Dick Gregory’s had a long, rich and strange life as an entertainer and activist. I hadn’t heard of him before I started talking with Andre Gaines, a film producer and lifelong Dick Gregory fan who wanted to do a Black Lives Matter-themed documentary focusing on Gregory’s idiosyncratic philosophy and beliefs about the “secret history” of the United States.
It’s a strange world we live in today when the modern incarnation of the civil rights marches is being organized and reported on through Twitter and Mr. Gregory’s reentry into the world of political activism is through a Kickstarter–and it’s a testament to Gregory’s staying power as a media name that the Kickstarter drew enough attention that it’s already closed thanks to an outside investor coming in to back the project.
It’s especially strange for me to be connecting with Dick Gregory’s legacy as a possible writer for the documentary, a 31-year-old Chinese guy from Ohio born decades after his heyday. The more I learned about him the more fascinated I was–a groundbreaking stand-up comedian who paved the way for names like Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney, an activist who marched in Selma with Dr. King, who marched for the ERA with Gloria Steinem and who went on hunger strike for the hostages in Iran. And an eccentric conspiracy theorist who denounced the official reports both on JFK’s assassination and on 9/11, who got Hunter S. Thompson’s write-in vote for president in 1968, and who now makes a living partly by promoting a raw fruit and vegetable diet.
For him to reenter the political arena at the age of 82, through an electronic medium invented when he was past retirement age, is a big deal. For someone like me to be asked to work with him to bring his message to a new audience is a huge responsibility, and I sat down with him for an hour to try to get to know him and his beliefs. Though there’s much he said that I don’t completely agree with or even fully understand, I was captivated the whole time by his raw, unfiltered candor and I definitely look forward to hearing more about what he has to say in the documentary.