TNT: Good Times at Green’s Supper Club
The fallen star, Jimmie Walker, sits at his table on the upper deck at the live entertainment lounge in Green’s Supper Club. He’s still got his jacket on.
There’s a fireplace painted on the wall, and also fake bricks brushed atop real ones. An overhead light fixture casts a yellow spot on him.
People are looking at him. Talking about him. Pointing. He is, after all, the man they’ve come to see ‘— the onetime television star whose catch phrase still resonates some 25 years after the cancellation of the show. He’s used to people staring at him, even now in his late fifties with his head filled out like a soufflÃ© and flecks of silver stubble in his recently shaved scalp.
He’s scraping the last bit from his baked potato when a reporter approaches and asks for an interview. He looks up from his plate with an expression of tolerant annoyance and mumbles something dismissive. The reporter backs away.
Jimmie ‘JJ’ Walker, star of stage, screen and radio, doesn’t like to be interviewed. It says as much on his website, dynomitejj.com, in the FAQs under the heading ‘“Worst things about being on the road.’” Four of the five concern the people who ask questions for a living. As for the print media, he writes, ‘“They never print what you say’… they have their own agenda’… and don’t do their homework.’”
What it doesn’t say on his website, the substance of a rumor buzzing around the journalistic types, is that he’s touchy about the catch phrase ‘— he doesn’t want to talk about it, won’t use it in his act. And we’d heard that it would be highly unlikely for him to spit it out for a fan or interviewer.
‘“Jimmie’s been in show business a long time,’” his manager told YES! Weekly. ‘“There’s some things he’s kinda funny about.’”
Walker’s career has spanned almost 40 years, since 1967 when he landed a gig opening for a militant poetry group called The Last Poets. He broke in when Bette Midler, among others, used their influence to get him on ‘“The Jack Paar Show’” in 1972. Things happened very quickly from there: a ‘“Laugh-In’” appearance, a TV pilot, bigger and better club dates.
Then the next year Walker made his mark in a new Norman Lear sitcom, a groundbreaking schematic depicting an African-American family living in the Chicago projects. He was at the first rehearsal just goofing off when he uttered the phrase he’d carry around for the rest of his life.
Things are not exactly explosive tonight at Green’s Supper Club on Highway 29. Patrons from all over the county chew prime rib and oysters while sitting through the opening act. Jimmie takes the stage as the ‘“Good Times’” theme blares through the speakers.
‘“Keepin’ your head above water, makin’ your way when you can’….’”
He takes the stage underneath a plastic banner that says ‘“Reidsville Nissan’” and spreads his arms wide.
‘“It’s come to this, has it?’”
He gets a pretty good laugh.
Walker’s character in the old show, James Evans Jr., was an aspiring artist. ‘“Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, don’t be uptight, cause here comes KID DYNOMITE,’” he once enthused.
Walker the man is something of an artist himself. He’s been doing standup a long time, and tonight his timing, his transitions are impeccable. He’s even got some fresh material, written about new events that happened this very day, and you can still hear the rasp in his vice that once made him famous when he says things like ‘“manual mammogram’” and ‘“the runaway bride.’”
He closes with some football jokes and gets off the stage with the crowd still laughing, making his way quickly to the back of the room. As he passes a table, a guy in glasses sitting there looks up at him and yells, ‘“DY-no-MITE.’”
Jimmie keeps walking.
In the back room by the piano Jimmie Walker signs T-shirts with an old picture on the front and photos of his younger self holding actual sticks of dynamite. One of each is going for twenty bucks and the wad of cash in Jimmie’s hand grows by the minute.
‘“We loved you in that show,’” says one woman before she leaves with an autographed T-shirt in hand.
Another woman, this one in a suede coat, runs up to the signing table.
‘“I just gotta hear you say one thing,’” she says.
Jimmie ignores her, talking instead about football to a guy in a wheelchair. She stands to the side, keeping her tongue and fiddling with her purse. She’s not giving up easy.
He finally acquiesces.
‘“What are you looking for young lady?
‘“I gotta hear you say it,’” she says.
Jimmie drops his voice to say something and the woman looks crestfallen. She argues.
‘“I can do whatever I want,’” he says, and his voice drops even lower.
She makes one more plea. Jimmie gets serious.
‘“That was a long, long time ago,’” he says.
The woman looks down at her feet. Then she leaves, quickly and quietly, out the door for the parking lot.
To comment on this column, email Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.