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A Dyn-o-mite Interview with Jimmie 'J.J.' Walker

Josh VanDyke • Apr 22, 2018 at 6:00 PM

Anyone who came of age in the 1970s is sure to know James “J.J.” Evans Jr. from the CBS television show “Good Times,” which ran from 1974-79.

The catchphrase "Dy-no-mite" remains a part of the American lexicon to this day, which proves the impact of the show and the character.

Jimmie Walker, who portrayed Evans on the show, is still remembered for his Golden Globe-nominated role on the show; however, his career has taken a new path. Now 70, Walker has continued his passion for acting and comedy and intertwined the two skills into a prominent stand-up comedy career.

Walker will be headlining the "Laugh Your Glass Off!" event on April 28 at the Charles A. Conklin American Legion Post 28, located at 700 S. Harbor Ave. in Grand Haven. The wine tasting and comedy night will begin at 5 p.m. and tickets will be $45 per person. All proceeds from the events will go toward the Post 28 veterans programs.

Before he takes the stage next Saturday, I got the chance to talk to the man of the show and discuss everything from his time as a young star in Hollywood to the challenges of reinventing himself after all the hype.

Here's a look at our discussion.

Q: So, what got you into comedy?

A: I started at the city college in Harlem (New York) in an oral interpretation class. I did some Dick Gregory and Godfrey Cambridge routines in that class because I had seen those guys on the “Merv Griffin Show” when I was a growing up. I also read a few Dick Gregory books and that really sparked my interest in comedy.

Q: What were the early memories you have with comedy?

A: My earliest memories are being at the Apollo and The Improv. I've worked with so many wonderful acts: The Temptations, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, David Brenner, Bette Midler, Dice Clay, Freddie Prinze, Gabe Kaplan, Roseanne, Steve Martin and Jim Carrey, just to name a few. I was NEVER the biggest act or the most popular, but it was an amazing experience.

Q: Did you have any acting gigs before Good Times?

A: I did get some extra work in a Jack Nicholson film and a James Caan thing when I was younger, but it wasn't anything noteworthy.

Q: What was it like being a television star in your early 20s?

A: I don't feel like I was ever a star. I feel like I was fortunate to work with Norman Lear, and he is an icon as a television writer. He helped produce all the big shows in the 1970s like “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.” I also got to work with Carroll O'Connor and many fine actors who are and were way better than me.

Q: How have you reinvented yourself as a comedian over the years?

A: It's taken a lot of adapting. Stand-up isn't like the Constitution — it's not written in stone. It changes from one show to another and you have to learn to read the crowd each night you perform. You're always changing your act and you can't just memorize lines.

Q: What have been some personal highlights of your career?

A: Probably the biggest highlights for me are winning “The Battle Of the Network Stars” in the 1980s and also seeing the guys who wrote for me doing so well for themselves after “Good Times” ended. Guys like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Byron Allen, amongst others, are doing so well in their careers, and that's really exciting for me to see all these years later.

Q: Have you ever had an exceptionally bad experience on stage during your stand-up career?

A: I think everybody has bad experiences on stage. It's part of the job. The big thing is not being discouraged by it and just continuing to do your thing.

Q: What drives you to keep doing stand-up?

A: I do stand-up because that's what I do and that's who I am. You'll hear guys like Leno and (Jerry) Seinfeld say the same thing. After a while, it just becomes a part of who you are and there's no changing it.

Q: Any hidden talents or hobbies outside of acting or performing?

A: Nope, I'm just a second-string road comic. That's the extent of my talents.

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