Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory (born October 12, 1932) is an American civil rights activist, social critic, writer, entrepreneur, comedian, and conspiracy theorist.
Gregory began his career as a comedian while serving in the military in the mid 1950s. He served in the army for a year and a half at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia and Ft. Smith in Arkansas. He was drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. After being discharged in 1956 with a desire to perform comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago.
Gregory performed as a comedian in small, primarily black-patronized nightclubs while working for the United States Postal Service during the daytime. He was one of the first black comedians to gain widespread acclaim performing for white audiences. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Gregory describes the history of black comics as limited.
In 1961, while working at Roberts Show Bar in Chicago, he was spotted by Hugh Hefner. Gregory attributes the launch of his career to Hugh Hefner, who watched him perform at that time. Based on that performance, Hefner hired Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club as a replacement for comedian Professor Irwin Corey.
Gregory’s first TV appearance was on The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar. Soon after, he began appearing nationally on television. Early in Gregory’s career, he was offered a gig on The Tonight Show. Paar’s show was known for helping propel entertainers to the next level of their careers. At the time, black comics were never asked to stay after their performances to sit on the famous couch and talk with the host. After Gregory declined several invitations to perform on the show, the producers finally agreed to allow him to stay after his performance and talk with the host on air. This was a first in the show’s history. Dick Gregory’s interview spurred conversations across America. His interview provided an opportunity for viewers to see an African American in a positive and humane light.
Gregory is number 82 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of all time and has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He’ll be at the famous Zanies comedy night club this upcoming Sunday at 7pm.