Dick Gregory is an iconic, headlining comedian who became known for his trailblazing form of racial commentary during the 1960s. He later became a worldwide activist and health/fitness entrepreneur.
Dick Gregory was born in 1932 in St. Louis, Missouri. Having run track and field in school, Gregory eventually turned to stand-up comedy, having his big break performing at the Playboy Club in the early 1960s. Known for his sophisticated, layered humor that took on racial issues of the day, Gregory became a national comedy headliner and a trailblazer for upcoming African-American humorists. He eventually turned his focus away from the stage to focus on various forms of activism that included the Civil Rights Movement and to run for political office. Over the ensuing decades he has worked as a lecturer and also become a health/fitness guru.
Richard Claxton Gregory was born on October 12, 1932, in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up in crippling poverty, with his mother working long hours and father having left the large family behind. With the intellectually-minded Gregory taking on work as a youth to also support the household, he was eventually able to join his high school track team and was later accepted to Southern Illinois University. As a teenager, he began his lifelong call for racial justice and activism when he first protested against segregated schools. He was drafted into the army in the mid-1950s and it was during this time that he began performing stand-up comedy and later became part of its entertainment division after winning a talent event.
After his return to the states, Gregory worked as an MC at various Chicago clubs, honing his craft as a comedian and taking on odd jobs while working the circuit. He brandished a trailblazing style of humor that was calm, satirical and full of sociopolitical, racially-tinged wit with topics pulled straight from contemporary headlines—a stark contrast to the song-and-dance routines previous African-American performers had been relegated to.
Gregory’s big break came in 1961 at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club in Chicago, where the comedian, as a replacement act, performed in front of a room of white executives visiting from the segregated South. Nonetheless, Gregory was a huge success. “It was the first time they had seen a black comic who was not bucking his eyes, wasn't dancing and singing and telling mother-in-law jokes,'' said Gregory in a 2000 Boston Globe interview. ''Just talking about what I read in the newspaper.”