He made his mark writing for comics like Richard Pryor. He also wrote for “Good Times” and “Sanford and Son” in the ’70s. In the early 1980s, he developed signature characters for “In Living Color” including Homey the Clown.
His words are known by many. Still comedian, writer, social critic, television and film actor Paul Mooney has not become a household name himself.
But that makes no difference to Mooney, set to take the stage at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom Street, May 2-5.
“I love what I do and I always knew I would end up doing it. And that’s all I really care about,” he said.
Born in Shreveport, La., and moving to Oakland, Calif., several years later, Mooney first became a ringmaster with the Gatti-Charles Circus. During his stint as ringmaster, he always found himself writing comedy and telling jokes, which later helped him land his first professional work as a writer for Pryor.
Mooney wrote some of Pryor’s routines for his appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” co-wrote his material for the “Live on the Sunset Strip, Bicentennial Nigger,” “Is It Something I Said” albums, as well as the film “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling.”
Mooney says writing for Pryor — as well as many other young comics including Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Eddie Murphy, Marsha Warfield and others — was easy once he got to know them.
“Once I got to know them, really know them, once I could really get into their heart and soul, it was easy to write for them because at that point I knew the essence of the person. And once that happens, I can write for people. Otherwise, I can’t,” he explains.
Among his other writing accomplishments, Mooney wrote for Redd Foxx’s “Sanford and Son,” acted in several cult classics including Which Way Is Up?,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “Hollywood Shuffle” and more.
He has appeared in sketches including Negrodamus, an African-American version of Nostradamus. As Negrodamus, Mooney once ad-libbed the “answers to life’s most unsolvable mysteries such as ‘Why do white people love Wayne Brady?’ (Answer: ‘Because Wayne Brady makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.’). Mooney had planned to reprise his role as Negrodamus in the third season of the “Chappelle’s Show” before it was cancelled.
Much of Mooney’s material is based on the subject of racism in the United States. which disturbs some audience members. But controversy has always accompanied Mooney and his comic material, and he doesn’t shy away from that fact.
“I do a lot of racial stuff because we live in America and my comedy is a reflection of my environment,” he said. “I think we’re blessed to live in a country with freedom of speech so I can speak my mind. We’re blessed to live in a place where I can make fun of things I see and not be taken out and shot.”
Long considered a living legend, Mooney explains that he can’t think of any of today’s young comics he would pay to see. He says, “I’ve worked with all the great minds from Richard Pryor to Flip Wilson to Redd Foxx to Moms Mabley. The only people left are Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory. After they go, it’s all over with. I’m truly the last of my kind.”
And his followers hope he’ll be around for a long, long time to come. As does the man of comedy himself. “I’ll never retire,” he said. “I’ll be performing as long as I can. I feel most alive when I’m on stage.”
For times and ticket information call (215) 496-9001.