregory broke ground as the first African-American comedian to perform regularly in front of white audiences, which started at the Chhicago Playboy Club in 1961. As he told The Florida Times-Union last year, “When I started, a black comic couldn’t work a white nightclub. You could sing, you could dance, but you couldn’t stand flat-footed and talk — then the system would know how brilliant black folks was.”

His humour, which he was bringing to white audiences during the Civil Rights Movement, showed the treatment of African-American, as in this joke where he said, “Last time I was down South, I walked into this restaurant, and this white waitress came up to me and said, ‘We don’t serve colored people here.’ I said, ‘That’s all right, I don’t eat colored people. Being me a whole fried chicken.’”

He was asked to be on The Tonight Show in 1962, but said he wouldn’t appear unless he could sit and speak with Jack Paar after his performance. A black entertainer had not had that happen before. His salary skyrocketed, but rather than just bask in newfound wealth, Gregory became a civil-rights activist. He spoke at voter registration rallies, took part in the March at Selma, and was even shot while trying to cool down the 1965 Watts riots.