Walker rose to fame playing J.J. Evans on the
hit CBS sitcom Good Times (1974-79) and was a key figure in the comedy boom of the ’70s and ’80s with such friends as David Brenner, Bette Midler, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor. Delving into the tricky terrain of race and Hollywood, he tells about going from being the official comedian of the Black Panthers to being “accused of ‘cooning it up’ ” on TV. “In the end, I became too black and not black enough,” he writes.
The Bronx-born Walker stumbled into comedy in a post-high school War on Poverty-funded writing class for the unemployed. His first gigs were at Black Power rallies, and his early club act relied on material ripped off from Lenny Bruce and others and a smattering of original jokes like: “I’m from the ghetto. I’m here on the exchange program. You can imagine what they sent back there.” Such jokes scared TV bookers until friends like Midler and Brenner intervened. In 1973 — without an audition — Norman Lear cast the 25-year-old in Good Times, a Maude spinoff about a poor black family in the projects.
Walker was the breakout star, and his catchphrase, “dyn-o-mite” — which Lear dismissed as a “non sequitur” — propelled the show into a hit. It also inspired a top 10 single, “Dynomite,” by one-hit wonder Bazuka in 1975.