Paul Mooney Gave Zero F*cks About White Opinion
The late great comedian was underrated, unapologetically Black, and the Richard Pryor whisperer
Dave Chappelle’s childhood idol worship of Richard Pryor should come as no surprise. Of course, Chappelle was obsessed with the man who he and much of the world crowned the king of comedy. He remembers being entranced by a particular skit from the first season of Saturday Night Live. Pryor played a job applicant who finds himself in a heated word-association game with a prospective employer (played by Chevy Chase). Chase’s character begins throwing racial slurs; Pryor’s returns fire. For young Chappelle, witnessing a Black man go toe-to-toe with a White man was revolutionary television. Chappelle says it was at that moment when he knew the cloth of comedian he wanted to be. Then he learned that the skit was written by Paul Mooney, and once again everything for him changed.
Mooney’s fingerprints are cemented all over the pantheon of Black comedic art. Good Times, Sanford & Son, the criminally underappreciated The Richard Pryor Show — all were at their best when Mooney’s pen was at their service. This includes Chappelle’s very own The Chappelle Show. In comparison with its other memorable characters, Mooney’s Negrodamus is on the show’s Mount Rushmore. Never forget that the premier season of In Living Color had Mooney sitting tall in the writer’s room. His finest creation also lives on that show’s Mount Rushmore: Homey the Clown.
Last week, due to heart failure, the man born Paul Gladney took his final curtain call one season before his 80th birthday. The world, in and outside of comedy, is lesser for the loss. Although Mooney’s writing credits are nothing short of legendary, his standups were his Excalibur. They protected his people. They gave a revolutionary’s voice to the muted. They not only gave heart and returned dignity, but they also educated. Mooney was just a minute into his 1994 standup album Master Piece when he smacked listeners awake with, “Ricky [Ricardo] was a nigga, too. ‘Babalu’ is an African God.”