Before there was Richard Pryor, before there was Bill Cosby, there was Dick Gregory. A leading pioneer in African American stand-up comedy, Gregory was more than jokes, he was social justice. He was one of the first comedians to perform for both white and black audiences and used his microphone and satire to help advance the civil rights movement. In Living Black and White was the first of 12 albums he released in a 14 year span. Fortunately for the comedy world, he started off on the right foot.
Something I found interesting about this CD which I have yet to encounter with any other album, is that there are breaks between each track with commentary. Scripted, and sounding like an old radio broadcast, a voice comes on introducing each new joke. They are short segues, however they seem to take away from the natural flow of a set. I plan on looking into this further when I get the chance. Now to the jokes
Gregory starts off by talking about how he’s always being compared to white comedians like Mort Sahl and Bob Newhart. Right off the bat, Gregory’s jokes deal with the dichotomy of the world, by narrowing in on the dichotomy of the comedy world. He goes on to comment on the evolution of stand-up comedy, and how it takes a lot more to get the same amount of laughs. He demonstrates this by telling a joke that would be told 20 years ago (or, in our case, 70 years ago) and pointing out how unfunny it is. His audience’s silence shows their accord. Then he retells the same joke with a different, better punchline that draws a much better reaction from the crowd. This joke resonates even today. Most audiences today, especially the younger ones, could listen to Lenny Bruce or Bob Hope and not think it’s nearly as funny as audiences did back then. A very original joke premise that I have not heard from any other comedian.
Next Gregory jokes about being black in the South, citing one incident where he accidentally stumbled into a restaurant that didn’t want him in it. A controversial subject for any audience becomes a big laugh for everybody. This led to a series of political, current event jokes, mostly dealing with the election of Kennedy and the departure of Eisenhower. Political jokes are generally pretty good for laughs, and Gregory’s are no exception. One topic he likes to joke about is African American voting, especially the political machine of Chicago rigging the elections, “we’re trying to make up for the times we couldn’t vote”
Staying in the realm of current events, his material turns to the Cold War and, particularly, the race to space. He makes a topic of heavy turmoil and caution a laughable subject by mocking both are concern over losing the race as well as lightly poking fun of the Soviets.
Following these are a few more less than memorable (though still enjoyable) jokes dealing with marriage, the Israeli-Palestinian debacle, and various employment opportunities. No gut busters, but several very amusing jokes. The last track, however, had the biggest laugh of the CD, at least for me, when he talks about being in a bad situation in an airplane. A well constructed set up, and a punchline that surprises any audience. The best joke on the CD.
If you’re a real fan of comedy, this CD is a must have for its contribution and inspiration for the art of stand-up. But like I said earlier, much of today’s audience won’t get the same kind of kick out of the jokes as listeners did in 1961. Though I still recommend it to anybody. I think it would even hold merit being taught in an American history course, because of it’s material concerning racial tension in the South and the Cold War.
Worst tracks: 100 Proof, Middle East
Best Tracks: 50,000 ft-and No Insurance, Comedian of the 60’s
Overall rating: 8/10