DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dy-No-Mite: A TV Blast from the Past

Jimmy Walker, on the right, with his 1970s TV family 
Dy-No-Mite. If you were a TV sitcom watcher in the 1970's, hearing the word dynamite pronounced this way made you think of only one thing - comedian Jimmy Walker, the then-young comic breakout star who played the wisecracking J.J on Norman Lear's hit comedy show Good Times. In fact, even today, more than 40 years later, Walker's comedy catchphrase follows him everywhere. "When I die that will be in my obituary," Walker, now 65, says with a laugh.

The Dy-No-Mite catchphrase originated quite by accident. One day, Walker blurted out the unscripted, accentuated word during rehearsal. Director John Rich halted the action. "I think you've got something there," Rich said. "I think we could make something out of that."

But Walker demurred. "I said, John C'mon, people are not that stupid."

"Yes, they are," Rich retorted.

Initially Lear, who took an active part in all his shows, hated the phrasing, especially when it was used 3 times in one episode. But it quickly caught on and Lear was won over. A decision was made to  feature the catchphrase only once a show. "People began to wait for it; they knew it was coming. Sort of like that announcer today who ends with Let's get ready to rumble," Walker says. For his part, Walker exploited the Dy-No-Mite craze with farcial facial expressions and wacky clothing. "I asked myself - how can I make this as ridiculous as possible?" Walker explained.

Walker has even worked out a short comedy bit involving his linkage to the phrase. TV announcer 1: "And now Susan, in tonight's sad news, comedian Jimmie Walker has died." TV announcer 2: "It was before my time, but wasn't he the Dy-No-Mite guy." Announcer 1: "Yes, he was. Now, on a lighter note, 6 puppies where born today at the same time ..."

The story of his catchphrase was just one of many Walker related at his recent appearance at the National Archives to discuss his career and his book Dynomite! Good Times, Bad Times,  Our Times - A Memoir.

Deviating from the normal Archives process, Walker eschewed the podium and instead, like the comedian he has been for almost 5 decades, prowled the stage with microphone in hand, answering questions from the audience, many of whom began by professing their enduring love for both Walker and the show.

Walker said he is still proud of Good Times for its portrayal of strong values coming from a family forced to live in a Chicago ghetto, which was a 1st for television. "We had a strong dad (portrayed by John Amos). . The dad is always the weakest character. He brings home the money and that is it," Walker said.

However, Walker said the cast was never close. "On the show there was a lot of love, but acting was very much a part of it. We really didn't have that much to do with each other. I haven't seen John in 1,000 years," he explained.

Jimmy Walker today. (picture by Bruce Guthrie Photos)
Comedy has changed greatly since his beginning years, Walker said. "Comedy in general is different. The language has really changed. I'm stunned that some of these comics today even have a mom the way they talk," Walker said. "And there is now black comedy. There is Hispanic comedy. There is gay comedy. There are very few universal comics."

Walker believes the segregation in comedy is a reflection of the state of the rest of society. "As you see in our elections, we're very segregated. Race relations are terrible. We're not friends. We very rarely see people of different races together. Go to your favorite watering hole and look around, you'll see what I mean," Walker said.

Although he never reached the heights of Good Times again, Walker continues to perform live up to 45 weeks a year and also guests on game shows. "I learned a lot from Norman Lear. He is as close to a comedy god as you can get. I thought I was working hard, but when I looked at him I wasn't doing anything. He's not a Jimmy Walker fan, but I love Norman Lear. From him I learned nobody works hard enough, you can always work harder," Walker said.

Tips, Tidbits, and Tales
While most of Walker's talk was positive, there was one big exception - his thoughts about Tonight Show host Jay Leno. When he was in his biggest star phase, Walker had both a young Leno and David Letterman writing jokes for him. Today, Walker says that while he admires Leno's talent, he believes Johnny Carson's replacement  "has destroyed stand-up comedy. He's been on 30 years and he has not broken one new act. I'm not asking Jay Leno to do something miraculous, I'm only asking him to do something that was done for him"

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