June 20, 2012 6:00am PT by Andy Lewis
Jimmie Walker’s Memoir: Letterman, Leno and 3 Other Surprises About '70s-Era Comedy
Jimmie Walker, the comedian who skyrocketed to fame playing J.J. Evans on the CBS sitcom Good Times (1974-79), has written Dyn-o-mite: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times—A Memoir about his life.
In addition to talking about his time on the Norman Lear-penned show and his recent notoriety as an outspoken African-American conservative, Walker spills about the '70s stand-up comedy scene and his friendship with future stars like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Freddie Prinze.
Here are five surprising revelations about that period from Walker’s book.
1. Yes that’s Leno and Letterman together back in the day.
Walker’s circle of close friends from the early 70s reads like a comedy Hall of Fame, as seen in this photo from 1976:
Sitting, left to right: Elayne Boosler, Gene Braunstein, Walker, Adele Blue, Leno, Michelle Letterman. Standing: Helen Kushnick, Wayne Kline, Budd Friedman, Letterman.
2. Freddie Prinze, Sr. had sex with Lenny Bruce’s daughter on his grave.
Prinze, the Chico and the Man star who died of self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1977, idolized famed '60s comedian Lenny Bruce to the point he dated Bruce’s daughter Kitty, who worked in the coat-check room at the Improv. During a trip the couple took to Los Angeles, they had sex on Bruce’s grave. Prinze told Walker he heard “Lenny rooting him on: ‘Go man, fuck her! Fuck her!’”
3. When Walker played Boston he crashed at Leno’s apartment nicknamed “Leno Arms.”
Leno was from Boston and when young comics like Walker were in the city for a club gig he would let them stay at his apartment. Nicknamed “Leno Arms,” it consisted of nothing more than mattresses on the floor, but Leno’s mom would regularly come by to clean the apartment for him.
4. Dave Letterman was squeamish about sex jokes.
After Good Times became a hit, Walker hired many of his struggling friends as joke writers, including Dave Letterman, who he paid $150 a week. Letterman told Walker that he couldn’t write jokes for black comedians but Walker claims it was sex jokes that Letterman really had trouble writing.
He recounts numerous “black” jokes Letterman wrote, including this one: “I used to be real interested in camping. I’d find out when ya’ll were away on a camping trip, then I’d come over and do a little shopping.”
But he can only recall one sex joke: “The University of Washington conducted a study that proved girls with big chests get more rides when hitchhiking than flat-chested girls. Used to be all you needed was a thumb. Now you’ve got to have two handfuls.”
5. Walker blames Jay Leno for ruining the career of his friend and fellow comic Steve Crantz.
In the early 70s, Crantz was part of Walker’s circle of joke writers that included Letterman and Leno. Walker describe him as one of the most prolific and gifted comedians he ever met. But he hated living in Los Angeles and soon moved back home to Pittsburg. Ten years later, when he wanted to try again Walker and manager Jerry Kushnick convinced a reluctant Leno to hire Crantz as a joke writer for his regular appearances as Johnny Carson’s substitute on The Tonight Show. Leno refused to use any of his jokes, once even refusing to pay Crantz $50 for a joke he used on air, claiming someone else wrote it. Heartbroken, Crantz soon returned to Pittsburg, where he died of cancer three years later. Walker calls Leno’s treatment of Crantz “unforgivable.”