The essential Dick Gregory

According to producer and director Andrew Gaines (The One and Only Dick Gregory), “For me, the personal experiences of Dick Gregory were like listening to a walking history lesson. It took only a few hours into my journey to make this film for me to realize that Dick Gregory was one of a kind, and I became totally consumed.” According to Christian Claxton Gregory, editor of his father's thoughts, “What a life, what a blessing. Dick Gregory was many things–he metamorphosed from athlete to comedian to activist to presidential candidate to nutritionist to social critic–at no point leaving behind the nucleus holding him together: love. Love–love for self, love for thy neighbor, love for humankind, love for nature–was the engine that powered his many manifestations.”

This is a very timely book that will remind many of us about the man, his work, and the times in which he lived. For those who know nothing about him this is an excellent overview of his life, thoughts and activities. More can be found here. Initially Dick Gregory came to prominence as a political satirist who was cool, calm and disarming in his delivery and analysis of domestic and world events. No person or issue was spared his razor-sharp insights. In his early days (1958-1961) as a stand-up comedian he spent a good deal of time trying to figure out what makes people laugh. “If young comics only knew that when there’s a little bit of hesitancy on laughing from the audience, it’s because you got a streak of brilliance that’s resented.” He further analyzed his position as a Black comedian and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. After making it big, Gregory was compared to Mark Twain, who he said, “... didn’t pull any punches … was the greatest social commentator of our times.” For modern comedians, social commentators, he had a no holds barred accolade for Lenny Bruce, who could present for three hours about real issues, and not just blather on, seeking approval from the audience.

On many issues Gregory was way ahead of his time, on other issues and events he might have been completely wrong. Reading this overview of his life, his interests, his focus, his actions, it is evident that he was more than a stand-up satirist. As compiled by his son, Christian Claxton Gregory, the book makes readers look at life from different perspectives, which is what his father did all the time--automatically and naturally. He had the tenacity, the unique vision, boldness and guts to put those ideas out there. Even though it is cold water on the face to realize how slow progress has been in major domestic and global arenas: racism, social, political and economic issues, it is worthwhile to remember that Dick Gregory put down some very big footprints for others to fill, which many satirists (comedians, filmmakers, TV hosts and others) are doing.