Jimmie Walker to open Harveys comedy show
In a way, Jimmie Walker returns to his roots this week.
The New York Improv was one of the first places that Walker was able to hone his comedy act. He really got his start there, rising to prominence despite coming from one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country; the depths of New York’s South Bronx.
It’s a long way from the Bronx to Lake Tahoe, but Walker wears the mileage well. He’ll be appearing at the Improv at Harvey’s all this week through Sunday.
Walker was born on June 25, 1947, in a neighborhood known for burnt-out buildings, pervasive neglect and disrepair. But to a very young boy, it was nothing more than “the neighborhood.” Life in The Projects centered around basketball courts and ignoring school. In fact, Walker dropped out while still in high school, and worked a number of odd jobs, eventually landing a delivery job at the Grand Union Market at a salary of $47 per week; before taxes.
Things turned around with the help of his boss, who made an arrangement for Walker to end each shift early so that he could attend Theodore Roosevelt High School at night until he received his diploma. It was at this time that Jimmie found out about SEEK, the federally funded Search for Education, Evaluation and Knowledge program which accepts students who need an educational “half-way house” before college. SEEK arranged for Jimmie to study the art of announcing and the trade of radio engineering at the RCA Technical Institute. Jimmie started as an engineer, which required a first-class license available only by study and by passing a test. Within a year he had earned his first-class ticket to the future.
Jimmie walked into a small radio station, WRBR in New York, and was immediately hired as a part-time engineer at a salary of $100 per week. He continued to study at SEEK, learning about mathematics and literature. At 19 his writing capabilities started to garner attention, Jimmie discovering that he was not just a good writer, but a funny one at that. He penned a piece, delivered it to his SEEK classmates, and they howled! Asked one appreciative teenager, “Are you a comedian?” Said Walker, “I guess I am.” And he was.
Things escalated from there and Jimmie soon found himself getting laughs with just five minutes as an opening act for more established acts. By 1969 he had performed at the African Room in Manhattan along with a few other new talents (including Bette Midler, David Brenner and Steve Landesberg). Brenner got his break and then helped Walker and the others, moving them all to Budd Friedman’s Improv in New York where they occasionally got on stage. Brenner and his “disciples” got hot at Budd’s and became Improv regulars.
Back then “The Tonight Show” was based in New York and was the direct line to success. Brenner made it first, followed by Landesberg then Midler and Freddie Prinz, but by 1972 Jimmie still hadn’t scored that “big break.” Then Brenner, Landesberg and Midler, scheduled for the then-powerful “Jack Paar Show,” refused to guest unless Walker was given a spot. The Paar staff gave in. Jimmie’s first guest shot was successful beyond anyone’s expectations.
Dan Rowan, who had seen the show, called for Jimmie to fly to Los Angeles to guest on a “Laugh-In” special. This followed with a second guest spot on the “Jack Paar Show” and a contract with CBS to perform his act each week as the audience warm-up for the sitcom “Carlucci’s Department.” Spotted by Norman Lear’s casting director, Jimmie accepted a part in a new comedy series, “Good Times.” “Dyn-o-mite!” was the catch phrase and it was made famous nationwide. Time Magazine named him Comedian of the Decade and now he’s back here at the Lake.
Walker continues to tour the country 25-30 weeks a year doing his stand-up comedy and also performs on late night talk shows and game shows. In his spare time he writes scripts for television and movies.