TURN ME LOOSE: A Play About Comic Genius Dick Gregory
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (The Wallis) has announced the second extension of the West Coast premiere of the Off-Broadway hit Turn Me Loose—a comedic drama by Gretchen Law, produced by John Legend and Mike Jackson, about the life of trailblazing comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory who passed away in August at the age of 84. The limited engagement runs Thursdays through Sundays until November 19. The production, under the direction of John Gould Rubin, partially transforms The Wallis’ Lovelace Studio Theater into a comedy club and stars Emmy and NAACP Image Award-winner Joe Morton (ABC’s “Scandal”) in a tour-de-force performance as the pioneering satirist. The play also features actor John Carlin, as well as an original song by Legend. Turn Me Loose is made possible in part by the generous support of The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.
Turn Me Loose explores the influential life of 1960s comic genius Dick Gregory, the first Black stand-up to make white audiences laugh at the absurdity of bigotry. The play reveals how the power of activism enticed Gregory from one of the most successful show business careers of the postwar era into a life of sacrifice and danger alongside Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and other Civil Rights leaders.
Wielding razor-sharp wit, Gregory hacked away at myths about race, poverty, war and politics, up until his passing in August 2017. In a recent interview, President Obama called Gregory one of his two favorite comics ever. The other was Richard Pryor who himself said, “Dick Gregory was the greatest and he was the first.”
A new generation of audiences will discover one of the most prophetic, committed, authentic and confrontational—and hysterically funny—public figures of our time. Gregory was one of the last living champions from a remarkable period of struggle for dignity and freedom, and his legacy and utterly unique brand of heroism lives on in Turn Me Loose.
“The Wallis is honored to both present this wonderful piece of theater and celebrate Mr. Gregory’s legacy, making sure that as many people as possible will be made aware of his life, his achievements, his involvement in the civil rights movement, his beliefs in social justice, and his comedy that revealed a wisdom and truth,” said Paul Crewes, The Wallis’ Artistic Director.
“Dick Gregory used every syllable, every metaphor, every joke, every march, every incarceration, every hour of his life, to embarrass this country into providing a more perfect, perfect union,” said Morton. “Dick Gregory will be greatly missed. Humbly, and in his stead, Turn Me Loose carries on to be his voice and his inspiration for all who wish to laugh at the absurdity of racism, and be enlightened by his spirit of justice.”
“When Dick Gregory left this life on August 19, national obituaries and television commentators across the country extolled his legacy, especially his decades-long devotion to social justice,” said the producing team of Turn Me Loose. “That morning, in the hospital room in which he died, a hospital orderly took it upon himself to alter the caregivers’ white board. Under the heading ‘What I would like you to know about me,’ he wrote a profound but simple and perfectly accurate testament:
- Health Guru
- Civil Rights Activist
“Since the summer of 2009 when I first approached Dick Gregory about creating this project, it has been the main thrust of my career,” said director John Gould Rubin. “I discovered an insufficiently known hero whose prescience in the 60’s sounds like commentary on today’s news; he so accurately predicted the world in which we now find ourselves. No figure I have ever encountered wielded such hysterical humor so sharply juxtaposed to the most profound insight. I thought I knew who Dick Gregory was when I approached him, but then became amazed at this epic figure’s life, tragically just lost. I hope Turn Me Loose may create that same amazement in our audience so they may be equally awestruck at this unique figure’s life.”
“Mr. Gregory traversed a mystical territory as a performer of comic genius and a civil rights activist of unbridled courage,” said playwright Gretchen Law. “I was first introduced to him as an adolescent, playing his comedy club albums with my family and friends—the inextricable pain and humor resounded in me. His truth, albeit funny, was bitter. The path his life took—the way he shaped it—entreats us to listen to the universe for cues as to what it means to be responsive persons of action in messy and unconscionable human affairs. It’s an extreme honor to have had this opportunity as a playwright.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org/TML, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.