Remembering Shirley Hemphill: A Comedy Legend’s Legacy


Synonymous with laughter and humor, Shirley Hemphill left an indelible mark on the comedy world. As an actress and stand-up comedian, she brought joy to audiences with her unique comedic style and unforgettable performances. In this article, we’ll delve into the life and career of Shirley Hemphill, celebrating her contributions to comedy and answering some frequently asked questions about this beloved entertainer.

Early Life and Career Beginnings

Shirley Hemphill was born on July 1, 1947, in Asheville, North Carolina. She grew up in a large family and discovered her comedic talents early. Her journey into the comedy world began when she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams.

Stand-Up Comedy Success

Shirley Hemphill’s stand-up comedy career took off in the 1970s. Her sharp wit, distinctive voice, and unapologetic humor quickly gained recognition. Her stand-up routines often touched on everyday life, relationships, and the challenges of being a woman.

“What’s Happening!” and Breakthrough Role

One of the pivotal moments in Shirley Hemphill’s career was landing the role of Shirley Wilson in the hit TV series “What’s Happening!” The show aired from 1976 to 1979 and followed the lives of three teenage friends and their interactions with Shirley, who played the sassy waitress at Rob’s Place.

Shirley’s character, known for her catchphrase “Ooh, I’m gonna tell Mama,” became a fan favorite and cemented her status as a household name. Her comedic timing and vibrant personality made her an integral part of the show’s success.

Other Television Appearances

Following “What’s Happening!” Shirley Hemphill continued to make appearances on various television shows, including “The Love Boat,” “Amen,” and “227.” Her ability to connect with audiences through humor made her a sought-after guest star.

Film Roles and Beyond

Shirley also ventured into film, appearing in movies like “Cooley High” and “Tooth Fairy.” Her versatility as an actress allowed her to explore different facets of her talent.

Legacy and Impact

Shirley Hemphill‘s legacy lives on through her contributions to comedy and entertainment. Her groundbreaking work in television and stand-up comedy paved the way for future generations of comedians, particularly women of color, to thrive in the industry.

FAQs About Shirley Hemphill

  1. What was Shirley Hemphill’s comedic style known for?
  • Shirley Hemphill’s comedic style was known for its sharp wit, observational humor, and candid commentary on everyday life.
  1. Was Shirley Hemphill’s character in “What’s Happening!” similar to her real-life personality?
  • While Shirley Wilson in “What’s Happening!” shared some characteristics with the actress, she was a fictional character. Sh irley Hemphill was known for her warmth and approachability in real life.
  1. Did Shirley Hemphill receive any awards for her work in comedy?
  • Although she didn’t receive significant awards, Shirley Hemphill’s impact on comedy and television is widely acknowledged, and she remains celebrated for her contributions.
  1. What are some of Shirley Hemphill’s most memorable quotes or routines?
  • S hirley Hemphill’s catchphrase “Ooh, I’m gonna tell Mama” from “What’s Happening!” re mains one of her most memorable lines. Her stand-up routines often featured humorous observations about everyday situations.


Shi rley Hemphill’s legacy in the comedy world continues to bring laughter and joy to audiences of all generations. Her groundbreaking work in television and stand-up comedy and her unforgettable role in “What’s Happening!” has solidified her place as a comedy legend. As we remember her contributions, we celebrate the laughter she shared and her impact on the entertainment industry. Sh irley Hemphill’s humor and talent remain an enduring source of inspiration for comedians and fans alike.

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