National Museum of African American History and Culture Hosts Conversation with Popular Comedian George Wallace on the Mall July 1

June 8, 2010
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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture presents “Crackin’ Wise: George Wallace Remembers the Apollo” Thursday, July 1, at 6 p.m., on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Part of the National Folklife Festival, the program also coincides with the exhibition “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment,” on view through Aug. 29 in the NMAAHC Gallery at the National Museum of American History.

Wallace will take time off from his popular show on the Las Vegas strip to be interviewed by Mel Watkins, a contributor to the exhibition’s companion book and author of On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy. Lonnie G. Bunch, NMAAHC’s founding director, will introduce the program. The event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are required. Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

Wallace says the Apollo Theater did, indeed, shape his future. “The Apollo is the benchmark in the stand-up business,” he said. “This crowd doesn’t play. If you aren’t funny, people will let you know. Every black kid in America knows you go to New York City, get to the Apollo and stay at the Hotel Theresa. Playing the Apollo means you made it.”

Wallace is living his childhood dream. He knew from age 6, growing up with his family in Atlanta, that he wanted to be a comedian. He also knew that he needed an education first. After his mother died when he was 16, Wallace moved to Ohio, got a job with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. and attended the University of Akron on a tuition-reimbursement program. After graduating he moved to Manhattan and got a job in advertising. One of his clients owned a comedy club and gave Wallace his first gig. He first appeared at the Apollo in 1978 and was a hit. He stayed in New York for several years appearing at the Apollo “many, many times,” perfecting his craft and living with friend and fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

Wallace also performed on the West Coast, where he quickly became recognized as a talented young comedian. After one of his performances, producers from The Redd Foxx Show asked him to write for the popular television series. However, after only one year of writing, Wallace returned to the stage. He became a regular at the famous The Comedy Store, where he performed alongside such comedy legends as Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, Roseanne Barr, Jay Leno and Robin Williams. Wallace also performed on the same stage as such legendary singers as Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Smokey Robinson and George Benson, among others.

Wallace’s unique brand of social commentary made him popular on the radio as well, especially on adult contemporary, morning-drive programs. Wallace was a regular on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and Isaac Hayes’ popular show on WRKS in New York. He performed on his own HBO special and appeared on many broadcast television shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and had numerous stints on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman.  

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. Scheduled for completion in 2015, it will be built on a tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. During the current pre-building phase, the museum is producing publications, hosting public programs and building collections. It is also presenting exhibitions at other museums across the country and at its own gallery in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. For more information about the museum, visit or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

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