RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Just like in the theme song, Jimmie Walker is scratchin’ and survivin’. At 65, “Kid Dyn-o-Mite!” is a senior citizen, and his comedy career has come full circle.
Raised in the projects of the South Bronx, Walker got his start opening community rallies for the militant Black Panthers, then playing the clubs around New York. His big break came in 1973, with his first national TV appearance, on ABC’s “Jack Paar Tonight.”
“I’m from the ghetto,” he joked. “I’m here on the exchange program. You can imagine what they sent back there.”
His star turn as James “J.J.” Evans Jr. on the hit television series “Good Times” made him a household name, and his catch phrase part of the lexicon. At the end of the 1970s, Time magazine dubbed him “Comedian of the Decade.”
But when the show ended in 1979, after six seasons, Walker faded largely into the background.
These days, Walker is on the road doing his standup routine about 45 weeks out of the year. He’s also promoting his just-released book, “DYN-O-MITE!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times _ A Memoir,” co-written with Sal Manna.
In it, he writes of going from being “too black for TV” to later being accused of “cooning it up.” He also dishes on “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, who actually wrote jokes for Walker during the latter’s heyday.
“Show business is like a greased pole _ even if you have climbed to the top, sooner or later you are going to slide back down. I still climb the pole every day,” he writes. “I may not reach the top again, but at least my butt is off the ground!”
In the foreword, comedian David Brenner says he’s tired of hearing other black comics “make fun of Jimmie, referring to him as a Stepin Fetchit type.”
“What they should acknowledge,” he says, “is that if it weren’t for Jimmie Walker busting through, thanks to `Good Times,’ TV’s white, glass ceiling, they would still be black, but they wouldn’t be comedians.”
Walker _ his head shaved, and no longer string-bean thin _ recently appeared at Raleigh’s Goodnights comedy club. In an interview with The Associated Press, he talks about his book, Leno and life on the road.
AP: Obviously, when you started out, there weren’t that many black comedians out there. How has the landscape changed?
Walker: I think the black comedy, because of Pryor, has changed. Everybody wants to be Richard and, you know, it’s the old Lloyd Bentsen line: I KNEW Richard Pryor. And you’re no Richard Pryor. There’s ONE Richard Pryor. It’s DONE. It’s over. Time for people to move in a different direction. And the language has gotten a little dirty. I think it hurts us, in terms of bookings. Because most comedy clubs think that black comics are going to be dirty. And that’s a bad thing for us. We don’t need that.
AP: Do you miss being on TV on a regular basis?