Awesome Men Throughout History: Redd Foxx
Some people were just born to do a specific thing. That doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard to master it, what ever it was, nor does it mean there weren’t setbacks along the way, but I’m just saying that some people have such natural gifts in one area that it’s clear what they were put on this earth to do. Legendary comedian and actor Redd Foxx was one of those people, which certainly makes him eligible for Awesome Man status.
Not only that, but Redd lived and worked with Malcolm X (then petty drug dealer Malcolm Little) back in the 1940s; Malcolm refers to him as “the funniest dishwasher on this earth” in his autobiography. If that doesn’t earn him some cool points, nothing would.
Redd made his name as a comedian on the road, touring the “Chitlin’ Circuit” of black theatres and nightclubs during the 1940s and 50s. Foxx’s act, to the extent that he had one, was considered extremely raunchy for the time, which limited his exposure to white audiences early on. However, he did record a series of comedy albums that caught on as cult favorites (Foxx was nicknamed “King of the Party Albums” for this reason), and that opened up new touring opportunities for him in Vegas and elsewhere.
See, back in the day, people would have their friends over to drink and listen to records, and albums by dirty comedians, aka “party records,” were a favorite. Party records were often recordings of black comedians whose material was loaded with sex and racial jokes, double entendres, and other edgy material, and white record stores only sold them under the counter (if they sold them at all). Redd’s records proved to be so popular that they got him some appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Red Skelton Hour, and his star continued to rise throughout the 1960s.
What made Redd Foxx different from other blue comics was his timing. To quote fellow comedian Jimmy Walker, Foxx was funny just walking around on the street, and his gruff, cantankerous onstage persona wasn’t terribly different from his real one. Chris Rock, who eavesdropped on his parents’ collection of Foxx’s records as a kid, has said that no one can identify a Redd Foxx joke, but it doesn’t matter because he was so naturally funny and had such perfect timing and inflection that he didn’t need signature material. All he had to do was get up there and talk.
Ultimately, Redd’s talent won out over his era’s racial divisions and tight-lipped morality, and he became one of the first comics to perform for white audiences in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York. He also made the rounds of Vegas’ after hours clubs, where he performed at 2am after the big shows let out, and practically defined them. He also managed to clean up his act enough to get more TV exposure, leading to his starring role in ABC’s Sanford and Son, which ran for six years and was both groundbreaking (in what it did to introduce America to the idea of black sitcoms) and popular with viewers.
Redd’s no longer with us, unfortunately, but at least we can still watch and listen to him, and he’s still funny. Here’s one of my favorite bits of his, a coarse and profane and wonderfully structured bit about cleaning up before sex.
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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.