If you are a certain age, you probably remember Dick Gregory as a comedian. You may have seen him on stage or TV during one of the dozens of politically-charged appearances he made on the Jack Parr show, David Frost, Merv Griffin and Ed Sullivan. But Gregory was so much more than a stand-up comic as this extraordinary documentary makes clear.
He was a civil rights activist, an anti-war protester, and a health advocate. He marched with Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He fasted for 40 days to protest the Vietnam War. He ran across the country to bring awareness to health and wellness issues. And he created a diet and health supplement for people without access to fresh food. He was a man of strong convictions, but he also struggled to balance his family life – a wife and 10 kids – with his political life.
Writer/Director Andre Gaines brings to life the man and the era using a combination of archival footage, family photos, and interviews with Gregory’s wife Lillian, their kids, and Medgar Evers’ wife Dr. Myrlie Evers-Williams. Adding commentary along the way are Kevin Hart, Lena Waithe, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Nick Cannon, Wanda Sykes, and Harry Belafonte, who said of him, “He shook the body politic.” But the essence of this film is Dick Gregory himself, whom we get to see on stage, “teeing up” protestors on the streets, and yelling encouragement from a jail cell.
This film is full of grit and soul. It’s a bit long, coming in at one hour, fifty-seven minutes. But there is no fat here, and no attempt to hide the less-than stellar truths, including Gregory’s bankruptcy, his losing the family home, and the stunning diagnosis of his early onset Alzheimer’s. Still, in true Gregory fashion, the week before he died in August of 2017, he was back doing stand-up. And he was just as unapologetic, unabashed, and on-target as ever.
The One and Only Dick Gregory premieres June 19th at 4 p.m.; and it can also be seen on Showtime beginning July 4th.
At the Petrillo Bandshell, American activist and comedian Dick Gregory speaks to the crowd protesting in Grant Park during the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, 1968. Photo Courtesy of SHOWTIME.