There's a new stage for funny stuff in Northwest Indiana and comedy headliners are already lined up to have have their name in lights along the lake.
Majestic Star Casino and Hotel in Gary has opened its new Comedy Club at Majestic Star, and television favorite Jimmie "JJ" Walker is helping open the space this weekend. He is being joined by comics Todd Link and Thea Vidale.
Walker is performing two comedy shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. FYI: (888) 225-8259 or majesticstarcasino.com. Tickets are $15. And since the shows are in the casino, all guests must be 21 and older with ID. I'm told the new comedy space is located on the fifth floor in the special events space of Majestic Star Casino Boat II.
I talked by phone with Walker, who just turned 65 this summer, while he was performing in Indianapolis earlier this week.
After what he says have been three decades of waiting, earlier this year, he finally published his autobiography.
"Dynomite!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times -- A Memoir" ($25 Da Capo Press) is a 296-hardcover co-written with Sal Manna.
He talks about playing character J.J. Evans on the hit CBS sitcom "Good Times," created by Norman Lear, as a spin-off of Lear's hit show "Maude" that starred Bea Arthur as the title character, which happened to be a spin-off of "All in the Family," since Maude was the cousin of Edith Bunker, played by Jean Stapleton.
"Good Times," which ran from 1974 to 1979, was about Florida Evans, played by Ester Rolle, recreating the housekeeper character who originally worked for Maude.
While Walker's book includes stories from his days past and present working the showrooms of Las Vegas, he also includes stories of his comedy contemporaries such as David Brenner, Bette Midler, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor.
At age 25, Walker became an overnight sensation thanks to the reach of network TV when he was cast (without an audition) on "Good Times," with his catchphrase "Dyn-O-mite!" making him a household name.
He also explains his differences with costar Rolle, who didn't approve of the sitcom writers and producers characterization of Walker's role as "JJ" as a slick teen always trying to take advantage of schemes.
"This book took 30 years to get published because it kept getting rejected," Walker said.
"But it's my story, and I wanted it to be told."
Walker also said comedy has always been his favorite form of entertainment, despite the lucrative lure of television.
"It's not that I turn down offers like being on 'Dancing with the Stars,' " Walker said.
"I just don't get asked."
Actor John Amos played the role of the Walker's father on "Good Times" in 61 episodes from 1974 to 1976.
He wasn't thrilled with the idea of playing "a chronically unemployed middle-aged father of three" on the show.
And actually, Amos was only 34 at the time, just eight years older than Walker, who was playing his oldest son. Amos was also 19 years younger than his screen wife played by Rolle. As he fought to have the writers include better portrayals of life in a Chicago ghetto, he threatened to leave the show. So producers had his character James Evans die in a car accident in the first episode of the fourth season.