The Everett Collection

Flip Wilson practiced his jokes while hitchhiking before and after fame

Almost every celebrity has hobbies, goals and aspirations outside of their acting careers. Some get involved with charities, some play the drums, others sing, dance, or, in some cases, all of the above.

However, Flip Wilson's pre-fame hobby was a little different. While most celebrities had traditional hobbies, Wilson's was, well, hitchhiking.

"If I hadn't made it as a comedian, I would have been a phantom bum," Wilson said in a 1971 interview with The News Tribune. "I used to like hitchhiking and talking to people who picked me up and entertaining them. I'd try out comedy routines I'd been kicking around in my head, you know, just to see how they'd work on an audience."

It's safe to say Wilson's comedy routines worked for him. He became a successful comedian, working with Redd Foxx, before he landed his hosting gig on The Flip Wilson Show in 1970. 

During his time on-air, many guest stars stopped by to see Flip Wilson in action. Everyone from Bob Hope, Lily Tomlin, Roy Clark and Redd Foxx joined Wilson in a night of variety, parodies and characters.

Wilson said he had to hitchhike because he had limited transportation options before making it big. As Wilson became more successful, he upgraded from bumming rides to riding around in a brand-new Rolls Royce.

It was impossible for him not to be noticed, and not just because he was a big variety star, but because the car gave it away. But that didn't stop Wilson from helping people he saw stranded on the side of the road. 

According to the interview, in the summer of 1970, Wilson and his valet drove from Los Angeles to Florida. The trip, which was meant to be quick, turned into one wild road trip. 

"Once, we picked up an elderly lady walking home with a lot of packages in her arms," Wilson said. "She got into the car and looked around. Finally she asked, 'What kind of car is this?' We told her it was a Rolls, then she noticed the telephone with my name on it. 'Are you Flip Wilson?' she asked. I told her I was and she said none of her friends or family would ever believe her if she told them Flip Wilson brought her home."

"So, when we got to her house, she said, 'Now you stay right here so I can show them,'" Wilson continued. "Then she ran into the house and we drove away as soon as she got in. I enjoyed talking with her, but her friends and relatives might have treated me like a celebrity or something and I was on vacation from being a celebrity."

Wilson had the habit of leaving his presence known. Another instance involved a return trip to California where Wilson stopped to take in the ocean view. He noticed a canvas bag left on a rock, but there were no people in sight. 

Figuring someone would be back for it, he left a note that only a Flip Wilson fan would understand. 

"So, I left $2 and a note saying 'The devil made me do it.' Then, again, we left," Wilson said. 

"I don't plan them," Wilson continued. "I just get an idea and I do it if I feel it'll come off right. It's like having a dream, an older dream than my dream about being a comedian. When I was a little kid I used to love playing the phantom, now I can really play the game and have fun with it."

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