Comedian, activist, author and philanthropist, Dick Gregory will be remembered on July 4 in Showtime’s documentary, The One and Only Dick Gregory, by noted voices in comedy and the cinematic arts.
The comedian and activist’s death at age 84 in 2017 left a gaping hole in both the art and activism worlds.
Dick Gregory had a vision and a voice that cut through the clutter, and he was a pioneer in civil rights issues. He entered the national comedy scene in 1961 when Chicago’s Playboy Club—as a direct request from publisher Hugh Hefner—booked him as a replacement for white comedian, “Professor” Irwin Corey.
Today, Showtime released a trailer for the documentary, also the directorial debut from producer Andre Gaines.
The film covers the career of Dick Gregory, described by producers as the “activist, pop-culture icon and thought leader” who dramatically touched the lives of millions across the world through his words, deeds, and actions, while in the process raising awareness.
Monsters & Critics spoke to Dick Gregory back in 2012
During the Summer July 2012 Television Critics Association press tour held at the Beverly Hilton, Monsters & Critics participated in a closed panel for PBS and their long-running award-winning documentary series, Independent Lens.
The film on the panel was titled Soul Food Junkies, and appearing on the panel was Mr. Gregory and the host of Soul Food Junies, actor Mary Louise Parker, and filmmaker Byron Hurt. Hurt was baffled by his dad’s unwillingness to change his traditional soul food diet in the face of a health crisis.
This spurred Hurt to learn more about the culinary tradition and the relevance of soul food concerning his community. He found that his dad and other people in that community have a deep, complex relationship with food.
Lois Vossen, senior series producer of Independent Lens, described Mr. Gregory’s role in the film:
“Encapsulating the work and the life of Dick Gregory in a paragraph is a pretty daunting task, but he is a comedian and a civil rights activist, of course, who changed the way many white Americans perceived African Americans through his comedy and his activism. He is the author of many books, including Callus on My Soul, which is a follow-up autobiography to his previous autobiography N****r. In the early ’70s, he moved to Massachusetts, where he developed an interest in vegetarianism and became a nutritional consultant. In the ’80s, he founded Health Enterprises, a company that distributed weight-loss products. In 2001, he was diagnosed with cancer. He refused traditional chemotherapy but, rather, worked with alternative medicine experts to develop a regimen of diet and exercise and vitamins that he believed reversed the disease. And he’s now a hundred percent cancer-free.”
Monsters & Critics asked Mr. Gregory about the specific changes instead of taking the chemotherapy and the traditional cancer treatments.
Dick Gregory said, “Well, I didn’t make a dietary change for health reasons. I made it for moral reasons. I thought a good diet was whatever you liked didn’t run out before you got enough, and a bad diet is when it did run out. I didn’t know many of the things I know now. The poorer you are, it makes no difference what color or what sex. You look for instant gratification. That’s why we don’t understand why poor countries have so many babies. Well, you can’t get no more instant gratification than sex.”
He elaborated that sugar and the human nature to seek instant gratification were the culprit to most diseases and added: “But instant gratification. Sugar I have tasted…It’s instant gratification you’re looking for.”
In the lengthy answer he gave us, Mr. Gregory revealed a trauma from his past.
Mr. Gregory said, “And so, consequently, in Mississippi, I looked at a Mississippi sheriff kick my wife in the stomach when she was nine months pregnant. And I made believe I didn’t jump on him because of nonviolence. Bulls**t. I didn’t jump on him because I was scared. At that time, I was drinking a fifth of scotch every day, worse than an alcoholic. Alcoholics drink it because they need it. I was drinking it because I liked it. I was smoking four packs of cigarettes every day, and my weight was on its way up to 365 pounds. I knew nothing about nutrition. But that night in the nightclub when I got back to San Francisco, I made a decision that I would never eat anything that had to be killed for my dinner…”
The Showtime documentary participants
Gregory inspired a generation through on-the-ground activism, making his way entertaining and enlightening everyone with his influential comedy.
The archival footage of his early career as a comedian is bookended with Gregory’s voice-over and recollections before his death in 2017.
In the film, he reflected on the impact of his life on the world as a self-described “agitator.”
In the film are Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Wanda Sykes, W. Kamau Bell, and others, all of whom discuss Mr. Gregory’s significance on the culture.
The film features original music by Black Thought of the Grammy award-winning hip-hop band The Roots. Producing this documentary for Showtime is Cinemation Studios production, written and directed by Andre Gaines, and Gaines and Valerie Edwards produce it.
The film is executive produced by Kevin Hart and Bryan Smiley for Hartbeat Productions, Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani for Hillman Grad Productions, Christian Gregory, Chad Troutwine, and Matt Rachamkin.
The preview of The One and Only Dick Gregory:
The One and Only Dick Gregory premieres on Sunday, July 4 at 9/8c on Showtime.