1 9 7 0 – 1 9 7 4 (USA)
52 x 60 minute shows
This NBC sketch show was designed as a vehicle for very popular black comedian Flip Wilson. In the grand tradition of Milton Berle, viewers tuned in each week to see Wilson dressed up in drag.
Born Clerow Wilson on 8 December 1933 in New Jersey, the comic spent his early years in poverty, in a series of foster homes, after his mother abandoned his drunken father and their 24 (!) children.
Wilson picked up his ‘Flip’ nickname while serving in the US Air Force, reputedly because his spontaneous comedy routines were said to ‘flip out’ his colleagues (well, it was the 1950s).
Following his return to civilian life, he worked hard on developing a comedy routine and spent many years on the fringes of success before his breakthrough year, 1965, when he made an appearance on The Tonight Show.
More TV bookings followed, with spots on variety series The Ed Sullivan Show and sketch show Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In but it was a well-received 1969 NBC special with Jonathan Winters that convinced TV executives he could carry his own series. The Flip Wilson Show was launched the following year.
The show was an instant smash, with Wilson discovering a sizeable crossover audience for his upfront and unashamedly black humour.
Particular favourites were his characters Freddie Johnson – a swinging bachelor, Danny Danger, Private Detective and Reverend Leroy, of the Church of What’s Happening Now (a dishonest, somewhat lecherous gospel preacher).
Leroy later turned up in the Sidney Poitier-directed blaxploitation comedy movie Uptown Saturday Night (1974).
His female character, Geraldine Jones, was the show’s most popular feature. Geraldine was a sassy, liberated lady who flirted teasingly before warning of her boyfriend ‘Killer’.
Wilson invented Geraldine in the 1960s and developed her into one of the funniest gender-bending acts ever seen on TV. Her signature lines “what you see is what you get” and “The devil made me do it” became two of the most oft-uttered catchphrases of the early 70s.
A fine comedian in his own right, Flip Wilson always managed to slip a satirical message into his routines and had a high percentage of black guest stars on his show, including Bill Cosby, Diahann Carroll, Stevie Wonder, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, The Supremes, Red Foxx, The Temptations and Nancy Wilson.
The Jack Regas Dancers
The George Wyle Orchestra