On this day in comedy on September 23, 1954 Comedian, Actor, Charlie Barnett was born in Bluefield, WV.
Known as a comic’s comic, Barnett gained notoriety as a park performer. He would gather a crowd at any New York City outdoor area, do his act and pass the hat. He was a fixture at Washington Square Park where onlookers were captivated by Barnett’s quick wit and masterful style. His competing artists such as musicians, jugglers and other novelty acts all knew of Barnett’s reputation and had the utmost respect for him. Dave Chappelle credits Barnett as being a mentor (at one time even discussing doing a biopic on Barnett).
However, Charlie Barnett was more than a great street performer. He was the goods. Eddie Murphy lucked up because Barnett had poor reading skills and the slot he had earned in 1980 on Saturday Night Live went to Murphy when Barnett skipped his follow-up audition to avoid being embarrassed. This decision plagued him for years after Murphy became a star on that show and in Barnett’s slot, but as times changed so did Barnett’s attitude.
Charlie Barnett had a short, but impressive career. Besides being known as the funniest comic on the East Coast, he was making a name for himself as an actor. He had a recurring role as “Noogie” on the NBC hit crime drama, Miami Vice, working alongside Phillip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson. He appeared in the Mr. T starring vehicle “DC Cab” as well as the film Nobody’s Fool and others. At the time of his death he was a hot commodity and very much in demand.
Unfortunately, a little known fact outside of the industry was Barnett’s addiction to heroin. This proved to be fatal when Barnett contracted the HIV virus through his abuse of the drug and died of complications of AIDS on March 16, 1996.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: