14:58, August 08 92 0

2017-08-08 14:58:06

 

Meet the legendary queer comedian ‘Moms’ Mabley

“See, in that time period it was nobody’s business,” Goldberg said in the documentary, Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley: The Original Queen of Comedy.

“And I will assume that when Moms came out of costume — because that’s what the hat and the shoes and the housedress was — and put on that silk shirt with those pants and that fedora and had those women on her arm — I think everybody was like, ‘OK,'” said Goldberg. “And so I think that she was a woman among men and who was equal to those men,” Goldberg said. “And they treated her like a man. And I think that is what helped give her the longevity.”

Marc Powers, director of marketing for D.C.’s Howard Theatre, told the Washington Blade in a 2012 interview that Mabley socialized with a circle of lesbian and gay friends in Washington when she performed at the Howard in the 1940s. On one occasion during that period, following her show at the Howard, Mabley organized a “gay” party at a nearby nightclub that was raided by police, according to Powers.

“When that got shut down they were like, ‘Damn, where are we going to go? Might as well just go back to the Howard!” Powers said.

Arizona State University Professor Bambi Haggins analyzed Mabley’s career in her 2007 book Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America. Haggins, who appears in the Goldberg documentary and who spoke with the Blade for this article, points to what she calls Mabley’s contradictory persona on and off the stage and in her sexuality.

Haggins notes that, according to biographical information on Mabley, the entertainer clearly had romantic relationships with men. Following her death in 1975 at the age of 81, Jet magazine reported Mabley had three daughters and a son and left an estate worth more than a half-million dollars. Haggins and others who examined Mabley’s life and career note that reports of her relationships with men and women date back to the 1920s, indicating she may have been bisexual.

Much about Mabley’s private life remains a mystery, Goldberg stated in the HBO documentary. What is known, according to entertainment industry observers, is that Moms Mabley was a cutting-edge, groundbreaking female stand-up comic and an accomplished overall entertainer both on stage and in film, television, and in the more than twenty record albums she made of her comedy routines.

Her less-than subtle references to sex and her fiery demeanor set the stage for other female comics, such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, to follow in her footsteps, Goldberg and others have said.

“I think what’s fascinating about Moms is she was able to use what people thought she was from her appearance to say something about so many other issues — from the harrowing experiences that black people were having in the South to the civil-rights movement to the way she talked about LBJ and Lady Bird and JFK and Jackie,” Haggins said. She was referring to invitations Mabley received to perform at the White House during the Kennedy administration and at least one White House visit during the Johnson administration in the 1960s.

“Moms comes along in the late ’20s as a young woman dressed with that hat and the house coat and the big shoes and she takes that persona all the way to 1975,” Goldberg said in the documentary. “She honed that woman and she grew into that woman at a time when there were no women stand-ups — there were none. There was only Moms.”

This post was originally published on Bilerico.


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