8 flippin' fantastic facts about Flip Wilson

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.


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


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


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


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


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!"


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


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


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