“Excuse me while I have my dinner.”
As I remember, with that observation Dick Gregory (on stage) reached for a glass of what we’d now call a smoothie and demonstrated how his form of solid food fasting was anything but symbolic.
It was 1973 and this was my first college era foray into the Chicago nightclub stage world to see a stand-up comic. Not a special campus only performance. This was the real adult world. Cigarette and cigar smoke in the room. (Including Gregory’s own cigarettes.) Glasses clinking. Steaks served.
Gregory was master over it all. He owned the room with his wit. His strong physical presence. And an astute sense of audience interaction.
He gazed at the food and knowingly observed that it sure looked good. (It wouldn’t be a sacrifice if it wasn’t challenging!) On the very practical matter of explaining just how one carried out an extended fast from solid foods, he offered tips that still linger. How you pace your consumption. Avoid extremes (very cold, very hot) in your beverages. Later it was no surprise that he would lecture on healthy diets and lifestyles. (Personally, I still request water without ice.)
It was also no surprise that his lifetime of continued political activism included runs for political office
The early 1970s was an era of a contentious presidency, police confrontations, war, racial conflict, and timely yet (clearly) timeless political observations.
Yet it was his personal connection with audiences that illustrated why Dick Gregory would be a creditable voice no matter the cause.
Dick Gregory proudly demonstrated that a good humorist could be an effective activist, not by avoiding the issues but by taking them head on.
He left a proud legacy: the assurance to succeeding generations that the best possible calling was to do what you knew had to be done. And to do it well.
I raise a glass (without ice) to his memory.
© 2017 by Walter J. Podrazik
Illustration photo above (from the era) by Walter J. Podrazik.
See also an excellent career overview article on Dick Gregory by Dennis McLellan.