8 flippin' fantastic facts about Flip Wilson

Geraldine said it best, "what you see is what you get!"

Image: Rowan & Martin's Laugh In

A pioneering black entertainer, the New Jersey native tickled America's funny bones on brilliant variety shows like Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and his own Flip Wilson Show. The latter earned the comedian a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards. He also nabbed a Grammy for his comedy album The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress, putting him close to rarified EGOT territory.

After honing his routines at the Apollo Theater, Wilson dazzled as a guest on The Tonight Show and Ed Sullivan. Sadly, he passed away in 1998. To celebrate Flip, let's take a look at some intriguing trivia about the man.

1. His first name was Clerow.


The name "Flip" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? But that wasn't Wilson's birth name. He was born Clerow Wilson, Jr., and named after his father. 

Image: Associated Press

2. Wilson was a foster child.


Born in 1933, Wilson had eighteen brothers and sisters. His mother abandoned the family at a young age, and his father was unable to care for so many children. Wilson was eventually placed in a foster home and attended reform school until the age of 16.

Image: YouTube

3. He broke racial barriers.


In 1972, TIME magazine featured Wilson on the cover, boldly declaring him "TV's first black superstar." The Flip Wilson Show was the first successful variety show hosted by a black entertainer.

Image: TIME

4. The name "Flip" has roots in the military.


Wilson's peers in the U.S. Air Force gave Wilson the nickname "Flip" because his outgoing personality always made him seem "flipped out." The name stuck, and Wilson used it as his stage name after being discharged in 1954. 

Image: SFM Entertainment

5. Wilson got his big break on 'Laugh-In.'


Wilson was one of the standout regular guest performers of the sketch comedy series. To this day we can still hear him saying, "Here come de judge!"

6. His show was the second most-watched in the country.


For two seasons in a row, The Flip Wilson Show ranked as the second most watched program in the nation. The only two shows to rank higher? Marcus Welby, M.D., during the 1970–71 season, and All in the Family, during the 1971–72 season.

Image: SFM Entertainment

7. He left show business to spend time with his children.


Most performers struggle to find their place after a career-defining role. Wilson knew he had his biggest moment with his variety show, and cut back his public appearances by the end of the 1970s. "I accomplished what I set out to do," Wilson said in 1979. "I wanted the whole cookie and I got it."

Image: AP Photo/Jim Bourdier

8. What exactly is a "Flip Wilson handshake"?


Wilson greeted the guests on his show with the famous greeting, which (if we remember correctly) is four hand slaps, two elbow bumps and two hip-bumps.

Image: SFM Entertainment



Here comes… more facts about this riotous sketch show. READ MORE

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HerbF 44 months ago
"Charlie and Company" always gets a bad rap for being "CBS's answer to 'The Cosby Show'" when it really wasn't. Outside of family sitcoms with African American Casts - it ends there.

Charlie and his wife (Gladys Knight) were MIDDLE class - he worked for the state Highway department and she a teacher. "The Cosby Show" was about a obstetrician and his wife who was Lawyer at a decent sized NYC firm. They were lower upper class, well to do. "Charlie and Company" presented the life of the average middle-class blue-collar African American family and "The Cosby Show" presented the life of an average lower-upper class well-to-do African American Family.

The comparisons of two African American Sitcoms, each staring one the three top African American Comedians of their generation (Richard Pryor would be the third, BTW) was ALWAYS going to happen.

How many sitcoms with similar set ups with WHITE comedians as leads have there been?

It wasn't fair to Flip.

CurtMartinLevesque 69 months ago
His ratings declined on NBC when he was up against CBS' "The Waltons" and Mr. Wilson had a very short-lived CBS sitcom called "Charlie and Company" (1985-86) and it took after NBC's hit sitcom "The Cosby Show". His sitcom also featured a pre-Steve Urkel Jaleel White.
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