It’s impossible to discuss black comedy without bringing up Jackie “Moms” Mabley. A pioneer in a field reserved mostly for heterosexual white men, to call her a trailblazer would be to say the least. Getting her comedic start on the Chitlin’ Circuit with movers and shakers like Red Foxx, she brought audiences to their knees with her side splitting and often-vulgar commentary. She came out as a lesbian early in her career referencing her sexuality in her routines and dressing in tailored slacks and sports shirts. Being ever so androgynous, she often referred to her more feminine on stage attire as “drag”.
After making her debut at the Ubangi Club, she became one of the highest paid and most successful comedians of her time making $10,000 per week at the Apollo Theatre, playing Carnegie Hall, and appearing on the popular network television show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. From her costuming to her material, every part of Moms’ career was performative. She entertained audiences late into her life, taking on the stage persona of an elderly toothless woman in mix matched clothing and slippers. While her comedy had become much more mannerly, she maintained her edge tackling taboo topics like racism and gender inequality. Moms performed up until her death at age 81, having been a star of stage, screen and even becoming the oldest person to have a top 40 hit on the music charts. Now, Moms is remembered not only as paving the way for groundbreaking comedy, but also as the undisputed funniest woman in the world.