Screenwriter John Ridley has won accolades for his speech at Sunday's Academy Awards upon winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for "12 Years a Slave." But when he accepted the statue, some sharp-eyed viewers were shocked to remember Ridley's past career as a stand-up comedian.
Yes, until he made the pivot to screenwriting, Ridley was best known to the public as an observational comic. He was a staff writer for sitcoms such as "Martin," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "The John Larroquette Show," and in an act of digital foresight, created the Internet series "Undercover Brother" that would be adapted into a hit film in 2002 (which he also produced). And even while maintaining a steady film writing career (he wrote the screenplays for the dramas "U-Turn" and "Three Kings," among others), he continued to work in TV comedy. According to IMDb, he created the sitcom "Barbershop" in 2006 and was the head writer for "The Wanda Sykes Show" until 2010.
So why did he stop doing comedy? He gave a hint in a 2002 interview with Spike Magazine, explaining that he started to see diminishing returns from stand-up comedy.
I did arrive at a point in my life where I realized I would not be a huge stand-up comic. I would do well but would have limited growth and by that time I was already writing for shows like "Martin" [with Martin Lawrence] and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" [with Will Smith], so I think I just decided to be a novelist.
The Oscar now in his possession seems to indicate that he did not make a mistake in walking away from comedy.
Even in his comedy days, Ridley had an obvious predilection towards examining social mores and making the audience think about the bigger issues of the time. In the clip of Ridley on the stand-up showcase "Two Drink Minimum" above, watch as he jokes about smoking bans and Don't Ask, Don't Tell (this was 1993, after all). And in this clip of Ridley on "Fresh Prince" below, he plays himself, bragging about his (now very apropos) stand-up bit about how he's so pro-black, he won't pick the cotton off aspirin.
Also of note: Ridley was an early and prolific blogger for The Huffington Post, writing about such matters as race relations, educational inequality and modern-day patriotism. Check out his archives here.