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What’s So Funny About The Name Leroy?

Very few character names have been used as often as the name Leroy in comedy.   But what few people know, or have observed, or even paid attention to, is that there is an expansive story behind the illustrious name of Leroy as it relates to comedy.

From Wikipedia encyclopedia, spelled and pronounced many different ways, the name Leroy, Lee Roy, or Le Roy is often a male given name. It is also used as a surname. The name is derived from Old French. Pronunciation: /ləˈrɔɪ/ lə-roy.  

Could it be that the 2 words syllable has some magical stimulations of the funnybone or does this simple name speak to the senses of the common man?  This writer believes it's a little bit of both.  If one would look at a map and search for the towns that are named after Leroy, most of these places exist primarily
on the East Coast.  With states like West Virginia, Pennsylvania and even a Village in New York named Leroy, you would get the sense that 1st settlers who came to America from France and set up colonies were involved in the name selection of these providences. Throughout early American history, the  name Leroy was recorded as one of the popular or most used names.  Early Americans considered the names stately, however during the turn-of-the-century it’s popularity declined and over the course of 70 years the name has been reduced to crazy Simpsons and South Park characters and quirky songs like, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce.  Croce's whimsical song made it all way to the top of the Pop charts in the early 70's.

African-American entertainers have really capitalized on the comedy endorphins that are stimulated by using the name Leroy.  In the late 50s and 60s the popular comedy Black team “Skillet and Leroy” exploded on the comedy circuit with their vaudevillian type routines.  The comedy duo featured funny-men, Mantan Moreland
and Livingood, who were accredited with a slew of hit Comedy Records that was very popular in urban communities back in the 60s and early 70s.  As many as four albums were released a year, by Laff Records and the shows were recorded with a live audience at some local bar or sometimes they would perform at historically classic black entertainment venues, like the Apollo theater in Harlem. Urban audiences would eat these comedy albums up.  One might compare the comedy success of Skillet and Leroy back in the day, to that of Tyler Perry and his chicken circuit plays of modern times.  The only difference is that the comedy of Skillet and Leroy was geared to a more adult audience, and these comedians didn't hold back on risqué jokes and touchy topics.

However no other Comedian has done more of a disservice to the name Leroy then Richard Pryor.  With his character Leroy Jenkins from the    hugely popular hit film “Which Way Is Up”(1977).  Pryor both single-handedly immortalized and humiliated the name Leroy for eternity.  If anyone hasn't seen this film they should.  In my opinion it is one of the best comedy films of all time.  In the film, prior plays at least 5 characters.  The main character is Leroy Jenkins, a bumbling, do for nothing opportunist, who was
given of choice to either sell-out or stand-up for what he believes in.  In fact after talking to the creator of our  40 and Leroy series, Reed R McCants, he stated that the inspiration for the Leroy character, along with some of the social and political concepts in 40 and Leroy Crazy in New York was inspired by that exact film.  The film was released in the late 70s but it has gone on to have a tremendous impact in today's society and the Internet.  Well I guess there will be no halt in the future for making Leroy synonymous with comedy in the entertainment world.  

Currently, Leroy Jenkins has now become a popular mantra used by people online. Online Role-Playing-Games the likes of "World of Warcraft" is used usually before running into a large crowd of enemies. A guy runs into a huge crowd of creatures yelling "Leeeeeeeeeroy Jenkins!"  In todays political arena, late-night talkshow hosts like David Letterman, and MSNBC's Al Sharpton on his show "Politics Nation", are constantly poking fun at  Newt “Leroy” Gingrich. Perhaps as a way of  humanizing the often stuffy politician.  So you see, there is more that meets the eye in a name.  And it looks like it won't be many children being named Leroy, in the future, unless they don't mind becoming the butt end of a joke.

A. Pope

Independent Film Critic/Journalist


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