Baby Boomer Celebrity: What Happened To Dick Gregory?

Before there was Richard Pryor, before there was Bill Cosby, there was me – the inspiration for a generation of baby boomer black comics. By the early 1960s, I became the first black “crossover” comedian. People called me the “Black Mort Sahl.” I called Sahl the “White Dick Gregory.”

But, hey, I was more than just another funny face. I leaped into the civil rights movement and anti-war protest as fast as any baby boomer activist.

I faced racial issues straight on with jokes like: 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. Bring me a whole fried chicken.

It seemed like I appeared every time you turned on the television. My autobiography: an instant best-seller. I was a pop culture celebrity.

Soon I was up my to neck in social protest. I went on hunger strikes, challenged Richard Daley for Mayor of Chicago, and ran for President on the “new left” Freedom and Peace Party ticket in 1968.

When a stand-up takes his issues that seriously, the public stops laughing. My show business career began to shrink. So did I. Hunger strikes morphed from protest to life style. I became a vegetarian and went on extreme fasts, some lasting up to 50 days. For a time, I advocated breathanarianism, a new age idea that one can achieve maximum health by giving up food entirely.

I’ve been hitched to the same woman all my life and have – count ‘em – ten kids. I’m still performing and cantankerous at 81. This year, I’ll reach the number I was chosen on Comedy Central’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.


Baby Boomer Trivia Questions

First black to be nominated as the Academy Award Best Actor in a movie?

Ossie Davis
Harry Belafonte
Sidney Poitier
James Earl Jones

First black to win an Emmy for Best Actor or Actress in a television series?

Bill Cosby (Bill Cosby Show)
Isabelle Sanford (The Jeffersons)
Red Foxx (Sanford and Son)
Esther Rolle (Good Times)

First black to be the star of a network television show?

Flip Wilson
Nat King Cole
Redd Foxx
Ethel Waters

Answers at end of post

Notable Quotables from Dick Gregory

~ Riches do not delight us so much with their possession, as torment us with their loss.

~ I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark.

~ Just being a Negro doesn’t qualify you to understand the race situation any more than being sick makes you an expert on medicine.

 ~ I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.

Answers to Baby Boomer Trivia Questions

Sidney Poitier was the first black nominated as Best Actor. He won for Lilies of the Field (1963).


Movin’ on up
Isabel Sanford played the patient and loving wife of the “black Archie Bunker,” George Jefferson, in the long-running The Jeffersons. She accomplished in 1981 what no other black had – the Emmy for Best Actor or Actress in a Television Series.

An actress who had her best years when many baby boomers didn’t have a TV was the first black to get her own network show. From 1950-1953, Ethel Waters starred in Beulah. Called “queen of the kitchen,” she was wise and smart – raising the kids and organizing everyone’s life – a model for the television hit Hazel.

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