Abstract

Scholars and cultural critics often cite Jackie “Moms” Mabley as the first African American stand-up comedienne. Mabley’s career spanned sixty years, from minstrel shows in the early 1900s to sold-out performances at the Apollo in the 1960s. At the peak of her fame, Mabley was one of the country’s most popular comedians and a major figure in the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, Mabley’s place in history is marginal at best. This article proposes an intervention in Mabley’s archive by reading her work through three themes: (1) quare/queer performance; (2) Black feminist performance of temporality and (3) re-membering Black feminist agency. I conclude with a call to continue the expansion of queer archives and critical analysis of Mabley’s work. I address these historiographical deficiencies to celebrate her brave and innovative performances, as Mabley’s humor intertwined entertainment and feminist/anti-racist politics to cut through the pains and silences of pre-Civil Rights United States.

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