Before he died on May 19, 2021 at the age of 79, Paul Mooney wrote for Sanford and Son, Good Times, Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, and Chappelle’s Show, in addition to collaborating closely with Richard Pryor and acting for Robert Townsend and Spike Lee. This resume is the comedy equivalent of playing for the 1995 Bulls, the 1985 Bears, and the ’27 Yankees while also winning a Grammy and inventing Post-Its.
People called Mooney the “godfather of Black comedy,” a title that seems insufficient insofar as it’s not funny enough. Without Mooney there would have been no Homey D. Clown or Negrodamus, and for SNL he achieved comedy immortality by writing the notorious word-association sketch in which Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase’s routine job interview escalates into boiling racial animosity.
Mooney lived long enough to say and do some things he regretted – or, at least, that other people regretted – and he never became a household name like some of his collaborators. But even his low mainstream profile might be chalked up to his uncompromising integrity: unlike some comedians who put on edginess as a pose, Mooney offered the real thing, and sometimes that meant getting snubbed or passed over. But consider his enduring cultural influence – Viola Davis and Ava DuVernay commemorated his passing, and Pulitzer-winning poet Tyehimba Jess spun a Mooney one-liner into a 400-word poem.
In addition to the words he wrote for comics like Pryor and Chase and Redd Foxx and Robin Williams to say, Mooney also wrote for the page. His memoir Black is the New White is a chronicle of his career and philosophy.
And if you want to hear Mooney delivering some of his own jokes himself, check out his comedy albums.