Find Out Why Black Comedian Said No To 'Tonight Show'

The comedian and social activist will present a keynote address at Bryn Mawr College in celebration of Black History Month.

Comedian and social activist Dick Gregory will present a keynote address on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Thomas Great Hall of Bryn Mawr College in celebration of Black History Month.

This event is free and open to the public.

Gregory uses social satire to discuss issues ranging from race relations and women’s rights in the U.S., to violence, world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse, and health care.

Attorney and writer Lonna Saunders interviewed Gregory in preparation for his address. Read an excerpt from the full interview:

Q. You were the first African-American stand-up comedian to appear before both black and white audiences.You paved the way for Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock. What was your first appearance like at the Chicago Playboy Club? How did you feel before you went on stage?

A. I was nervous. I was slipping and sliding in the snow on my way over there. I had been hired to perform in the Carousel room. Except that night it had been rented by a private party from Alabama of men in the frozen food business. So the management wanted to cancel me. But I was a little late, so I just ran up on the stage and started performing, missing the manager assigned to tell me I had been cancelled. (Being a little late, turned out to be lucky for me.) I was a hit and ended up performing onstage for them for several hours. My best line was "I spent twenty years in Alabama one night." That got a big laugh.

Q. What happened when you turned down a gig because they wouldn't let black comics sit on a couch?

A. It was Tonight Starring Jack Paar before Johnny Carson got the gig. I wanted to be on it so bad. Everyone did. It would make you a star overnight. When Time magazine did a big story on me, Jack Paar's bookers called me. But I said "no" because black comics would perform their routines on the show, but after they were done, that was it. They were never invited to sit on the couch and talk with Jack Paar. When I turned it down, I hung up the phone and started crying. I wanted it so bad, but I just couldn't do it under those conditions.


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