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George Wallace Pays Tribute to Dick Gregory: ‘A Great Soldier for a Great Cause’

Dick Gregory was just an amazing man. He was a great soldier for a great cause. He did it not just to benefit himself and his career. He lost his comedy for a time because he was such a great soldier.

Dick Gregory paved the way for me and for a lot of African-American comedians. He was the first to sit on the couch of “The Tonight Show.” Back in the day, black entertainers could go on TV, but they couldn’t sit on the sofa afterward. Dick refused to go on the show unless he could sit there too. He actually hung up on [“Tonight Show” host] Jack Paar the first time he got the invitation to do the show. He wouldn’t take half an invite. Paar finally said, “You’re such a sharp act, you can come on the show.”

That knocked down some doors. That paved the way for myself and for Bill Cosby and for Richard Pryor. Dick was a man who was active in making things happen for people. He was like a general, trying to find that right path for people. In those days, black comics like Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley had to do mostly black audiences, but he was the first one to cross over to white audiences.

Any comedian knows that this guy carried the torch for us. Our job is now to continue that task, to be good and to deliver. I was so happy to see him last
year at his 84th birthday party at Carolines in New York. Just seeing him and talking about how things are in America today, how things are changing and how they have not changed, was important. It’s important for young [comics] to know who he was and how he paved the way.

I thank God for Dick Gregory. He was just an amazing man.

As told to Cynthia Littleton; George Wallace is a veteran stand-up comic and writer.

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