Comedy legends Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney performed Saturday before a capacity crowd at the historic Howard Theatre in D.C., with both of the notoriously outspoken comics’ rapier wit, charm and undeniable knowledge on full display.
As each comedian dispensed hard, cold truths about the differences between “white” and “black” America, their sly narratives illustrated that the smallest nuggets of wisdom can skillfully be woven into the largest chunks of laughter through hilariously detailed jokes.
Though both have been performing for decades, their polished jokes seem to present an air of timelessness, as fans of different races and ages belted out in laughter during their uncanny show.
Joshua Duncan, a longtime D.C. resident, expressed his admiration for Gregory, a civil rights activist, social critic, writer and nutritionist.
“I love Dick Gregory,” he said. “I always have. There is no one funnier and everyone should see him perform at least once.”
Gregory’s legacy dates back to 1961 when he was handpicked by Hugh Hefner to work at the Chicago Playboy Club. His ironic and satirical wit set a profound precedent in black comedy after he replaced white comedian Irwin Corey at the club, becoming a part of a new generation of black comics including Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge.
With a lengthy history in civil rights and nutrition, Gregory is still revered as one of the greatest black figures and comics of all time.
Mooney’s comedy pedigree is equally sterling, though his start was a bit more inauspicious, as he began as a circus ringmaster. His unique humor quickly caught the attention of standup icon Richard Pryor, however, and Mooney went on to write many works and establish himself as a longtime friend of the showbiz legend.
Mooney become a writer for several classic TV shows, including “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times,” “Saturday Night Live” and “In Living Color,” the latter of which he helped to create the infamous “Homey D. Clown” character played by Damon Wayans.
He also wrote for the Comedy Central hit “Chappelle’s Show,” starring in several popular sketches including “Ask a Black Dude,” “Mooney at the Movies” and “Negrodamus,” the black version of Nostradamus.
Andrew Paul, a resident of New York City and longtime Mooney fan, said he drove all the way to D.C. just for Saturday’s show.
“I had to come see Paul,” he said. “I’ve maybe seen Paul four other times and he is phenomenal. Seeing Paul is seeing history and I love Paul.”
One 23-year-old Georgetown University student in attendance Saturday marveled at the timelessness of the veteran performers.
“Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney definitely supersede my age group, but I think that is the magic of their comedy,” she said. “You can be any age or color and it all still resonates.”