Born: Dec. 8, 1933
Death: Nov. 25, 1998
AKA: Clerow Wilson
BlueMeter: Clean

Like this comedian?
Log-In or Register to mark it!

Who’s Funnier?




1996 Live & Funny at the Village Gate
1972 Geraldine/Don’t Fight The Feeling
1971 The Flip Wilson Show
1970 The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress

Won 1970 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording

1968 Cowboys & Colored People
1968 You Devil You
1967 Flippin’ - The Very Funny Flip Wilson
1964 Live at the Village Gate

Specials (and other video)

No specials by this comedian.

Books (by and about)

2013 Flip

Biography by Kevin Cook


In the late 60’s and early 70’s Flip Wilson re-popularized black ethnic comedy with all its funk and flamboyance. The 60’s had begun with the banning of “Amos and Andy” and saw the rise of Bill Cosby, whose routines were non-racial. Wilson found a way of making elements of “stereotype” comedy respectable again. He did it performing a good portion of his monology without dialect, which allowed the audience to accept him as an equal, as they had Cosby. Then, when performing dialect material, he gave the characters more dimension. He underlined the dignity behind his comic preacher “The Reverend Leroy” and the independent spirit underneath the strutting “Geraldine.”

One of 24 kids, an orphan at eight, Wilson got into reform school trouble but fortunately found the care and support he needed to straighten out. He joined the Air Force at 16, and it was there that he amused the troops with routines, including a favorite bit turning every day situations into high drama using mock-Shakespearean phrases. One guy pointed and shot back, “He flippeth his lid”—leading to his nickname.

Around 1954 while working as a bellhop, Wilson began to double as hotel comedian, then nightclub comic, evolving a style similar to Redd Foxx, the most successful of the black nightclub comics of the day. In the dour, smokey confines of the clubs, Wilson put on a hostile deadpan, lit a cigarette, and gave audiences the adult tales they wanted to hear. This one about his wife: “I’m rollin’ up a few reefers to bring to work with me tonight. About 11:30 my old lady came in, and her wig was amuss…her blouse was torn to shreds, you could see the imprint of fingers…this really threw me off. So I asked her, ‘Where the hell have you been?’ And she said she spent the night with her sister. You dig it? I knew she was lyin’ because I had spent the night with her sister.”

Wilson developed more family-oriented humor for TV, gradually dropping the risque and drug humor and becoming known for puns, shaggy dog stories and character comedy. “If you are a comedian, your first obligation is to be funny,” he said early in his career. “I’ll confess that I tuck in a little message here and there in my routines, but it’s carefully placed so that it doesn’t interfere with the audience’s fun. The message has to be secondary to the humor. Like Max Eastman said 30 years ago: ‘The first law of humor is that things can be funny only if they are in fun.”

Wilson found his best success with his routines as the hilariously cocksure and cocky “Geraldine,” who confidently pointed to her body and crowed, “What you see is what you get!” Geraldine had an answer for everything. When her husband complained that she bought a dress, she cried “The Devil made me do it! I said Devil, stop it! Please! Then he made me try it on! Devil pulled a gun! Made me sign your name to a check!”

“The Flip Wilson Show” was a hit at the start of the 70’s and in addition to monologues, sketch comedy and Reverend Leroy’s “Church of What’s Happening Now,” there were highlight routines by Flip as the loud, uninhibited Geraldine, wearing full drag and looking very, very convincing.

Wilson’s show had a respectable run. The Geraldine catch-phrases were something of a fad. When the fad cooled, audiences moved on to something else. Both Wilson and Bill Cosby were eclipsed in the late 70’s by the next rage—raging Richard Pryor, Flip continued to tour and worked on a number of projects over the years, but never returned to the splashy national prominence that was his in the early 70’s. In the fall of 1985, after Bill Cosby’s sitcom comeback, Wilson was brought back for “Charlie and Company.” As TV Guide noted, “here’s an idea for a sitcom: middle class black parents cope with exasperating but lovable kids. What’s that you say? It sounds like The Cosby Show? What a coincidence.” One thing the two shows didn’t have in common was ratings.

Once again Wilson flipped back to stand-up comedy. He found audiences still loving his one-liners, his character Geraldine, and a little of both: “Love is a feeling you feel when you’re about to feel a feeling you never felt before! Whooooo!”