What a tremendous loss for the culture!
Comedic icon Paul Mooney has now joined the ancestors, NPR reports.
He made a name for himself as a writer and comedian, working on shows like Saturday Night Live and In Living Color. He also worked alongside friend Richard Pryor on Sanford and Son, starring Redd Foxx. His propensity for “tell it like it is,” a comedy centered around Black life, won the hearts of Black America.
Mooney also dabbled in acting, being featured in several classic films over the years, including playing Sam Cooke in The Buddy Holly Story, the NAACP President in Hollywood Shuffle, and Junebug in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. During the early 2000s, Mooney introduced himself to another generation, starring on Chappelle’s Show in sketches that captured the cultural zeitgeist of the times, like Negrodamus and Ask A Black Dude.
Often referred to as the “godfather of modern Black comedy,” Mooney was a comedian’s comedian, crediting his grandmother for inspiring his sense of humor.
“My grandmother was very funny...She used to sleep with a hammer, you know. So she was a funny person,” he told reporters in 2009.
The comedic genius was known for pushing the envelope of social commentary through art. In 2006, he spoke candidly about his decision to stop using the “n” word, a staple in much of his material. After seeing Seinfeld star Michael Richards use the term in his routine, Mooney said he realized the word was a weapon, and he didn’t want to be responsible for wielding it anymore.
“When I saw the video, I mean I’m not easily shocked; I went into shock. I was outside of myself, looking at me and looking at the word, and it was such a weapon. It was such a nuclear-like it was a weapon. It was just - I don’t ever want anybody to have that power again,” Mooney said.
Many influencers have taken to social media to pay their respects to the icon, David Alan Grier, writing, “Rest In Peace Paul Mooney one of the funniest mutha****** to ever hold a mic! I performed with Paul on stage, worked with him on screens big and small, witnessed him absolutely destroy audiences night after night after night! I will miss your uncompromising truthful insight, intelligence, and searing wit.”
Ava DuVernay referred to Mooney as “a comedy giant.”
“I recall listening to his RACE album in college and how formative it was. Yeah, the jokes. But more so, the freedom. He spoke freely and fearlessly about feelings and experiences others found difficult to express. May he be truly free now. Rest, sir,” she wrote.
Paul Mooney. A comedy giant. I recall listening to his RACE album in college and how formative it was. Yeah, the jokes. But more so, the freedom. He spoke freely and fearlessly about feelings and experiences others found difficult to express. May he be truly free now. Rest, sir.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 19, 2021
Dave Chappelle shared a throwback clip of him giving Mooney his flowers on stage in honor of his 79th birthday, calling him his “favorite comedian that ever lived...the greatest comedian [he’s] ever seen in any era…[and his] hero.”
Chappelle captioned the video saying, “All comedians who believe they can’t say anything, Remember. Paul Mooney sacrificed stardom, so he could say EVERYTHING! Rest In Power to the outspoken legend #PaulMooney.”
Mooney passed away after suffering a heart attack at his home in Oakland, California. He was 79-years-old.
Thank you for your service, Paul Mooney. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Photo Courtesy of Johnny Nunez/WireImage