Before there was such a thing as radical or edgy comedy, there was Dick Gregory. When he showed up in the national comedy scene in the mid-50s, Gregory stepped onstage, unflinchingly riffing on race and hypocrisy in America and abroad and he’s never stepped back.

 Now 82, Gregory has long been acknowledged as a legend of comedy. Early in his career, however, his decisions were based much more on activism than entertainment. He stood with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement and was an ardent supporter of the anti-Vietnam War efforts and the 1970’s feminist movement.

 Increasingly, Gregory has become a believer in government cover-ups and conspiracy theories. He objects to the term “conspiracy theory,” though, because in his eyes, it’s all plain sight.
Injected into this radical activism and ardor for social causes has been his steadily brilliant comedic mind. While Gregory’s open and unfiltered views on race might make some folks uncomfortable [his 1964 memoir is titled, simply, Nigger], his decades-long satirical commentary on the differences, and similarities, of race put him squarely in the category of social gadfly.

 Today Gregory still does approximately 250 gigs a year, some behind podiums delivering lectures, others on the standup stage. When Folio Weekly Magazine spoke to Gregory during a tour stop in Dallas, Texas, he came out of the gate swinging.

Folio Weekly Magazine: It seems like you were one of the first comedians who were bluntly socially conscious and critical of society.

Dick Gregory: True. But that’s not my fault. Because remember, when I first started TV wasn’t doing what they’re doing. We didn’t have news. Listen to this: every night, world news would be a half hour. And the local news would be an hour and a half (laughs). There’s something wrong with that story. You’re telling me about some Kiwanis Club that had a barbecue and then we’re bombing the other half of the world. What happened was that people didn’t read papers and didn’t have time to listen to the news. And now you’ve got cable news 24 hours a day. So anytime you come home, you can watch the news. So I use that; those are my writers. So I go out and talk about what’s happening today.

Give me any example of how you riff on recent news.

Well, the other night when I heard that Prince had died, I go onstage and said, “Lemme tell you how crazy white folks are.” Prince had chartered a plane. He finished his show in Atlanta and then it was going to take him to Minnesota. And then the plane made a pit stop, 40 miles outside of Chicago. So when I check and find out who owned the company that rents the plane, it’s Warren Buffet. I said, “Oh? I know this and the New York Times doesn’t?” And they landed 40 miles from Chicago. Why didn’t they take him to Chicago? Where they have some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world. Why there? The other piece is, his is one of the most famous names in the history of show business, why didn’t the media and the press meet him at this town and ask him questions? And then he leaves there, then he goes home and he dies within 24 hours. The first news story said he had AIDS. Well we watched him on TV do two shows by himself; he didn’t look like a man on the verge of dying. And that night he’s riding he’s bicycle outside of his compound. Somebody’s not telling us something.

Do you feel like African-American entertainers are being targeted?

No, no. Lemme tell you something – entertainment is nothing but bullshit, okay? And why does America put so much emphasis on entertainers and athletes? People like you, me, and other writers do more for humanity than 98 percent than all of the athletes and entertainers put together. Muhammad Ali – he broke the mold. He was going up against some serious power. When you go into entertainment at that level, that’s controlled by white folks. They don’t want you getting involved with something that’s going to mess up your entertainment career. Consequently, when you stop and think about an entertainer, what’s an entertainer? They ain’t nothing but a game puppet. You’ve never read where entertainers have owned huge companies. That’s all they’ve been doing since they were five years old, playing this gtame.

I want to get your take on what I think is a threat to American power, and that’s Donald Trump. He seems like this malevolent projection of America. He says whatever he wants…and any other candidate would have been shut down for things he says.

You said it and you ran past it. The richest, Republicans on the planet are in America – the Fords, the Rockefellers, the DuPonts, right? So if he was saying something they didn’t like, they would kill him. And the fact they haven’t killed him means he’s saying what they want him to say. If I’m crazy and I come to town and kill 30 people, I can’t get the electric chair because they say I’m insane. So here’s a person who’s insane, and congress talks about him and they don’t say nothin’ about all of the cops shooting black folks in America and it’s crazy, insane. He keeps saying the same thing and we say, “Well, wait a minute; I expect that out of him.” If a pyromaniac is running around setting fires, I expect him to burn my place down. With Trump, he says some crazy shit, and he’ll say it again in case you didn’t hear it the first time.

Early on your activism superseded your comedy career. So if there was a cabal, did you ever think they might come after you?

Look, they’re after me 24 hours a day. I’m a soldier. And if the god I’m praying to can’t protect me from a piece of shit then I’m praying to the wrong god. I ain’t talking about Jesus and Muhammad, I’m talking about the Universal God that put the moon and the sun in the sky. I was horrified when I was young, and heard about this research that there are more stars in the sky than every grain of sand on this planet. That just blew me away. And then the other was my anger with white folks. I mean real anger. Because I was duped to believe that white folks were sweet, right? I didn’t believe stuff could happen. And that they control and manipulate the paper. I thought that if I could just be white, I’d have it made. Isn’t that funny? That I thought white folks had it made? But they sell them the same bad cars they sell me (laughs).

I saw a clip online where you talked about the difference between white supremacy and white privilege. No matter what you might read online, whites get a pass on a lot of shit. What’s your take on that?

Look, let me turn it around for you: most white folks don’t know what white supremacy is. Listen to the word: supreme. That means they’re supreme to me and you. Let me tell you, if my poor cousin came into town from St. Louis, went in the Hilton hotel, and killed 12 white folks; he’s going to get the electric chair. If your poor cousin went in the Hilton hotel, and killed 12 white folks; he’s going to get the electric chair. If Prince Charles’ drug addict son went into the Hilton hotel, killed 500 white folks, he’s not gonna get the electric chair. That’s white supremacy (laughs).