The story is that my Aunt Dee went into labor during a Moms Mabley show in Washington, DC. It’s not hard to imagine that, since Mabley was so damned funny.

Jackie "Moms" Mabley
Jackie “Moms” Mabley

I love listening to recordings of her comedy bits. She was one of the queens of the Chitlin Curcuit. She appeared on stage dressed as a frump, in a brightly patterned, tacky nightgown ensemble, and crowned with a cap. She took out her fake teeth and spoke, flapping her gums. Her comedy was in the storytelling mode–raunchy, ribald, and full of witty anecdotes. Listening to her speak is a window in black life in the 20th Century.

Like many comedians, her personal life was more than full of its share of pain. But in spite of (or in some cases, because of) the significant hurdles she faced as an African-American who grew up in the Jim Crow South, as a survivor of sexual abuse, and as a lesbian, she mastered the art of comedic storytelling.