Oscar-winner John Ridley, from former stand-up comedian to adapted screenplay for “12 Years A Slave”

When John Ridley won the Academy Award for writing the adapted screenplay for 12 Years A Slave, he may not have mentioned the film’s director last night, but he didn’t forget his roots in comedy.

Ridley told the worldwide audience that his writing career began in sitcoms. Which ones, though? Ridley wrote for Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The John Laroquette Show in the 1990s — his first screenplay was for 1997’s U Turn; followed by story and/or screenplay credits for Three Kings and Undercover Brother. Ridley’s most recent TV writing experience, in fact, was serving as head writer for the short-lived The Wanda Sykes Show which had replaced MADtv in late-night for FOX in 2009-2010.

Here’s a clip of John Ridley playing comedian “John Ridley” on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, getting bumped by Jay Leno. “My entire family in Milwaukee is going to be watching!” he tells Will Smith. “Waitwaitwait…I got this great joke, about how I’m so pro-black that I won’t even pick the cotton out of a aspirin bottle of aspirin.” Smith’s retort: “I think I did you a favor, bro.”

Two decades later, Smith is announcing the Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years A Slave, written by Ridley. Life is a flat circle?

Patton Oswalt immediately thought back to that era while watching the Oscars last night, typing to Twitter @PattonOswalt: “YES! YEEEESSSS! I used to do nightmare gigs in Baltimore with John Ridley. Think he may have chosen the right path. #Oscars,” followed by “John Ridley was always 100 IQ points smarter than the room, by the way. #Oscars”

Here was John Ridley back in 1993 from an appearance on Comedy Central’s Two Drink Minimum, not bumped, in which he jokes about smoking in restaurants. Which totally still was a thing back then.

In 1992, Ridley opened this bit on Comedy Central’s The A List with a joke about Whoopi Goldberg winning an Academy Award, and wondering why white people keep asking him about why black people act the way they do. And yet, no black serial killers.

How about that cotton-pickin’ joke!?

John Ridley on gay guys in 1992.

John Ridley, on abortion in 1992.

And this, his take on Indian restaurants in 1993. Let’s imagine he has eaten Indian food much more in the 21 years since this performance…

Before writing 12 Years A Slave, Ridley also wrote blog posts for The Huffington Post. Including this defense of Michael Richards in 2006. Yes. Defense. “As an ex-stand-up…”

Don’t worry about the director snub last night, though: Ridley had nice things to say about director Steve McQueen at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards, where he also won the top screenplay prize.

Congrats, John Ridley!

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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2 thoughts on “Oscar-winner John Ridley, from former stand-up comedian to adapted screenplay for “12 Years A Slave”

  1. The slavery drama 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for best picture, making history as the first movie from a black director to win the film industry’s highest honour in 86 years of the Oscars.
    I am so tired to Hollywood trying to make me feel bad about slavery that happened over 150 years ago, but guess what I don’t as the great great great grandson of slave owners that was their decision. Hollywood is always trying to rewrite history, slavery right or wrong at that time was a way of life. Its over get over it Hollywood.

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