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Making over 40 million people laugh proved to be hard work for Flip Wilson

Making one person laugh can be a lot of work, depending on what they find funny, and how funny you are. However, making 40 million people laugh? That's a challenge that even some of the best comedians would struggle with.

Flip Wilson was one of those "best comedians" who was very aware of the size of his audience each week. Wilson hosted, performed, and was a writer on The Flip Wilson Show from 1970 to 1974.

The variety series was best known for its unique characters (usually played by Wilson himself), pop culture parodies, and a lot of funny sketches with celebrity guests. 

There was no doubt that Wilson was hilarious, and if there was ever any question, he had more than 40 million people to back him up.

According to a 1973 interview with Courier-Post, a study from Nielsen reported that around 40 million people were tuning into The Flip Wilson Show each week. Even Carol Burnett, who was the star of The Carol Burnett Show, didn't start as strong in the ratings as Wilson's variety program did.

"It means I have to work as hard as I can to entertain those 40 million people," Wilson said. "If I were to fail to try, it would mean that my neglect wasted 40 million hours — that's 80 lifetimes — enough time to find cures for cancer, heart disease, sickle cell anemia, and war. I have to work!"

Work was all Wilson knew. He was no stranger to hard work as he had been working since he was nine years old. His classmates' laughter impressed Wilson so much he began to work at it like it was his job. And eventually, it was.

According to the interview, Wilson grew up in poverty and money was always a problem for him and his family. "We were so poor I couldn't see any way out," Wilson added. "I realized I wouldn't have any Christmas until I made one for myself."

In his early career, Wilson mainly performed at clubs, mostly between Florida and The Bahamas. In 1965, his friend and fellow comedian, Redd Foxx, plugged him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Suddenly, everyone was talking about Flip Wilson. 

"Redd even offered me some of his material and that's something comics just don't do," Wilson said. "I knew then that things were going right for me."

Wilson worked hard enough to make it out of poverty, he worked hard enough to become a performer and he worked as hard as he could to make 40 million people laugh per week. Were you one of them?

"I looked at myself and tried to analyze what made me funny," Wilson said. "In the end, I decided that I am a storyteller. I get out onstage and I take one line, just one funny line, and from that, I build a story and I become different characters."

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