It was about 50 years ago that Dick Gregory became an iconic figure in comedy by breaking down barriers for Black comedians. Now he’s finally receiving a much deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dick Gregory is an iconic figure not only as a comedian but also as an activist and entrepreneur.
Many would point to Gregory as the first major comic to successfully reach the mainstream white audience and introduce important discussions of racism through his stand-up in the 1960s.
At the time, so-called Black comedy was only introduced to white audiences through racist minstrel shows that focused on promoting offensive stereotypes about the Black community.
Gregory managed to change that landscape with honest but respectful comedy.
“I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr. stamp,” Gregory once said during one of his performances. “Just think about all those white bigots licking the backside of a Black man.”
His acts were entertaining, hilarious and always controversial, but more importantly they were historic and legendary for the way they prodded at the ridiculousness of racism and segregation.
At the age of 82 he will officially become a physical part of Hollywood history with his name engraved into the Walk of Fame, but even he knows that the presence of racism thriving still today is precisely why it took so long for him to receive such an honor.
“You know damn good and well why it took so long,” he said to one reporter who asked him why he is just now receiving the honor. “I’ve been a bad boy.”
His “bad boy” tendencies once threatened his ability to even become successful but he told Variety that it was Hugh Hefner who finally gave him the platform he needed to break down barriers for Black comedians and entertainers.
Gregory performed at Hefner’s Playboy Club in Chicago where he was met with racist hecklers.
His ability to hold his own on stage and successfully make his way through a stellar show catapulted him into the media limelight and earned much respect from fans across the country.
It also landed him a major headlining slot—something that many Black comedians of the time would only dream about.
“It’s such a sad thing that Hefner will never get his due for what he did,” Gregory added. “When you think about Black comics, the Richard Pryors, the Paul Mooneys, they’ve always been here. But white folks weren’t exposed to them until this fragile white guy who smoked a pipe and looked like Popeye put us on stage.”
Eventually, one successful gig led to another and Gregory received the opportunity of a lifetime.
A Black comedian whose jokes were known to make Caucasian audiences feel uncomfortable was asked to appear on “Tonight Starring Jack Paar.”
It was a life-changing opportunity that almost didn’t happen.
Gregory learned that Black talent wasn’t allowed to actually sit down on the couch and talk to Paar so he turned down the gig.
“I hung up the phone and I started crying,” he said. “That’s how close I came to not talking to you. But he called me back and said come in and do the show, and after I sat on the couch, my salary jumped from $1,500 a year to $3.5 million. That was the power of sitting on that couch.”
But that power of that couch was still nothing compared to the power of Gregory’s comedy.
After thriving in the entertainment space and earning respect from both the Black and white communities, Gregory became a powerful activist.
He was constantly pushing for the advancement of the Black community in every aspect from political equality to encouraging a healthier lifestyle.
As an entrepreneur, Gregory introduced the 4X Formula in 1974. The 4X Formula was a nutritional formula that could replace meals and help consumers, especially Black consumers, lose weight.
The idea came from Gregory’s own health struggles and the realization that the Black community needed to focus on living healthy lifestyles.
During his time in the entertainment industry Gregory took on unhealthy habits like smoking, excessive drinking and poor food choices. These decisions left him battling ulcers, headaches and obesity.
He was cured of such medical ailments after following his own 4X Formula diet plan.
He recently released an updated version of this dietary supplement called Dick Gregory’s Caribbean Diet for Optimal Health.
Even when he stepped off the comedy stage, Gregory always had the progression and well being of the Black community at heart.
He was always a vital part of entertainment history in the Black community, but his permanent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame serves as a physical and ironic reminder of the challenges he faced when trying to pave the way for Black entertainers in one of the most racist industries in the world.