The Creator speaks subtly to all of us in time and space. Some call it coincidence, others prophecy or signs. Consider that James Brown, a gift to Black America, died on Christmas Day 2006. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died hours apart on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of American independence. Hmmm! However, the God of the Universe fixed it so that Paul Mooney would draw his last breath on the birthdate of Malcolm X. There are plenty of parallels between Paul the Comic and Malcolm the so-called Communist. Both were fiery and unapologetic in their rebuttals of racism and American hypocrisy. Both laughed, albeit cautiously!
Paul Gladney aka Paul Mooney was a comedic genius, but not the type we celebrate today. Comedy is much more than rattling off a litany of well-placed curse words and discussions on genitalia. When I think of comedy, I think of writing in its most perfect art form.
You tether those words and thoughts to well-timed deliveries, and it makes laughter inescapable. Paul Mooney was both writer and actor. One of his most famous jokes appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” using Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor. Pryor was asked to respond to a word association exercise to see if he was employable. Mooney’s talents as a comedic writer and social critic were fully revealed in the 1975 skit: “Dog – tree; fast – slow; rain – snow; white – black; Negro – Whitey; tar baby – ofay; colored – redneck; jungle bunny – peckerwood; porch monkey – cracker; spade – honky; nigger – dead honky!” The brilliance was that Mooney uncovered most of the racial pejoratives used by and against Black and white people. However, the genius was contrasting the relative calm maintained by the white interviewer to the visible and rising anger of the Black job-seeker.
By the end of the joke, Chase offered Pryor $5,000 to start. Pryor, still seething about the racial insults, responds to the generous offer with, “Yo mama!” It was equally effective as comedy and social commentary.
Paul Mooney had already made his mark by scripting lines for Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson. “Sanford and Son,” to this day, is viewed as one of the best-written Black television shows ever. The show provided a resting place for Black souls and teachable moments for white viewers.
Mooney remained relative with the times. Who else could have created “Homey D. Clown” other than another angry Black man? “In Living Color” had many working parts, but Homey D. Clown made an indelible niche for the variety/comedy show. Homey had enough self-love to survive and enough consciousness to castigate white America for the hatred and disrespect he had to endure as a Brother.
Last but not least, Mooney became “Negrodamus,” a play on the French astrologer, physician and “seer” Nostradamus.
Mooney developed and played the role of Negrodamus as part of “Chappelle’s Show.” As Negrodamus held one of his patented psychic question-and-answer sessions, a brother in the audience asked him why white people love Wayne Brady so much. Negrodamus replied that white people like Wayne Brady because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X. His answer reminds us that most whites hate Black radicals and activists and love the “kinder, gentler” brands of Blackness! Conversely, a significant reason pro-Black voices like Dave Chappelle, Paul Mooney and Malcolm X engender themselves to white liberal audiences is that these whites want to understand who we are.
Paul Mooney was funny, but he told the truth so blatantly that even die-hard revolutionaries shuddered. He could be raw and risqué and then dismiss his anger with a smile and a nod. On the day that we remember what should have been Brother Malcolm’s 96th birthday, we lost Paul Mooney at 79. There is a prophecy or parallel there somewhere. Wish Paul was here to explain!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist and award-winning columnist.