When I started performing at The Comedy Store in 1976, Paul Mooney was already a star there, leaving audiences exhausted from laughter. I remember so many of his great bits. They were always funny first, but also always packed with cultural awareness and justifiable anger. Paul was a justice crusader his entire life. He was funny, smart and fierce; scary if you didn’t know him and sometimes scary even if you did.
One day I ran into Mooney down my street at Ralph’s grocery store (comics are always amazed to see each other in daylight). I invited him up the block to my house for coffee.
“I don’t drink coffee.” (And remember, he really liked me.)
“Well how about a cup of tea?”
“Oh, you wanna bring a black man up to a fancy white neighborhood to see a fancy white people’s house you think he’s never seen before?” That was Mooney’s first response to everything and anything you might say to him.
“Paul, let’s go to the movies.”
“Oh, you think a black man never saw a movie before? He needs a white lady to get him into the movies?”
He agrees to come over for tea. In those days, I drank only one kind of tea. I thought it was the most special delicious tea I’d ever had. So Paul’s sitting at the kitchen table and we’re talking, and I’m boiling the kettle and putting the cups on the table. And he’s talking and I put the box of tea on the table and go back to the sink, and I realize I don’t hear him talking any more.
“Paul? Paul?” He’s nowhere to be found. I hear his car pull out of the driveway. I don’t know what happened. Then I see it. There on the table is the box of tea: “Plantation Mint”.