With his signature catchphrase “dyn-o-mite,” the beanpole thin and perpetually in motion Jimmie Walker was the breakout star of the 1970s sitcom, “Good Times.”
In "All in the Family" creator Norman Lear's pioneering show, Walker played J.J. Evans, the lazy, but artistically gifted eldest son of a close-knit African-American family struggling to make it in the Chicago ghetto.
“Good Times” made waves with storylines that tackled such hot-button topics as racism, venereal disease, urban poverty and busing.
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Yet through it all, the Evans clan remained a loving and supportive bunch. However, as Walker documents in “Dyn-o-mite: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times” (Da Capo Press), the memoir he wrote with Sal Manna, off-screen it was a different story altogether.
Stars Esther Rolle and John Amos criticized Walker’s character, publicly complaining in interviews that he was a poor role model for black teenagers. It was a chilly set and both actors eventually quit the program.
“I’ve been speaking to you for two or three minutes,” Walker told TheWrap. “That’s longer than I ever talked to them. I wasn’t angry at them. We just didn’t talk.”
It is a memoir crammed with insights not only into the highly combustible elements that went into the making of “Good Times,” but also Walker’s conservative political beliefs and his role in bolstering the careers of David Letterman and Jay Leno, both of whom used to write jokes for his stand-up act.
The newly minted memoirist took a break from his book tour and performance schedule to talk about being a sitcom legend, the story behind “dyn-o-mite” and why Donald Trump would be a good president.
Forty years later, why do people still remember “Good Times”?
You have to go back to Norman Lear. He just really pushed it. Things like the “Black Jesus” show [the episode where J.J. paints Jesus as an African American], it’s still socially relevant. People are still slugging that out today.
Is it true you’ve never seen an episode of the series?
No I’ve never seen it. It’s just one of those things. As soon as I was finished filming at 5 or 6, I’d go meet with my writing staff and then I’d go out to perform at a comedy club. It was just the situation.
What was your reaction when Esther Rolle and John Amos slammed your character in the press?
I didn’t know about it. I was busy with my stand-up. Sal was the one who did the research and came up with all the stuff they said. When I found out it didn’t move me.
Do you think they were right? Was J.J. a bad role model?
I think he was funny. I don’t know if he was a role model. I just tried to come out and do damage.
Would the show have gone on past six seasons if cast members hadn’t quit and the atmosphere had been better?
It’s like Kool and the Gang or the Commodores, they do what everybody does when they get big, they get crazy and break up. They say, “We don’t need him or her” and then there’s no Kool and the Gang, there’s no Commodores.
I think our show would have rolled along and done well if everybody had just chilled out. I think we could have gone longer. Look at “Happy Days.” After two or three seasons, they went to Ron Howard and everyone and said, Fonzie is the star, and everyone was cool with that. Eleven years later they go off the air.
Politically you’re pretty conservative?
I’m a member of the "realist" party.
Well, in the book you’re critical of Obama. Why don't you like him?
People will laugh, but we need a guy like Donald Trump now because America has become a business. Obama is a Tony Robbins guy. He makes you feel real good like you do when you eat Chinese food, but before you know it, it’s gone. It’s gone, and you go home, and there’s a foreclosure sign on the house.
There’s been press lately about you having a “feud” with Jay Leno. Do you have a problem with him?
I don’t hate Jay Leno. I like Jay Leno. I’m a Jay Leno fan. I’m just upset he hasn’t given new talent a chance. He’s been on the air for 30 years, and he has not broke one new comic. Johnny Carson broke many. He broke Tim Allen, Steve Martin, David Letterman, he broke Jay Leno.
Does Letterman do a better job of providing a platform for young comics?
Yes, but the best one has been Chelsea Handler. She broke Loni Love, Whitney Cummings, the list goes on and on.