Moms Mabley was…to be blunt...a goddamn American Institution. Gay, black and all kinds of political, she was smashing boundaries left and right.
Born Loretta Mary Aiken in May 1894, Moms Mabley would become the first African American female standup who crossed over to mainstream audiences. AND she was an out and proud lesbian.
SERIOUSLY, SHE AND HER STORY ARE AMAZING AND I AM RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED TO TELL YOU GUYS ALL ABOUT IT!
Now the start of Moms' life reads like the worst Shakespearean tragedy. It’s truly FUCKING HORRENDOUS!
She was born in North Carolina to two loving parents: James Aiken, a business-savvy man with fingers in many pies, and her mum, Mary Smith, a hardworking, badass matriarch.
Her dad died in 1909 while working as a volunteer fireman, after he was caught up in an explosion when their fire engine caught fire. Moms was just 15.
Her mum stepped up and took over running the family’s general store…until 1910, when while coming home from church on CHRISTMAS DAY she was run over by a truck and killed.
Moms also had two illegitimate children who were born out of rape. One of the children was fathered by a white town sheriff who raped Moms. Both children were given up for adoption.
OKAY…NOW ALL THAT HORRIBLE STUFF IS OUT THE WAY, LET'S LOOK FORWARD TO THE BIRTH OF A HILARIOUS STANDUP QUEEN!
When Loretta was 14, her awesome gran convinced her to run away and join a travelling vaudeville show; it was here she started working as a standup.
She quickly become one of the most popular acts in the Theatre Owners Booking Association Circuit (also known as the Tough on Black Asses circuit) and was soon traveling all over America developing her talent.
At the age of 27, Loretta came out as a lesbian—a massive deal at the time because most people didn’t even know what a lesbian was, and TBH gay rights was not a thing.
Then add being black during the Great Depression into that mix?
Girl was a fucking trailblazer.
Loretta’s humor was downright filthy, and she was DECADES ahead of her time, with her acts landing more in the "CAN SHE REALLY SAY THAT?!" category. She talked about racism, sexism, queerness… nothing was off limits.
Her early acts in the 20s and 30s featured her talking about living as a black lesbian in the USA. Sadly, she didn’t record anything during this time, so we’ve just got testimonials from people who knew her. (Which is a downright shame, as that ish sounds amazing!)
THE BIRTH OF JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY
The character of Jackie "Moms" Mabley was developed early in her career. The dirty-talking old lady with a penchant for younger men was based on her much-loved grandmother.
Loretta portrayed Moms while being a younger lady by hiding behind huge floral dresses, bad gray wigs, and big floppy hats.
She struck gold with Moms! Audiences LOVED this dirty granny, which meant she could get away with using dirty language and chatting about all sorts… cause she’s just a harmless old lady right?
As if that wasn’t great enough, Loretta got the nickname "Moms" from fellow performers because she was such a loving and friendly lady.
HERE’S SOME OF OUR FAVE MOMS' ONE LINERS:
“Only time you see me with my arms around some old man…I’m holding him for the police.”
“My husband was so ugly, he used to stand outside the doctor’s office and make people sick.”
“There ain’t nothin’ an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young one… I’d rather pay a young man’s fare to California than tell an old man the distance.”
“It’s no disgrace to be old. But damn if it isn’t inconvenient.”
Moms gained popularity with mainstream audiences in the 1960s, when her career took off in television.
She appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later The Ed Sullivan Show and also appeared in a handful of films throughout her career.
Her last starring role was in Amazing Grace, which she completed AFTER having a heart attack!!!
Moms finally started recording comedy shows during the 1960s, and completed around 20 in her lifetime. They are all hilarious and you should listen to clips of them on YouTube. We recommend her bra shopping joke.
Moms paved the way for future generations of standups. Her influence was far-reaching, even though she didn’t get the recognition she deserved during her lifetime.
She was the first popular female standup EVER! So every self-identifying female comedian owes her a serious debt of gratitude. She showed the world that women are fucking hilarious.
That was great, where can I learn more? Whoopi Goldberg produced a great documentary on Loretta in 2014: Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley.
This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.
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Written by Natasha Tidd, Sara Westrop, and Helen Antrobus, F Yeah History is dedicated to unearthing history that's just too good for history class. From historic hangover cures to unsung historic heroes, all told with a healthy does of gifs and somewhat terrible jokes, it's history...just not as you know it. Follow F Yeah History on FYeahHistory.com and on Twitter @F_yeah_history.