Aha Moment: Whoopi Goldberg


Friday, June 01, 2012

WNYC listener Julie Bayley grew up watching daytime talk shows to catch comics like Rodney Dangerfield. But there weren’t any comedians like her: female and black.

Then Bayley saw Whoopi Goldberg in her one-woman show on Broadway (it ran for 156 sold-out performances in 1984-85). She transformed into a variety of characters — from a surfer chick to a caustic junkie — talking about everything from race to abortion to patriotism. “People around me were laughing and I couldn't even laugh," she remembers. "I couldn't even laugh because I was mesmerized. There was this woman who was unashamed of how she looked, and the way her hair looked, and who she was and she was up there not just saying funny things, but saying true things."

As a young adult Bayley tried her hand at stand-up. She ended up in advertising, but she says her late nights at comedy clubs, dodging drunks and hecklers while trying to get through a set, made her fearless in the boardroom. “What the hell can frighten me now?”


→ Is there a performer, movie, book, or other work of art that has changed your life?
Tell us in a comment below or by email.

    Music Playlist
  1. I Wish
    Artist: Stevie Wonder
    Album: Original Musiquarium 1
    Label: Motown
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Crying
    Artist: Rose Royce
    Album: Car Wash
    Label: Geffen
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Jumpin' Jack Flash
    Artist: The Rolling Stones
    Album: Hot Rocks
    Label: ABKCO
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Derek John and Khrista Rypl

Comments [3]

Kiki K. from Washington, DC

As an adult with no children, it’s unusual that my “ah-ah” moment came when I saw “Finding Nemo” for the first time . . . I was very stressed about whether I should try to teach overseas or stay teaching in the states. It was the scene when Marlin and Dory were hanging on the whale tongue and debating whether to let go or not. The dialogue goes like this . . . DORY: “[the Whale] says it's time to let go! Everything's gonna be all right!” MARLIN: “How do you know!? How do you know something bad isn't gonna happen!?” DORY: “I don't!” . . . and with that simple revelation, I went to teach overseas . . .

Jun. 12 2012 11:09 PM
Sami Gray from Poulsbo, WA

I loved Julie Bayley's memories of Whoopi Goldberg's early work, and particularly the segment we heard from Goldberg's monologue as the little girl with the slip on her head. I was fortunate enough to see Whoopi for free, at the Women's Building in S.F., in around '83 or so. She transformed herself before our eyes into a number of very different characters, using few or no props, and I remember laughing a lot. But it was this little girl- who did not make me laugh, but made me cry-- who has always stayed with me. The best comedy is often wed to tragedy, or at least to pain and irony-- and this character was a powerful example.

Jun. 03 2012 11:09 PM
Jonathan Amsabry from Birmingham, Al

The lawyers of my youth were noble people. My first exposer to lawyers was Perry Mason. Portrayed by Raymond Burr, he was tough, compassionate, smart and always won. Week after week he rescued an innocent an innocent victim who had been caught up in the faceless, merciless cogs of the legal system and set everything right.
Growing up in Illinois I got more than my fair share of Abraham Lincoln stories, a country lawyer, who went onto become the President, save the Union and free the slaves. And now we found out he was a heroic vampire hunter. To add icing to the cake, my parents fell in with a crowd of Legal Aid lawyers after we moved to New Mexico when I was thirteen, my idea that the law was a noble profession designed to protect the little guy from the system was firmly set. I had a predestined appointment with the legal profession until ….
Until my mother took me to see “The Paper Chase” I was a senior in high school and was poised to enter The University of New Mexico as a prelaw student. Which meant I would major in something where I could write a lot, and get a high enough G.P.A. to qualify for law school. The two hours in that dark theater changed my life forever.
I immediately identified with the movie’s hero. James T. Hart, a young idealistic Midwesterner moving into the hallowed halls of Harvard. Now if you’ve seen the movie you’re probably jumping ahead and thinking that the abuse our poor student suffered under the martinet, Professor Kingsfield was what put me off. To be honest you’d be about half right. Much of Kingsfield’s abuse did seem gratuitous, but I knew law school would be hard, I’d be up for the challenge. What turned me off was that all the students were cynical, self-serving. The point of all the abuse wasn’t to push through and enter a noble profession, but to survive and get a pig paycheck from some faceless corporate law firm.
After the movie I did what I was taught to do when faced with a crisis, I researched. I sought out some of the lawyers I had known from the “Legal Aid” days. About half had given up law and most of the others had moved onto more high paying corporate positions. A couple had joined the D.A.’s office and one became a professor at UNM. He had explained that the practice of law was mostly filing paperwork and looking for contractual or tax loop holes for clients rich enough to afford your services.
Hollywood soon caught up with my personal enlightenment and the lawyers of “The Good Wife”, “Boston Legal”, “L.A. Law” etc. quickly replaced the heroes of the 60’s and America’s folk Geist of the legal profession turned 180 degrees.
My own professional decisions since have also been influence by “The Paper Chase.” I emulated the one character who remained true to his ideals. I’m not a professor of Law like Kingsfield, but I am a professor. Without a doubt, my life turned in the two hours I spent in that dark theatre.

Jun. 03 2012 04:33 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.