“The only thing I can do from my nightclub act is smoke.” So said REDD FOXX (John Elroy Sanford, 1922-91) as he warmed up the live audience for the first episode of The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour in 1977. True enough, you’ll have to listen to one of the 50-plus comedy albums he recorded in every kind of room from Central Avenue to Harlem to the Vegas Strip if you want to hear his notoriously smutty material. Still, Foxx smuggled a bit of the chitlin circuit onto network television, using a Norman Lear sitcom (Sanford and Son, 1972-77) as his Trojan horse. Try getting this past the sensitivity police today: “Esther, you so ugly I could push your face in some dough and make gorilla cookies.” The secret weapon of Foxx’s comedy routine was its intimacy: he put his outrageous material over because it was understood that he was talking to an audience he knew inside out. He recreated that intimacy on Sanford and Son by bringing along other veteran black comedians like Slappy White and LaWanda Page, and also with the nuanced brilliance of his performance as that ripple-quaffing old junkman, Fred G. Sanford.
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