Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Dyn- O- Mite" by Jimmie Walker (2012)

This book came as a total surprise to me. I had just seen some short sound bite thing about the author while passing through the living room the other night. Sue had on some show, ET, etc., and I caught him out of the corner of my eye. I have no idea what he was saying, as I didn’t take the time to listen. TV in the mid-seventies was a blank for me; I was simply too busy doing other stuff.

So, when I went to the Mooresville Public Library the other day; and saw this book staring me in the face; I took it as an omen that I should read it. I’m glad I did. The author, veteran stand-up comic Jimmie Walker, one time star of TV’s “Good Times”, has written a really good book. He discusses everything with candor, from his own upbringing; and his father’s desertion of the family; to his experiences in the projects of New York City, and his slow climb to fame. Along with the likes of Jay leno and david lettermen, the author came of age in a world of comedy where it was okay to be edgy, but there were still boundaries not to be crossed.

I was amazed at his relationship with legendary Norman Lear, the groundbreaking producer behind shows such as “All in the Family”, as well as well as his connections to other “white” comics of the era. The author’s flexibility allowed him to be influenced by, as well as becoming an influence to, many of his colleagues. He has remained in contact with many of those people to this day.
His stories of the last days of the old “Chitlin’ Circuit” are priceless, as those are times that will never be with us again. Although for good reason, one can’t help but wonder if the hardships these guys endured as a result of racial disparity actually added to the edge which they bought to comedy. After all, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh.

The book is written in the imitable style of Jimmy Walker; fresh and irreverent. He gives his side of the ups and downs of TV sitcoms, versus standup comedy, holding nothing back. He quotes accurately from his former colleagues Jay Leno and David Letterman, and along the way has managed to introduce me to several more writers and comedians to enjoy.
The real complaint, if any, which Mr. Walker has, concerns the producers who said he was “too black” black in the 70’s, and then found him to be “not black enough” in the 90’s! This is something I have read about in other actor’s memoirs, and some good actors were passed over for this very reason, which seems silly now, but was of great significance back then.

This book has me watching some re-runs of “Good Times” on You Tube, and it’s actually a pretty good show, which captured 25% of its audience time slot for 6 years, in spite of constantly shifting nights in order to aid another show. Some of the plots were edgy for their timing, and relevance, to the black community; but to paraphrase Director Norman Lear, it was so much more. It was the first time in which white Americans got a look inside the projects, and realized just how similar all of our problems are. And Jimmy Walker played no small part in communicating that message to us all. This was a very surprising, and engaging book.

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