This month's Standup Saturday is dedicated to Moms Mabley, a legendary Black standup comedian popular in the early 20th Century. Born Loretta Mary Aiken, Moms created the Moms Mabley persona in the 1920s and carried that character until 1975. She was the first Black woman to work the Apollo Theatre and the first Black woman to work Carnegie Hall. Moms had an iconic onstage persona. She wore colorful housecoats and floppy hats and, notably, no teeth.
This non-threatening presentation allowed Moms Mabley to say and comment on issues that were closed off to other comedians of the time, such as race and sexuality. She was known for her jokes about preferring younger men and disliking older men and for the inclusion of music and songs in her sets.
Admittedly, I didn't know much about Moms Mabley before doing my research for this post. I wanted to learn more about her because I felt that it was important for me, as a Black woman who does stand up comedy, to know who paved the way and opened doors for me. While watching documentaries and clips about Moms, one thing was repeated again and again. Moms was fearless. She performed in rooms that you wouldn't expect to see a Black woman perform in and she made those rooms laugh. She was openly gay and wore men's clothing when she was off stage. Her fearlessness is the bar, the standard, and the goal.