By 1962 Gregory became a nationally known headline performer
"Dick Gregory was the greatest, and he was the first" Richard Pryor
Gregory, the first black American satirist, paved the way for, and heavily influenced, comedians such as Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and, most importantly, Richard Pryor. Sitting with me in a hotel restaurant at Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, he goes unrecognized by most customers, but we are interrupted every few minutes by black patrons of all ages wanting to shake the hand of this tall, slender figure who looks more like a priest than a comedian.
An engaging, softly-spoken man, Gregory insists that "there have been only three comic geniuses: Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor." But if you consider the members of that other, still exclusive, constituency to which Dick Gregory belongs - the truly great comedians - there can be none who has been more harshly treated by posterity. Every quality that stand-up performers seek to acquire - wit, spontaneity and fearlessness - he had, and has, to an extraordinary level.
King of comedy, civil-rights leader with Martin Luther
King, Muhammad Ali's jogging pal, presidential candidate.
When he left college, Gregory moved to Chicago where he started working comedy clubs. There were other black comics around - men such as Slappy White and the risqué Red Foxx - but none had crossed over to a mixed audience in the way that Gregory did, without compromising themselves or their public.
"I waited at the counter of a white diner for 11 years," Gregory said, in one routine. "When they finally integrated, they didn't have what I wanted. A top man from the Klu Klux Klan called me up. He told me: 'I want to be the first to congratulate you. I have to admit you've made it. I take my sheet off to you.'"
Like many true originals, Dick Gregory seems to have appeared from nowhere. "I learnt how to talk quick on the street," he says. "The closest models I had were preachers."
Excerpt from an interview by David Chalmers