With a toothless grin, shabby clothes and a style of storytelling like no other, Jackie “Moms” Mabley would walk on stage and bring the house down. She was one of the first African American women of comedy and her career lasted from the 1920s to her death in 1975.
To be honest, I had never heard of her before. So I was intrigued to watch a documentary where almost every well-known comedian over the past 50 years had something inspiring to say about Mabley.
“Moms comes along, like in the late 20s, as a young woman dressed with that hat and the house coat and the big shoes, and she takes that persona all the way to 1975. I mean that’s a long time. She honed that woman, and she grew into that woman. And I mean at a time when there was not women standups, there was none…there was only Moms.” – Whoopi Goldberg.
Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You is Whoopi Goldberg’s (Ghost) directorial debut and Goldberg does a stellar job of telling Mabley’s story. Behind the laughter and the costumes, Goldberg showed the world that Mabley was not just a woman of comedy, but she was also a woman with something to say. Sure, she used her stage for laughter most of the time, but every once and awhile she would address serious issues in America, particularly the Civil Rights Movement, and she would do it with absolute conviction and poignancy.
While sitting in a room with Hugh Hefner and Sammy Davis Jr at the Playboy Mansion, Mabley sings her most famous song, Abraham, Martin and John. It is one of those moments that is indescribable and do you know HOW frustrating it is for a writer to say that? Some things are just too pure and perfect to put into words. I recommend listening to her gravelly voice and the story of four assassinated American men who were symbols of social justice and their deaths that changed the course of history. It’s powerful.
The only time the documentary falters is when Bill Cosby appears on screen. It was filmed before 58 women had accused the comedian of rape and unfortunately his presence tarnishes the film. I heard his voice before he was actually on screen and I immediately got a shiver down my spine. Although his stories of Moms Mabley do contribute to the storytelling, I will never be okay with seeing this man. So, if you want to do what I did, simply turn down the volume. Look away and think of unicorns prancing in a meadow – that’s my happy place and you can borrow it for a moment.
In order to know where you’re going, you have know where you’ve been. Mabley knew exactly where she wanted to go in life and she achieved her dreams.
Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You is a story about a woman who made people laugh and I don’t think there is a better gift to give the world.