Black comedians have used their humor to not only make us laugh, but sometimes, make us think. And, their observations about life around us are usually on point.
Today, I wanted to begin with Moms Mabley.
Jackie “Moms” Mabley (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975) was an American standup comedian and a pioneer of the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” of African-American vaudeville.
Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken into a large family of twelve children in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894. Her father, James P. Aiken, owned and operated several businesses while her mother, Mary, kept home and took in boarders. Her father died a sudden accidental death when she was eleven. By the age of fifteen Mabley had reportedly been raped twice and had two children that were given up for adoption. After being pressured by her stepfather to marry a much older man and encouraged by her grandmother to strike out on her own, she ran away to Cleveland, Ohio with a traveling minstrel show where she began singing and entertaining.
She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony in a 1970s interview that he’d taken so much from her, it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 60s. She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first triple-X rated comedians on the comedy circuit.
During the 1920s and ’30s she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of Emperor Jones with Paul Robeson) and recorded several of her early “lesbian stand-up” routines, and was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, eventually recording more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs and performed at the Michigan Women’s Festival shortly before her death in 1975.
Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin’ circuit, earning US $10,000 a week at Harlem’s Apollo Theater at the height of her career. She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she become known to a wider white audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962, and making a number of mainstream TV appearances, particularly her multiple appearances on the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour when that CBS show was the number one show on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new Boomer audience.
Mabley was billed as “The Funniest Woman in the World”, and she tackled topics too edgy for many other comics of the time, including racism, one of her regular themes was her romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers”, and regularly got away with it courtesy of her on stage persona where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She added the occasional satirical song to her jokes; her version of “Abraham, Martin and John” hit #35 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1969. At 75 years of age, Moms Mabley became the oldest person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.
A good biography of Moms Mabley’s Career is here.
As you begin a new week, don’t forget JJP.
Drop those links. Engage in debate.
Give us trivia and gossip too.
And always, have a peaceful day.
Cheryl Contee aka "Jill Tubman", Baratunde Thurston aka "Jack Turner", rikyrah, Leutisha Stills aka "The Christian Progressive Liberal", B-Serious, Casey Gane-McCalla, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley aka "Marcus Toussaint," Fredric Mitchell
Special Contributors: James Rucker, Rinku Sen, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Adam Luna, Kamala Harris
Technical Contributor: Brandon Sheats