Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Comedian

Another round of Michael Seth Starr's Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story (Applause, 2011) brings another reminder that electronic communications have only been around for a little over a century. Radio, records, silent motion pictures, talkies, television, tapes, internet, downloads -- all of it. Delve into any 20th century pop artist's biography and there's bound to be a lot of cross-communication and confluence. 

For most of his life, Redd Foxx (1922-1991) actively performed in a variety of ways -- some successful and some not -- but by the mid-1950s, he'd found an underground audience through the distribution of a series of "party records."  By the 1960s, his live acts were being seen by a growing number of movers and shakers who could boost his career further, including Frank Sinatra. In 1967, he started up the Redd Foxx Club (Redd's Place) in Los Angeles and was performing for long runs in Vegas. He also regularly appeared as a guest on the big talk shows of the time: Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop (sidekick: Regis Philbin), Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Della Reese, Dick Cavett, and so on. 

The Civil Rights movement had a delayed impact on mass media, but race taboos were being actively challenged just as Loving v. Virginia overturned marriage restrictions based on "race:" 

The present statutory scheme dates from the adoption of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, passed during the period of extreme nativism which followed the end of the First World War. The central features of this Act, and current Virginia law, are the absolute prohibition of a "white person" marrying other than another "white person."

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a surge in "Black Power" and pride, concurrent with all sorts of "identity politics" focusing on legal equality and cultural expression. Feminism, gay rights, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Movement and environmental concerns all came into broader conciousness. Redd Foxx was one of several cultural icons in this surge, and the individual cross-fertilization process included relationships (professional, social, or both) with other comics such as Bill Cosby (who co-managed Redd's Place for a short while),  Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor, with jazz musicians and a broad array of admirers. It was within this greater context that Sanford and Son made its orginal run, from 1972 to 1977, alongside the comparably influential and original All in the Family run from 1971 to 1979. Then came the backlash, helping the Reagan conservative "counter-revolution" dominate the 1980s and still today driving Tea Party believers to shape Republican cultural and political rhetoric in 2012.

Today's Rune: Signals.


Charles Gramlich said...

The electronic media child isn't very old but it sure is big for its age.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never found Redd very funny. And I hear his standup routine was really blue for the time.

Simon black said...

First time hearing about this, thanks for sharing.