In memoriam: Dick and Jerry (dedication)

These past forty-eight (48) hours have taken from us comedians Dick Gregory and the King of Comedy himself, Jerry Lewis.

If you are unfamiliar with these two (2) people, then please take it upon yourself to read about them, and more importantly, watch some of their works online.

Dick Gregory was the first Black comedian to be a steady performer at all-White (comedy) clubs in the United States back in his day. He started performing in Chicago in the 1950s, and, after being spotted and invited by Hugh Heffner, was soon earning steady pay for his stand-up routines. Those facts in themselves (pioneering entertainer plus earning relatively substantial cash from his act) were big deals back in those days (supposedly $50/night was a lot of money), primarily because the height of his popularity took place during the Civil Rights era, which was stocked with societal unrest, political assassinations, and conventional wars abroad. Gregory lent his voice and jokes of contemporary mockery where he could, which was enough to be entered into the annals of that tumultuous part of American history in a positive light.

He was before my time, but undoubtedly paved the way for a performer like me to do what I did in the genre in the 1990s, when I started touring stand-up in middle school and for a while thereafter. One difference of style was that I hardly told jokes during my routines, which were largely based off of my class clown sketches that admittedly sometimes translated poorly to adult audiences. I was more of a physical comedy guy, making silly faces and odd noises just to get a laugh where I could. Those days as a teenager felt to me that I was an original in the field; that no one else could have possibly done what I was doing. This was around the same time as the beginning of the meteoric rise of Jim Carrey (to whom I looked up), who also heavily relied on physical stunts in lieu of traditional storytelling. It was only later that I found out he had greatly admired the work of Jerry Lewis before him.

Very few people deserve their monikers, whether they are bestowed upon or self-imposed. To put it bluntly, Jerry Lewis earned the moniker 'King of Comedy' over the course of his career. His style and delivery is so hackneyed that, for an example, modern first and second dates in courtship would almost feel archaic and awkward if it weren't for those subtle yet obvious instances of raw humor, even if they are nothing more than ice breakers. We can attribute that to Mr. Lewis.

He also set new boundaries in comedic character acting with the likes of (the original) The Nutty Professor and The Ladies Man. Moreso, in a bit of what would qualify as trivia now, he taught a college course in filmmaking, where his students included Hollywood greats Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. This combination of talent, skill, and showmanship pedigree made him a true master of his craft and a guiding force for future generations.

The Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis that I grew up with were stage legends, yes, but mainly activists by then. Gregory never gave up on speaking on behalf of people that looked like him and our struggles which handicap us. Lewis was equally as revered for his work and dedication to persons suffering from muscular dystrophy. His many telethons raised awareness and financial assistance for the cause (and its research), which is greatly appreciated.

I want to thank both of these geniuses for indirectly and directly impacting the evolution of my work and dreams.




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