Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Dick Gregory at the Wilbur - More Than Laughter

Dick Gregory at the Wilbur Theatre October 10
It’s hard to put a Dick Gregory show in the same category with other stand-up comedy shows. Stand-up comedy is a rich and diverse artform, a mix of slapstick, satire, storytelling, and simple set-ups and punchlines. Gregory has a deep toolbox to draw from, with the added benefit of the enormous weight of his personal history. And a stand-up show is rare on his busy schedule of lecture dates.

During a two-hour set at the Wilbur Sunday, Gregory was political, personal, briefly profane, goofy and deadly serious. The 77-year-old comic held court over a crowd of a little under 500 people who hung on his every word for a Sunday afternoon show. Gregory would sometimes whisper into the microphone, and the crowd would hush to hear him.

Gregory started out serious, making points about how black-on-black crime is over-reported, at least compared to white-on-white crime, and how it’s “crazy when you benefit from a negative.” He was referring to his high school days, when most of his teachers had Ph.D.s because a black person with that education had a hard time finding a job anywhere but black high schools.

Gregory said he didn’t know there were ugly white people until he got to college. All of is heroes were white movie stars. He also didn’t know there were dumb white people, and his family nearly didn’t believe it when he told them. “See if you can bring one home for Thanksgiving so we can all see one.” First big laugh of the night.

He was shocked to fail English in high school – the one language he could speak, he said. So he told his teacher he was going to get a brick and come back and smash his head. His grade changed to an A plus. “So he did understand what I was saying,” Gregory said.

He had some good advice for high school students, something he says he told his own kids – treat high school like you’re going to the movies. “Just enjoy yourself and try not to bother the people sitting next to you.”

Gregory spoke about the Jackson family, and praised Joe Jackson for raising ten kids in harsh economic times that never stole. He mentions he taught Michael Jackson how to fast, and said when Jackson was 40, he had once asked Gregory if he thought Jackson were weird. Of course he was weird, Gregory said. “You know what its like to be 40 years old and never had to beg for no pussy?”

It was a shocking moment from a guy who never uses profanity onstage, and sometimes cited younger comics for relying on it too much. This tiny island of blue material in the sea of Gregory’s larger act stood out, as he went on to talk about his own experience begging.

Gregory makes a point of challenging his audiences. It was the state that killed Christ, he points out, “not some drunk chariot driver.” So how can any Christian be for the death penalty? And if Christ did come back, he’d probably get the electric chair. “And then we’ll all be walking around with big chairs around out neck,” he said.

Gregory is a vegetarian, which is part of an overall philosophy of kindness. But that’s not the only way to go about it. He said that Martin Luther King taught Gregory to love his enemies, and he “could eat the booty out of a cow.”

Gregory also made some challenging claims toward the end of his set about soy, blaming them for increased rates of cancer and thyroid disease, and, disturbingly, for messing with male and female hormones to produce more gay people. That, again, could be considered a small island in the greater sea of Gregory’s philosophy of truth, love, and kindness, but a troubling one, nonetheless.

Gregory told me in an interview for this blog last week that the laughter is the point, that if he solved a crowd’s problems during the course of a show but didn’t make them laugh, he’d leave defeated and probably give them their money back. He accomplished that Sunday. And though he might take issue with me for saying it, there was a lot more than laughter.

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