"Offstage Moms Mabley is a striking figure in tailored slacks, matching sports shirt, Italian shoes, horn-rimmed glasses - and teeth. She looks utterly sophisticated. Onstage, however, is a different story. She creates the impression that the theater cleaning woman has somehow wandered into the spotlight." - Ebony, August 1962
"Moms Mabley ... She was fabulous." - Rudy Ray Moore
"A woman is a woman until the day she dies, but a man's a man only as long as he can." - Moms Mabley
Moms Mabley was one of the greatest comedians of all time. She is widely regarded as one of the most important African-American entertainers that ever lived and as the first bonafide female stand-up comedy superstar. At her peak she was making ten thousand dollars a week for stage appearances alone. It is ludicrous that a book has never been written about this comedy legend.1 Moms was one of the first, perhaps the first, to advocate for civil rights from a comedic perch. The social issues that boiled over in the late sixties were something Mabley had been addressing for decades. When the struggle against war, racism and varied discrimination became the focus of a new generation, Mabley suddenly found herself a bigger star than before, her message embraced by those involved in the fight. Television programming geared to the new youth market regularly booked Mabley and white viewers discovered the joy that the Black community had known about for years. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour booked Mabley several times. So did ABC's Music Scene. Both of these television shows fell victim to controversy when a jingoistic establishment objected to their progressive politics.2 Yet Moms Mabley, their occasional guest star, managed to take on the same bullheaded power structure and get away with it. Mabley convinced her audience that she was a harmless, placid grandmother. By the time she left the stage, she had lectured on war, segregation and a racist society she had fought her entire life. An audience convulsed, ribs sore from jubliant hysterics, would walk out of the theater having been hipped to the struggles of a woman, a race and a generation. Most did not even realize it.