Comedian Jimmie Walker, who rose to fame as J.J. Evans on the hit TV series “Good Times"--has a one-night engagement tonight at the Laff Stop in Newport Beach.
Walker’s career has been relatively quiet in recent years, though he occasionally still pops up on television. He was a guest on “Letterman” last week and will be featured on the Comedy Store’s 15th-Year Class Reunion special, taped in July at the Universal Amphitheatre and scheduled to air Thursday night on NBC.
He boasted a much higher profile in the 1970s when “Good Times” enjoyed a six-year run, propelling the J.J character and his catch phrase “dyn-o-mite” into widespread popularity--almost too much popularity, to hear Walker tell it. In interviews during the latter part of its run, he said he felt the show’s success had eroded his own identity and had undermined his work as a stand-up comedian.
In 1977, he told The Times, “Basically, it’s an image situation. Right now, with the J.J. thing, I’m like a cartoon character. It’s like Pluto, J.J., Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. People have lost track of who Jimmie Walker is. People don’t even know my name. When I go to their towns to do stand-up comedy, what happens is that they expect to see J.J. come out and do ‘dyn-o-mite’ and stuff like that--and I don’t do that.”
In the decade since “Good Times” went off the air, Walker has been cast in other series, so he may be cured of all but a few traces of the J.J. syndrome. The recovery probably would have been complete had Walker’s subsequent shows clicked or if he had forged a stronger presence as a comic in recent years.
On the far more positive, and lesser known, side: Over the course of his career, Walker has helped a number of aspiring comics and writers by referring them for work or employing them himself. In fact, when he needed a joke writer many years ago, he hired a struggling, unknown comedian named David Letterman. As Letterman now points out whenever he thanks Walker: “And who better to write about the Black experience than a middle-class white guy from Indiana?”
Jimmie Walker and Fred Greenlee perform at 8 and 9:45 p.m. at the Laff Stop, 2122 S.E. Bristol St., Newport Beach. Greenlee continues through Saturday. Information: (714) 852-8762.