Jackie “Moms” Mabley. If you’ve never heard of her, you have missed an important part of your life. If you have any inclinations towards stand-up comedy, you’ve probably heard the name hundreds of times, and you’ve mostly likely heard her albums or are old enough to have seen her on TV. Growing up in a racially mixed neighborhood, hearing a Moms Mabley album echoing around the neighborhood was a given almost any day of the week. I think I knew most of the albums by heart before I was 12. I would borrow copies of Moms Mabley At The UN and Moms Mabley At The Playboy Club from friends and record them on my parents tape recorder, howling at what was some of the most genuine, funny, heart-felt comedy I was going to hear for the rest of my life. And of course, once you discovered Moms Mabley, it was only a matter of time before you found yourself mesmerized by Redd Foxx or hearing that new guy Richard Pryor. By that time, colorful “adult” jokes were par for the course for a 13 year old.
But Mabley was outrageous and there was no getting around the fact that she was an influential figure for Women comics in the 1960s and 70s.
Listening to this interview with Studs Terkel, recorded at WFMT in Chicago and broadcast on June 13, 1961, I was reminded of what a rich and pivotal career she had. And because she was one of the pioneering Black comics who broke through the color barriers in Network Television, she achieved a huge mainstream following during a time when the Civil Rights struggle was very vivid in many peoples minds. She took those incidents, and the essence and absurdity of racism and discrimination and put human faces on them – making them very real, while oddly very funny at the time time. There really was no one like her at the time.
And of course, since it’s Mothers Day – a few words from Moms seems like just the right thing to do.