There were times during his Tuesday night address at Slippery Rock University that his warnings to the audience dripped with something close to contempt: "You think you're so secure and safe. You think everything they tell you is the truth."
But other times, when he talked about subjects like his early years growing up in segregated St. Louis, or his aversion to cold weather, or his views on whether Christopher Columbus really discovered America, Gregory was so funny it was hard for many to shut off the giggles when he suddenly switched back to serious matters.
"This is my first serious snow," he told the large audience, and his tone and expression made it clear it would be just fine with him if it were also his last serious snow. It was not that he hadn't experienced "cold," though. Gregory said it had been so cold when he was in Detroit that "the flashers were just giving descriptions of themselves."
As for Columbus' heralded discovery of the New World, Gregory noted that the Indians were already here. "How," he asked, "can you discover a country that's already occupied?" If that's the case, he told someone in the audience, "I'm going out to the parking lot and discover your car. You can move to the back seat! I'm taking over."
He talked about family members like his cousin, who has "27 locks on his door, and he doesn't even have nothin'. Anyone broke in there, they'd leave something. And the house is so small and so crowded, if you put a key in the door you'd stab 12 people."
He talked about how his mother hated welfare, and how she didn't want to take the check when it came. Gregory said he looked at the check and told his mother it wasn't welfare; it was "Aid to Dependent Children," which meant it was his check, he said. "You're just handling this money," he told his mother. life in St. Louis was so segregated, Gregory said, that he rarely saw white people except for the Hollywood glamour people in movies. Thus it came as a shock to him when he saw his first "real" white people and discovered some of them were ugly.
Not only that, he said, but when he got to college, he discovered with a shock that some white people were dumb, too. One kid in his class was so dumb, Gregory said, that at first Gregory thought he was "a decoy trying to catch me cheating."
But no, he was really dumb. "Mama," Gregory called home one day, "there's a white boy here who's really dumb!" "Are you sure you ain't been trying any of that drinking?" his mother asked. No, he assured her; the guy was really dumb. "Then invite him home for Thanksgiving," his mother suggested.
Not that any of his "white" comments were directed at the large number of Caucasians in the audience, Gregory assured the group. "White has nothing to do with color," he explained. "It has to do with attitude."