At a time when Black standup comics were just beginning to break into the White mainstream, Godfrey Cambridge was one of the best known and most successful of a very small group in the early 1960s. Alongside Bill Cosby, Nipsey Russell and Dick Gregory, Cambridge was a triple-threat – not only was he a success as a comedian, but he also was a success on Broadway in a string of plays, as well as establishing a successful film career.
Stand-up Comedy was one thing – but Broadway and Hollywood were something else at the time. Cambridge sought to erase the preconception of leads in plays and movies having to be a particular cast for a specific race or ethnicity. How, particularly on Broadway, it wasn’t necessary for a part to be played strictly by one race or another. He cites the example of a recent production of Saint Joan, which was being played by Diana Sands, a noted Black artist – a part which had previously been played by a White woman. The criteria, Cambridge felt, should be on ability to play a part, regardless of who it is. On Broadway, there was a considerable amount of criticism by the Press over Sands playing the part – but Cambridge was working on breaking down the color barrier, and his arguments were valid – as history eventually proved.
This interview, with Godfrey Cambridge is rare and hasn’t been heard since it was first aired in 1968. Cambridge had a highly successful career before his sudden death in 1976. He has been lauded as one of the most talented comics of his generation, and his film appearances, including his landmark role in Watermelon Man, did much to chip away at racial stereotyping in Hollywood.
Here is that complete interview, as it was broadcast on January 2, 1968 for the NET (pre-PBS) program Newsfront.