As wisecracking J.J. Evans on the hit 1970s sitcom Good Times, Jimmie Walker swept the nation with his catchphrase “Dyn-o-mite!” But in his mind, he never became a superstar. “People think it happened to me, but it didn’t,” he exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “People knew who I was, but they knew who Charlie Manson was. Please, I’ll call you when I’m a superstar. I’ll say, ‘Hey, remember me? Goodbye!'”
Perhaps it’s this kind of humility that keeps Jimmie working so hard at 71. He still tours the country as a stand-up comic and recently released a special, We Are Still Here — available on Amazon, iTunes, and other platforms — with Police Academy sound-effects specialist Michael Winslow.
The title “means, despite what some people in the industry are saying — you’re too old or out of style — we’re still here, writing and grinding,” Jimmie explained. “And the people who see us seem to like us.”
That’s because his comic style is timeless. “I guess I’m old-school — I don’t think anyone’s doing what I do anymore,” Jimmie said. “It’s always been my belief that there are enough people in the world who still want to laugh at clean, decent jokes.” Having never wed nor had kids, Jimmie remains married to his career and continues to push forward toward new goals. As he puts it, “I want to achieve everything!” Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Jimmie!
How did you get into comedy?
I was at City College in New York, and I had to do a speech in class. They always say getting up in front of people is the hardest thing to do, but it was never difficult for me. I borrowed from a Dick Gregory speech and a Godfrey Cambridge routine, and some laughs came back. I said, “Well, maybe this is for me.” And I started writing my own stuff.
Was your family supportive of this?
Growing up in the South Bronx, nobody thought you made a living doing jokes. They were like, “Really? People work at this?” Then I appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and that was a big deal, because when we were kids, we used to go see Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers there. People like my mother came to see me, and they were like, “Wow, this is neat-o!”
What was the transition like to acting after you got cast on Good Times?
It was a different muscle than what I was used to. Norman Lear was not a guy who did jokes, and I was a joke guy. He wanted his shows to have meaning, and I was never into that. So we always clashed. If the show didn’t get off to a quick start in the ratings, I honestly believe I would’ve been fired.
So how did Norman feel about “Dyn-o-mite!” becoming a catchphrase?
That was one of his big pet peeves. He hated it. But the audience went crazy — they loved it. We did it three times a show, and Norman stood on a table and said, “I will pull this f–kin’ show off the air.” So we compromised and did it once a show.
Did you ever get tired of saying it?
No, it didn’t bother me. I’m a comic. I want to hear laughs and guffaws. I’m all for it.
Why do you think Good Times resonated like it did?
Norman had his hand on the pulse. You have to give him credit. He’s a genius. He had 11 shows on the air, and they were saying something.
You hired David Letterman as one of your joke writers. What did you see in him?
On the first day he arrived in LA from Indiana, he had a quirky sense of humor. He’s in the Dick Cavett vein — he’s one of those kinds of cats.
He stayed loyal and always booked you on his shows. What did that mean to you?
It was probably the last time I cried. I was doing his show, and I said to Dave during the commercial, “Thanks for putting me on — you didn’t have to do that.” He said, “You gave me a job when nobody would talk to me. You will always be on this show as long as I have a breath in my body.” Nobody’s that loyal. Leno started out with me, and I haven’t heard from Jay in 35 years!
Why didn’t you ever get married?
I just don’t believe it works. The majority of my friends are divorced, hostile, and angry. They lost the house they worked their a-s off to get. I don’t see the fun of it.
And you never wanted to be a dad?
Look, enough people call me an a-shole as it is. I don’t have to pay for somebody to call me that and say, “The reason I’m in therapy is because of my dad. He ruined me!” After I paid for college? I don’t need that.
What more do you hope to achieve?
Everything! I haven’t achieved anything. I’m never going to get there, and I’m very aware of it, but I’m going to work my a-s off. I’m going to keep trying. I want to be successful. I’d like people to say, “You’re kidding — we can get Jimmie ‘J.J.’ Walker? Oh, my God!”
For more on your favorite stars, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for exclusive news