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Paul Mooney's TV history from Black Is the New White

by Nick Zaino, posted Nov 9th 2009 10:03AM
Paul Mooney Black Is the New WhitePaul Mooney is well known to stand-up comedians for his own work and for writing for his longtime friend, Richard Pryor. Outside of that, though, his name recognition gets a little fuzzier. So for TV comedy fans, Mooney's new memoir, Black Is the New White, provides some great behind-the-scenes moments they should probably know.

There are a lot of heartfelt stories about Richard Pryor and Mooney's own personal life, but there is a lot of fun TV trivia, as well. Mooney talks about getting forced onstage by a couple of friends to do his first solo stand-up spot in the early 60s in San Francisco. Mooney is drunk and nervous, and winds up doing the act of a comic named Ronnie Schell, who would later co-star with Jim Nabors on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Mooney admits whenever he catches the show in reruns, he feels a little guilty.

Readers also get to see Mooney and Pryor trying to write for Sanford and Son, a gig that only lasted a couple of episodes. Predictably, they were a bit too explosive for network TV. Mooney talks about Pryor's meltdown on The Richard Pryor Show (which featured future stars like Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, and John Witherspoon), territory that has been covered before, but not from the perspective of a friend like Mooney. And Mooney devotes a bit of time to In Living Color, which adopted his concept for Homey the Clown and the catch phrase, "Homey don't play that." Earlier in his career, Mooney was also a dancer on a show called Dance Party, a sort of west coast version of American Bandstand. It would be interesting to see those old tapes.

Of course, Mooney talks about the show for which current audiences probably know him best, Chappelle's Show. Mooney did spots on Chappelle's Show like "Negrodamus," where he answered audience questions, and "Mooney on Movies," where he gave his perspective on film. His spots were always pretty incendiary, and Mooney says they earned him more recognition than anything else he had done until that point. He also says the show had Pryor's stamp of approval: "When he sees Chappelle's Show, Richard talks about 'passing the torch' to Dave, which considering his relationship with torches and fire, is pretty funny."

The biggest piece of television history Mooney talks about is the "word association" sketch on Saturday Night Live starring Pryor and Chevy Chase. It is rightly considered by many to be one of the funniest, gutsiest sketches in American television history, and Mooney wrote it. But he may not have gotten the chance if Pryor hadn't pushed for it. Mooney quotes Pryor - "I don't want white people putting words into my mouth," he says. "I don't get Paul, you don't get me."

Mooney says he had to interview with SNL producer Lorne Michaels and his staff in the green room at a jai alai arena where Pryor was playing. Michaels asks about Mooney's credentials as a comic and a writer, which Mooney finds demeaning. Once he gets the show, Mooney says Chase bugs him to write a scene he can do with Pryor. He and Pryor then find out the show will be on a seven-second delay, something other hosts haven't had to deal with.

All of that inspires Mooney to write the "word association" sketch. "Easiest sketch I ever write," he says. "All I do is bring out what is going on beneath the surface of that interview with Lorne and the NBC execs in the jai alai green room."

This is the result:

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January 09 2010 at 7:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That joke on pix11 was in poor taste. If you were white Al Sharton, would have made a stink. Only proves , blacks can say anything they want about whites . Whites make a joke about blacks, and we are racists.

November 12 2009 at 7:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is definitely a book I would listen to the audio version of if its done by him. Love Paul Mooney!

November 09 2009 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's always been a toss up for me whether the interview sketch or the Exorcist parody on that episode was the funniest. Loved both of them, though.

November 09 2009 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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