Paul Mooney: Black Panther of comedy

Paul Mooney, 1941-2021, lived, loved and died for his people, fearlessly and hilariously calling out individual and structural racism, always keeping things revolutionary and pro-Black and always speaking the truth. He is pictured here performing at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory in 2007. – Photo: Ruth Fremson

by Paradise Freejahlove Supreme

Paul Mooney was the Ultimate Warrior, the ultimate warrior of comedy and the greatest comedian of all time! Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle may be just as funny or funnier but, from 1964 to 2021, Paul Mooney was also an actor, a model, a talent scout, a film director, a one man university for up and coming comics and established ones, a stand-up comedian with incredible improvisational skills, a champion of Black people and a writer for televisions shows and great comedians like Good Times, Sanford and Son, In Living Color, the Chappelle Show (Negrodamus), the Richard Pryor Show, Saturday Night Live, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Chevy Chase, Homey D. Clown (“Homey don’t play that!”), Lunelle, Sandra Bernhard and too many others to name in this column! 

And, in the belly of the beast and a country which once registered 60 million Klan members, Paul Mooney took on racism and white racists with a hilarity and a moxie that was astounding! Which often made him underrated, ostracized and overlooked. 

Other great comedians who admired him but wouldn’t dare do his straightforward material would come to his shows incognito (or incognegro) because he was that great and awesome, but they would hide in the shadows because they didn’t even want to risk being thought of as a supporter! Even though nobody has a body of work, a longevity or legacy as he does. 

Nor has any other man made America laugh like he did – even though, because he wrote and shared so much material with others, they didn’t know it was his jokes and sense of humor they were laughing at! And now he’s gone!

Born Paul Gladney, in Shreveport, La., in 1941, Paul was nicknamed “Muni” by his grandmother Aimay Ealy, who Paul declared was the funniest person he ever knew and the source of his sense of humor. So, Paul would later take on the stage name Paul Mooney in her honor. 

Paul would move to Oakland, Calif., in 1948 with his parents George and LaVoya Gladney, where he later attended and graduated from the legendary Berkeley High School and developed his chops in the Bay Area, before “moving on up” – career-wise – to Hollywood. There, he would become great friends and best buddies with the up-and-coming comedian Richard Pryor. 

Paul would later bring Pryor to the Bay Area because Richard was struggling with his identity and doing Bill Cosby and Flip Wilson-like material. When Pryor came to the more gritty, blue collar, scholarly, revolutionary, greater Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area – with its Black Panthers and Flower Children and poets and the Black House (theater) and Black intellectuals and authors – Richard Pryor found himself, found his voice, decided to be himself and tell his story! 

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the Blackest of them all?

So without Paul Mooney, there may have been no Richard Pryor! If Richard Pryor was flashy and electric like Michael Jackson, Paul Mooney was epic like Prince. If Richard Pryor was Mozart, Paul Mooney was Bach. If Richard Pryor was Thelonious Monk, Paul Mooney was Duke Ellington. If Richard Pryor was Charlie “Bird” Parker, Paul Mooney was John Coltrane. 

But why compare apples and oranges? We were fortunate enough to have what Providence blessed us with: both!

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the Blackest of them all? The Black Panthers would often plead to Jimi Hendrix to include more Blackness in his music and presentation. But they would never have to say anything like that to Paul Mooney! Mooney was the Black Panther of comedy! He astounded people like the Last Poets!

He loved his people. And he lived and died for his people. Not for our sins, but for our wins. He was a great Black Sentinel who looked out for the well-being of Black folk. For example, through an episode of the television sitcom, Sanford and Son, his writing spoke through Fred Sanford about systemic racism when the judge tried to speak of equality in the courtroom. Fred, seeing no white people being tried – just us – rebuked: “Look at all these niggas in here! It’s enough niggas in here to start a Tarzan movie!”

Mooney spoke from the heart about representing: “I think about never losing my voice, never giving in, never selling out, always keeping it Black, always sticking to the street. Staying neighborhood and not Hollywood.”

Paul Mooney recognized the pain of Black oppression in his routines, knowing his Black audience needed to plumb the depths to find the fuel to fight, to win and to laugh uproariously. Here he is in his 2007 yearend show at the Black Repertory Group Theater, independently Black owned in Berkeley, Calif. – Photo: JR Valrey

So annually, at least since 2009, during the last few weeks of the year, he would hold a comedy state of the nation address for Black people – in da hood – at the Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley, where he would often sum up the year and also introduce new material. 

I remember a Rasta brother once told me he missed going to see Bob Marley live in concert for the first time, because he acted like a wise guy and decided to use the money for the concert to buy a bag of weed and listen to his Marley albums instead. Unfortunately for him, Marley would soon thereafter die of cancer, and he would never get another chance to see Marley perform. So, I went to as many Paul Mooney shows at the Black Rep as I could afford!

Paul Mooney was a magician. He had the uncanny ability of making white people disappear!

The Comedy Maestro of White America was also Godfather of the Black Pack, who, along with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall – who would later star in “Coming to America” – Keenen Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend, Paul Allen and other brothers, produced together and looked out for each other in Hollywood’s “Jackal and Hyde” infested circles.

Paul Mooney was a magician. He had the uncanny ability of making white people disappear! Because his commentary about White America was so blunt, merciless and on point and often about racism and white privilege, white people were notorious for walking out on Mooney’s stand-up comedy routines. After which, Paul would triumphantly proclaim, “I still got the magic!” and “White people like to laugh at everybody but themselves.” 

I think the main problem white people had with Paul Mooney’s comedy is that they’ve bought into the myth of their whiteness and white privilege, which Mooney called “the complexion for the protection and the collection.”

Paul Mooney wrapped up 2008 at the Black Rep with a side-splitting news review on the “Blackman in the Whitehouse.” – Photo: TaSin Sabir

“What’s wrong with them? White people always trying to train sh*t!” – lions, tigers, bears, dolphins, Train yo’ *&***&&^% children! Get ‘em to stop being haters and mass murderers!”

“If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.” “White people are very good at acting like they’re not racist. They deserve an Academy Award for that.” “White people be like, ‘God bless America! And screw everybody else!’”

On Wednesday, May 19 – the birthday of another ultimate warrior, Malcolm X – Paul Mooney, 79, joined the ancestors. And I am sure he is in a comedy paradise with his buddies, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx and Dick Gregory. 

And I am very proud to say that his final resting place and city of departure from this earth was Oakland, California! Paul Mooney, my good brother, hilarious comedian, and fearless truthsayer: May you rest in peace, rise in power and reside in paradise.

“I’m like the Davy Crockett of comedy … after Davy Crockett opened up the West and helped everybody … they didn’t need him anymore. I freed a lot of comics … if I never would have done comedy, it would’ve been a different art form … I’m sure of it.”

“I could drop dead tomorrow; the truth will still be here. The truth is forever; when you read our history, truth is forever and it always outs itself.”

Paradise is president of the International Black Writers and Artists, was honored with his own day, Oct. 6, by the city of Oakland, and may be heard performing at True Vibe Records Presentstrueviberecords.com. Find him on Facebook at Paradise Freejahlove Supreme.