Comedian Dick Gregory has used his comedy, celebrity and humanity to advocate for civil rights and call out ignorance in America and throughout the world, and he's been doing it since long before he stepped in front of a microphone. Needless to say, Gregory doesn't like what he sees now and is concerned about what lies ahead.
"If me and you were sitting on a 747 and one of the engines stalled out, we'd be stupid to think if we could save it," says Gregory. "We don't know nobody who can make the wind shift and if the shift ain't coming, then they're coming for us."
The 84-year-old comedian and satirist offers some dire prophecies about President-elect Donald Trump's administration and the emboldened rise of the white supremacist and alt-right movements that seem to be taking the world down a very dark path.
"All you have are ignorant folks who don't know what the plan is and the plan is not going to work," Gregory says. "That whole white supremacy thing, it's not going to work. When it comes down, it comes down. All the guns that Napoleon had, and he couldn't make the rain stop."
But Gregory is doing what he's always done in bad times — ridiculing them. Last night was the first performance of a two-night stand at the Arlington Improv.
Gregory adopted comedy as his chosen platform while serving in the Army in the 1950s. He entered the national comedy scene with a memorable performance at the Playboy Club in 1961 at the personal request of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner. As his status as a comedian grew, he became a visible part of the Civil Rights Movement, participating in protests and voter registration drives. He continued his activism with demonstrations against the Vietnam War, hunger and the CIA when it was accused of participating in a drug-funneling operation.
He's currently working on another book, and musician John Legend recently produced an off-Broadway play about Gregory's comedy called Turn Me Loose starring Scandal's Joe Morton as the comedian.
Gregory says he's seen the path we're on play out at other times in history, and it doesn't lead to a happy ending.
"Anybody with any sense at all would know that when he's got five generals who serve in his campaign, they only know about war," Gregory says. "That's all they know. Fear and God don't occupy the same spot. If you look at people all over the world, all of them are scared. The banks are in trouble and one day soon, fear will wipe everything out."
He cites the recent assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey Andrey G. Karlov as a troubling start down such a path because the rapid transfer of information.
"The information transfers so fast now," Gregory says. "It's a different mindset and you have to understand the mindset. Truth doesn't have to be validated by ignorance."
Gregory says he's not picking on one side of the political spectrum.
“All of this is a plan," he says. "All this is a plan but we take what they say instead of using our own God-given gifts to help us understand it. Think about all of the decent people on the planet who don't know what they're involved in. There were a lot of people who voted in that election and that wasn't voting for two evils. Those of us that voted for the lesser of two evils, we're evil. There's no doubt about it."
Gregory may not pull any punches with his opinions but he says it's easy to translate into comedy on a stage.
"I just walk up on the stage and talk about it and make fun out of it," Gregory says. "The greatest laugh you've heard in life didn't come from a comedian. It came from friends and relatives. Comics are when you get a rhythm to walk up there. There's no school you can go to to be a comic. All of us are comics. All of us can make each other laugh."
Dick Gregory will perform again at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Arlington Improv, 309 Curtis Mathes Way, No. 147. Tickets are $30 to $40 at ImprovArlington.com.