Dick Gregory & Paul Mooney - photo by Michael Sherer
These two veteran comics make for a good pairing and have been appearing as a double bill for a few years. Mooney, 75, goes on first. He has a background that involves a lot of comedy writing in addition to being a comedian himself. He made his mark as a writer for one of the legends, Richard Pryor, during the ‘70’s as well as for television’s Sanford & Son, Good Times and In Living Color, as well as several films. Gregory, 84, has been quite involved in activism, human rights and health issues. He ran for the mayor’s seat in Chicago against Richard Daley in ‘67 and then for President of the United States in ‘68 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace And Freedom Party. He garnered 47,097 votes and wound up on Nixon’s master list of political opponents. Despite Gregory’s racially charged material, it was Hugh Hefner that gave Gregory a huge break when hiring him as a regular at his Playboy Club in Chicago in the ‘60’s. Both men made their home in Chicago at the time and this was Playboy’s first club.
Both Mooney and Gregory are social critics at their core, and both employ racially based content as primary fodder. Mooney is more extreme than Gregory generally in his outspokenness, and has gotten himself in trouble a few times for it. The line between comedy and maliciousness can get blurred with him. For example, tonight Mooney referred to Donald Trump’s wife Melania as a transvestite a couple of times. In general Mooney’s act involves African-American history, and culture, racism/race relations, American and identity politics, current events and pop culture. Mooney always involves audience members that are in the front row nearest to him by asking them what they’re eating, drinking, etc. As of the last few years he always performs while sitting on a couch or armchair, giving meaning to literal “armchair politics.”
Gregory is a conspiracy theorist and always has a stack of newspapers and books next to him on a small table. Tonight he didn’t refer to any of it directly, so it was a prop in a sense, but also his tradition. Gregory’s subject matter involve politics, American civil rights, race relations/racism, vegetarianism and healthy diet and cultural commentary in general. There was was much talk about Trump from both Mooney and Gregory. Regarding Trump’s wealth and the enlisting of many fellow rich people to his cabinet, Gregory said that we should all write ourselves a huge check, carry it around with us and never bring it to the bank. Then we can just think of ourselves as billionaires and act the part. Much of Gregory’s commentary involves self perception and having one’s own dignity and self respect. Positive messages indeed.