BootLeg Betty

BetteBack July 14, 1974: Bette Midler Instrumental In J.J. Walker’s Career

Bakersfield Californian
July 14, 1974

dynomite

Jimmie Walker is making up for lost time and he’s unstoppable.

Watching him perform as “J.J.” on Good Times or doing his standup comedy routines in night clubs or television variety shows it’s hard to believe that a mere five years ago he was just another tall, skinny, frustrated college kid, bowling over his fellow students with his
comedy stuff but longing for the big applause and the big money that comes with professional recognition. But it’s not hard to believe for Jimmie Walker. He can’t move fast enough to make up for all those “lost” years when he was out of show business. Now there’s not enough days, weeks or months for him to play all the clubs, meet all the people, and establish himself as the top standup comic in the country.

That’s really where he’s heading and he makes no bones about it. “I’m a comedian,” he says. “I never was an actor and never wanted to be and I don’t consider myself an actor now.” Thousands of fans and dozens of critics would differ with that self-analysis, however, for in the half-season Good Times has been on television he has become the “sleeper” hit of the show and he’s become a thoroughly skilled comic actor whether he likes it or not.

Walker writes nearly all of his own material for his club dates, and his background will provide him with enough creative stimulation to last a lifetime. After all, in the comedy of today, any tall, skinny, funny-looking guy who survived growing up in New York’s South Bronx bomb zone, came from a broken home, and belonged to a street gang of 25 members, nineteen of whom have already gone to that great rumble in the sky, just has to have something going for him.

Walker admits he wasn’t always the funniest kid on his block but the funnier kids just didn’t have his drive . . . or need . . . to make it big. His first goal was to be a disc jockey, which he did for a time but it didn’t give him the freedom he needed so he went back to
school. At New York’s City College he took every opportunity to try out his own comedy material before the class. Each time he was asked to answer a question he worked his answer into an instant comedy routine and all his essays, oral or written were about big time comics. Dick Gregory was his favorite. It wasn’t long before he was a fantastic success with his fellow students but less popular with his professors who resented his using the class room as a comedy showcase.

By this time, however, he’d made up his mind and he knew he could make it. His first professional encouragement came from Bette Midler who, at the time was also making her bid for comic stardom at the Improvisation Club in New York after she finished her nightly stint as one of the daughters in “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway.

She caught Walker at the African Room and insisted he go with her to the Improvisation Club where she insisted the owner give him a chance and he was on his way.

Come September, Jimmie Walker will again be wowing television audiences as “J.J.” in Good Times, this season at a new date and time (Tuesdays, 8:00-8:30PM) on CBS, but don’t expect him to be resting on his laurels. Every free minute he’ll be perfecting his own comedy routines and every free day he’ll be heading out for the nearest club date, still playing “catch-up” for all those childhood years he wasted just being funny for free.

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