By Jef Dinsmore on Nov 19, 2013 to Documentaries


Overview: Often referred to as “the funniest woman in the world,” the iconic African-American standup comedienne Jackie “Moms” Mabley broke racial and sexual boundaries and continues to inspire comedians to this day. In her directorial film debut, Whoopi Goldberg says “Moms Mabley has been a huge inspiration to meDocs_MableyPosterand so many others, but not a lot of folks outside of the comedy world know about her legacy. There are a lot of us who wouldn’t be working today without pioneers like her. HBO gave me my first break on TV, so it’s only fitting that Moms has a home there now.”

Featuring recently unearthed photographs, rediscovered performance footage and the words of entertainers and historians, the film includes interviews with a number of entertainers who emphasize how Mabley paved the way for female comedians and performers everywhere in provocative stand-up routines that challenged racism, sexism and ageism.


 Expectations: I am just old enough that I should know who Moms Mabley is, but I don’t. Though I know and watched familiar faces on TV from the 60’s onward I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing of this female comedian. She, of course, had started a career decades earlier and evidently left her mark after her storied life.

 I am in the mood for a good laugh and I want to be entertained by this piece though, I suspect, I will also get a dose of her relevancy in the field of standup comedy and the significance of her being a hardworking black women of the day getting her recognition. All that is okay, but I really just want to laugh.




Gut Reaction: Well, I didn’t flat out laugh but I offered up a few chuckles and in the end those few chuckles were enough. Upon the documentary’s conclusion I realized I wasn’t given what I had hoped for and yet it was alright. I was seeking laughs realizing I would get more history and relevance as stated in my expectations. In case I didn’t make it clear yet, I didn’t mind it. A lot of information would have been lost if the piece just focused on Mom’s stats and her performance material.  

What proved more interesting than the jokes were the thoughts on the Moms Mabley character, the psychology behind the science of her comedy, her historic place at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and the relevance of her words once she came into the age of television. Those interviewed in this film really understood and hit on all those points. What they said about the honored comedienne here really painted a solid picture of her impact and her style. Plus, we get the bonus of her brand of humor and wit interspersed throughout.   


In Conclusion: Hey, thanks Whoopi. It was informative and fun. I certainly understand the significance Moms Mabley had for many and appreciated her humor. The best moment for me, however, was not a comedic moment. It was the scene from Playboy After Dark where Sammy Davis, Jr. asked her to sing. I was too young to be allowed that performance but I still can’t figure out why I was not aware of Moms in the latter years of her career. Well no matter because I am well aware of Moms Mabley now.    

Other HBO air dates include 11.21 at 1:45pm; 11.24 at 5:45pm; 11.26 at 11:15am and 11.30 at 1:30pm. HBO2 airs it at 11.20 at 8:00pm; 11.28 at 3:00pm and 12.24 at 4:45pm. It also appears on HBOGo.





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