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“The devil made me do it” is a phrase associated with Geraldine Jones, a character created by comedian and variety television show host Flip Wilson in the late 1960s. Born Clerow Wilson in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1933, Wilson was known by the nickname “Flip,” from “flip out.” He became one of the most popular African-American comedians in history and influenced later entertainers such as Arsenio Hall and Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Wilson got his start in the mid-1950s in San Francisco while working as a hotel bellhop. After performing in small clubs and theaters across the country, he went to New York, where he appeared on the Tonight Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. He was given his own television show, the Flip Wilson Show, in 1970. Geraldine became one of his most popular stock characters and was known for phrases like “the devil made me do it” and “what you see is what you get” (the source for the commonly-used Internet acronym “wysiwyg”). Wilson retired from show business in 1974 to spend more time with his family. He died in 1998.
Flip Wilson. (1999). In Contemporary Black Biography. (Volume 21). Detroit: Gale.