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PHOTO ESSAY

Early Black Comedians

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Jackie "Moms" Mabley

Jackie "Moms" Mabley. Courtesy of Photofest.

Like "Pigmeat" Markham, Jackie "Moms" Mabley got her first break performing on the Chitlin' Circuit. Also like Markham, mainstream success came much later in life, when inroads in integration had made her newly accessible to white American audiences. Though not the first successful female comedian—Susie Edwards, one half of the duo Butterbeans and Susie, came before Mabley and is credited with having discovered her—she was the first woman to record a certified-gold comedy album. Moms Mabley, the Funniest Woman in the World was recorded in 1960 and sold over a million copies. Mabley's hallmark act was taking on the persona of an ill-adjusted, foul-mouthed, elderly woman, a routine described in a 1962 Ebony feature as "[creating] the impression that the theater cleaning woman has somehow wandered into the spotlight." Under the guise of a harmless senior, Mabley unleashed a torrent of biting social and political satire, marking the evolution of comedy from the slapstick of earlier eras and "foreshadowing the subject matter that would become the focus of sharp, edgy comedy in the 1960s" (Logan).

Logan, Robert W. "Mabley, Jackie Moms." In Black Women in America. 2nd ed. Edited by Darlene Clark Hine, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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