Richard Claxton Gregory is having a very busy day.
That’s because this man, better known as Dick Gregory — comedian, author, activist and so much more — is finishing up an appearance before adoring fans, as well as doing interviews with national and international reporters who never tire of delving into the mind of a man who’s made himself visible in many capacities for almost 60 years.
And now he’s getting ready to appear at the Rrazz Room in New Hope July 19-20 to make people laugh and think.
“Making people laugh was never something I aspired to,” Gregory said. “I just started to do it and it worked.”
In fact, it wasn’t until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954 that he got his comedic start when, at the urging of his commanding officer, he entered several Army talent shows — and won.
Originally from St. Louis, after his discharge he moved to Chicago and tried his skills out in local clubs, until one night he was spotted by Hugh Hefner performing in front of a mostly white audience. Based on his performance, Hefner hired Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club.
“Hefner offered me $50 for two weeks to perform. I didn’t know there was that much money in the world,” he laughed. “Hefner was the person who actually launched my career.”
And then came The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar.
Gregory said, “I wanted to be on that show so bad. Everyone did. It could make you a star overnight. Jack had read a story about me in Time magazine, and his bookers called me. But I turned them down because I found out that black comics did their routines but after they were done, that was that. They were never invited to sit on the couch and talk with Jack.”
Hanging up the phone, Gregory said he cried because he wanted to do the show so badly but just couldn’t under those circumstances. But after that, Paar himself called Gregory for an explanation.
“And when I told him the problem, he not only personally invited me on the show, but I ended up sitting on the couch,” Gregory remembers. “To show you how powerful that show was, the very next day my fee skyrocketed from $250 a week to $5,000 per night.”
Today, Gregory, 81, married to his wife for 53 years and the father of 10, strives to keep people laughing without ever giving up his commitment to civil rights. And even as he grows older, he shows no signs of slowing down from comedy or his beliefs.
“Fighting for the civil rights movement, I’ve faced dogs, cats, racists and a sheriff who would kill me if he wasn‘t afraid of the publicity. So doing comedy is a walk in the park for me.”
Indeed, he’s single-handedly paved the way for other black comics to make it in this business. But if asked what he would tell young people who want to do this, too, he said it’s simple: “Don’t do it. Become a writer instead. Writers make money, comic don’t. Besides, it’s a very, very tough business and certainly not for everyone.” ••
Show times are 7 p.m. Tickets cost $35. Call toll-free 1-888-596-1027.