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*Paul Mooney was born on this date in 1941. He was a Black comedian, writer, social critic, and actor.
Born Paul Gladney in Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved to Oakland, California when he was seven years old. His parents were George Gladney and LaVoya Ealy. Mooney was raised by his grandmother Aimay Ealy, known among the family as "Mama". Gladney coined the nickname "Mooney" after the original Scarface (1932) actor Paul Muni. Mooney once said, “I don’t do drugs. Because my grandmother raised me. I think like an old, Black, Southern woman. If I’d have done coke, I’d probably be cooking pancakes.” He was an old soul "Race Man", As a teenager, Mooney was a dancer and appeared on the TV show Dance Party. But after seeing Lenny Bruce perform during the early ’60s, he found his calling.
Mooney became a ringmaster with the Gatti-Charles Circus. During that time, he always found himself writing comedy and telling jokes, which later helped him land his first professional work as a writer for Richard Pryor. As the head writer for The Richard Pryor Show, he gave many young comics, such as Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Marsha Warfield, John Witherspoon, and Tim Reid, their first break into show business. Mooney also wrote for Redd Foxx's Sanford and Son and Good Times, acted in several cult classics including Which Way Is Up? Bustin' Loose, Hollywood Shuffle, and portrayed singer/songwriter Sam Cooke in The Buddy Holly Story. He was the head writer for the first year of In Living Color, inspiring the character Homey D. Clown, played by Damon Wayans.
Mooney later went on to play Wayans' father in the Spike Lee film Bamboozled as the comedian Junebug. He initially appeared in the sketches "Ask a Black Dude" and "Mooney at the Movies" on Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show. He later appeared as Negrodamus, an African American version of Nostradamus. Much of Mooney's material was based on the subject of racism in the United States. In September 2005, Mooney performed a segment at the 2005 BET Comedy Awards called the "Nigga Wake Up Call Award". The majority of Mooney's performance was edited out of the televised broadcast and not aired. In 2006, Mooney hosted the BET tribute to Black History Month titled 25 Most @#%! Moments in Black History. In this show, he narrated some of the most shameful incidents involving African Americans since 1980.
On November 26, 2006, Mooney appeared on CNN and talked about how he would stop using the word "nigga" due to Michael Richards's outbursts on stage at the Laugh Factory. He referred to Richards as having become "his Dr. Phil" and "cured" him of the use of the epithet. Mooney also said, "We're gonna stop using the n-word. I'm gonna stop using it. I'm not gonna use it again and I'm not gonna use the b-word. And we're gonna put an end to the n-word. Just say no to the n-word. We want all human beings throughout the world to stop using the n-word." On November 30, Mooney elaborated upon these remarks from his appearance on CNN. He declared that he would convene a conference on this controversial subject shortly, as well as perform his first "n-free" comedy in the upcoming days.
That show, which he performed at the Lincoln Theater following a set by Dick Gregory, took place on December 2, 2006. Mooney almost made it through his entire set—about an hour of jokes—before he mistakenly used the word in a routine on O.J. Simpson. He ran off stage covering his face in his hands and walked back on a few moments later saying, "I'm really going to get it now. This is probably already on the Internet." On the BET special 25 Events that Mis-Shaped Black America, Mooney reiterated that he was no longer using the word. He was quoted as saying, "I am no longer going to use the n-word. Instead of saying 'What's up my nigga,' say 'What's up my Michael Richards.'" At a summit with Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, and Richards, Mooney forgave Richards.
In 2007, Mooney released his first book, the memoir Black Is the New White. In November 2014, Paul's brother announced that Mooney had prostate cancer. Mooney continued to tour and perform his stand-up comedy act. Paul Mooney died of a heart attack at his home in Oakland, California, on May 19, 2021, at age 79.