emcees Soul Jam
You're in the clear," declares Jimmie "JJ" Walker when we finally reach him by telephone at his Las Vegas home. "My fax machine was on so you couldn't get through, and my Web site is down so you couldn't study up on me.
"I never thought I'd say this to a reporter, but I declare you 'not guilty' of not being prepared and on time."
'70s Soul Jam
Featuring The Stylistics, The Manhattans and The Chi-Lites, with emcee Jimmie "JJ" Walker (pictured)
Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $35 and $45
The star of Norman Lear's 1970s comedy series "Good Times," where he made "Dyn-o-mite!" a popular expression, has a ready answer for every question.
"Comedy has changed sooo much since I started in standup in the 1960s," says Walker, who emcees the '70s Soul Jam Sunday at the Blaisdell Arena. "The language is a lot rougher now, but audiences expect it to be. Comedians are younger and no one wants to do standup because being on the road is so hard and there's more money in (TV) development deals.
"Audiences have shorter attention spans, so the bits have to be quick and funny or you're history, man. It's a McDonald's and MTV society."
Walker, 56, was raised in the tough South Bronx but was able, through perseverance and determination, become one of the country's best-known television personalities.
"My life centered around basketball and ignoring school," Walker says. "But at 15, I was only 6 feet tall and weighed like 129 pounds, so the NBA didn't exactly come calling."
Walker left school before graduating to work a number of odd jobs. His first job was delivering groceries for $47 a week. He worked all day, then attended Theodore Roosevelt High School at night until he received his diploma and information from a teacher about SEEK, the federally-funded Search for Education, Evaluation and Knowledge program, which accepts students who need an educational "halfway house" before they enter college.
With the help of SEEK, Walker studied announcing and radio engineering and, within a year, worked as a part-time engineer at a local radio station for $100 a week and started writing for a class in Oral Interpretation.
"I discovered I was a funny writer," he said. "Someone asked me if I was a comedian and I answered 'I guess I am.' "
By 1969, Walker had performed at the African Room in Manhattan, along with other new talents such as Bette Midler, David Brenner and Steve Landesberg. Brenner got his break and then helped Walker and the others to move to Budd Friedman's Improv club.
"When I started in standup, there were three TV networks and Johnny Carson was the guy -- he ran comedy," Walker said. "It was like being in a minor league system and we would be farmed out.
"Someone would contact you to say 'OK, you're going to be on Carson next March' and this is like July, so you had all these months to prepare. Then the show would have someone come to the clubs to mold your shot.
"Getting to see Johnny was like getting an audience with the Pope. That show was a direct line to the big time."
BUT BY 1972, Walker still hadn't scored his big break. Then Brenner, Landesberg and Midler, scheduled for the then-powerful "Jack Paar Show," refused to guest unless Walker was given a spot. The Paar staff gave in.
Dan Rowan, who had seen Walker on the show, called for him to fly to Los Angeles to guest on a "Laugh-In" special. This followed with a second guest spot on the "Jack Paar Show," and a contract with CBS to perform his act each week as the audience warmup for a since-forgotten sitcom.
Then came "Good Times" and his best selling comedy album "Dyn-o-mite!" Walker was at the top of his game during the series six year run from 1973 to '79.
These days Walker, who also has a home in Los Angeles, spends more than 40 weeks on the road, which is almost unheard of nowadays.
"Got to pay the bills," he simply states, always trying to be topical and occasionally controversial with his humor.
So why hasn't Walker ever married if he has such a good sense of humor?
"I'm too self-centered, selfish," Walker says. "I admire people who have children, but I prefer not dating women with children.
"Instead of sending troops to Iraq, we should send divorced women with children, because they're the angriest, meanest segment of American society."
Walker, instead, likes staying home alone, watching C-Span, Fox News and sports. "Ladies won't accept that," he says.
So where did the phrase "Dyn-o-Mite" come from?
During the beginning of "Good Times," "we were fooling around in rehearsal, and I said it. Jon Rich, the director of the show, said, 'Hey, I think we can use that phrase and maybe cash in on it.' He showed me how he wanted it done, practiced with me, and set up an isolated camera for me to do it."
So what else does he want to do as a performer?
"Another fulltime radio talk show, and write a fulltime political column, like George Will or Thomas Sowell," he says. "Now that would be dyn-o-mite!"
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