Never screw up on a slow news day.
That tongue-in-cheek advice on dealing with the news media was first stated in 1972 by a character in Johnny Hart’s “B.C.” comic strip.
A corollary might be: Don’t die on the same day as someone more famous than you.
Dick Gregory was a black comedian whose impact was greatest during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But he was still insightful — sometimes angry, sometimes hopeful — in the months prior to his death on Aug. 19. He was 84.
He isn’t known to as many people as Jerry Lewis, who died just hours later, so the news of Gregory’s death was submerged by the wave of news stories and memorials for Lewis.
It’s not too late, though, to find out why Gregory had the impact he did. Simply type his name into the search box on YouTube and you will find dozens of videos and recordings of his performances and interviews. One of the oldest video clips was from a stand-up comedy routine he did in the early 1960s.
In it, he said, “I wouldn’t mind paying my income tax if I knew it was going to a friendly country.”
My favorite video is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNNHpNXokK0. If you would rather not type all that, you could simply type “Dick Gregory — Civil Rights” and wade through a few other videos to find this one.
Here are a few samples from that performance, given during a freedom of speech event.
n On Black History Month: “A lot of people ask, ‘Are we making progress?’ For you young folks in the house, it used to be called ‘Negro History Week.’ Now we’ve gone from a week to a month. But you know when they got ready to give us a month, it would be February with all them damn days missing, right?”
n On Groundhog Day: “If the groundhog sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter. Can you believe you white folks would be that silly? And to think I wanted to go to school with y’all.
“When you get home, check out your calendar. Spring is March the 21st. Count from February 2 to March 21 — that is six weeks.”
n On the benefit for white people from the civil rights movement: “All the legislation we got, it didn’t say ‘for Negroes only.’ So you was covered. Before our movement, a white woman couldn’t do nothin’ on an airplane but be a stewardess. Couldn’t be a pilot. Like you have to have some kind of smarts to be a pilot. They lost a damn plane. That’s why we black folks travel with Greyhound. Greyhound ain’t never lost a bus. I think about the civil rights movement and what it meant to white folks, too. (To be hired as a stewardess) you had to look like something out of the center page of Playboy magazine — and you tolerated that. Any time you go out to that airport now and get on a plane and see an old ugly fat stewardess, we got her that job.”
Contact Mike Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.