Whoopi Goldberg Brings Groundbreaking Comic Moms Mabley to New Audience

Whoopi Goldberg brings the story of America’s first female stand-up comic, Jackie Moms Mabley to HBO with Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, premiering November 18. Goldberg—who put up her own money to produce and direct the documentary and went to Kickstarter for additional funds—told Showbiz 411 at the film’s Tribeca screening earlier this year:

We celebrate all the other firsts. Why haven’t we celebrated the first stand up comedian who was a woman and had been doing it since 1928?

Born Loretta Mary Aitken, Mabley began working as a stand-up in the late 1920s, and made a living on the Chitlin’ Circuit—the vaudeville clubs, speakeasies and theaters throughout the eastern, southern, and upper mid-west areas of the United States where African-American performers were able to perform during segregation.

In the early days of her performances, Mabley wore androgynous clothes on stage and worked blue, performing XXX-rated routines. As she developed her act,  Mabley took on the persona of granny or great auntie, wearing a floral house dress and a drooping hat. She took out her dentures for her stand-up routine—at the time dentures were common—and riffed on her character’s desire for young men and her distaste of old ones, addressing the imbalance of sexual power, as well as hitting on politics, race, war, and other social issues.

In Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, Goldberg reveals that Mabley would come off stage, take off her garish frumpy frock, change into tailored slacks and a man’s shirt and shoes, put her teeth back in, and slick back her hair, Moms becoming Mr. Jackie.  And her fellow performers didn’t care. As the Advocate remarks:

That her penchant for the ladies (and for men’s clothing) didn’t matter to her male colleagues reveals just how much they respected her as a performer.

During her research for the documentary, Goldberg found a card picturing Mabley wearing in a man’s suit. It was signed “Mr. Moms,” indicating Moms was open amongst her colleagues. Goldberg points out:

If you’re gay or straight, you can do whatever is universally funny.

A regular performer at both the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater, Mabley appeared in several films, recorded over twenty albums of her stand up comedy–some on her own label Poontan’–and was embraced in the late 1960s and 70s by television, appearing on Ed Sullivan Show, Merv Griffin, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the Grammys and other shows. At age 75 she recorded “Abraham, Martin and John,” scoring a Top 40 hit, making her the oldest person to do so (and she still holds that record!). At the peak of her career she was making $10,000 a week, breaking the ground and laying the foundation for women comics like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers to the Queens of Comedy, Kathy Griffin and Ellen DeGeneres. Moms Mabley, a businesswoman and lesbian during segregation, crossed the color barrier and kicked ass on stage and off.

At age 79,  she came full circle, coming out loud and proud as a lesbian and became, according to Queers in History,

the first XXX-rated lesbian stand-up comic.

Just months before her death, “The Funniest Woman in the World” performed at the Michigan Women’s Festival.

During a question and answer session after the doc screened at Tribeca earlier this year, Whoopi Goldberg explained part of Mabley’s appeal:

She didn’t care where she was, she would pull those teeth out, and to me, this freedom to be yourself, for seventy seven years is the highlight of life to me because, you know, it’s okay to be gay, it’s okay to be individual, it’s okay to have a point of view. She made me realize that whatever you did you had to stand on your own two feet and know who you are.

Goldberg made the documentary—which features historic photos and clips of Mabley performing as well as interviews with Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poiter, Quincy Jones, Bill Cosby, Arsenio Hall, Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara—because, as she told the Advocate:

A lot of young people have no sense of history. No sense of history of the United States. Moms is a great magnifying glass into the past.

Anderson Cooper: “The Fact Is, I Am Gay,” Comes Out to Further Equality

Anderson Cooper is one of the most elegant, ethical, wise, brave, and hottest, men in America. Today in an email to Andrew Sullivan published on the Daily Beast, Cooper who has reported from disaster and war zones around the world, as well as joining Kathy Griffin for CNN’s New Years Eve in Times Square, comes out gracefully, expressing his reasons for coming out now and not making a big deal out of being gay in the past (And let’s face it, who somebody boinks and/or loves is really the least interesting thing about them. Or should be).

Cooper’s main point is that while he values his privacy and feels it is necessary for his job as a reporter, he also realizes that homophobia from the pulpit and in the schoolyard must end, and the more visible LGBT are, the quicker, one hopes, the equality and acceptance will be. Here are some select quotes from his email to Sullivan:

Since I started as a reporter in war zones 20 years ago, I’ve often found myself in some very dangerous places. For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own.I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist…

I’ve always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn’t matter…

There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud…

In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don’t give that up by being a journalist…

But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy.

Thank you, Anderson Copper for starting off the Fourth of July the right way, by demonstrating a true love of your country and belief in its innate goodness (and in the power of celebrity to help open hearts and minds, a true American value, which is better served by you and your thoughtful words and deeds than by the entire Kardashian clan in their desperate clatter for fame as spokesholes for whatever).

Now if only Shepard Smith would follow Anderson’s lead….

“Glee” Casts Kathy Griffin as “Sarah Palin-Type”

Today Fox-TV’s award-winning series Glee begins shooting an episode featuring comedian Kathy Griffin as

a character named Tammy Jean, a middle-aged “recent Tea Party candidate and home schooler — a Sarah Palin type.”

according to MovieLine.

I guess Michele Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell aren’t famous–or ambitious–enough to reference  in a casting breakdown.

Last year Glee’s creator Ryan Murphy told TV Guide that the show would be adding a Christian character to the glee club:

We’ve taken a couple jabs at the right wing this year, so what I want to do with this character is have someone who Christian kids and parents can recognize and say, ‘Oh, look—I’m represented there, too!’ If we’re trying to form a world of inclusiveness, we’ve got to include that point of view as well.

However, Griffin’s character is definitely not going to be joining the singing students of New Directions. I wonder if she’ll go up against Sue Sylvester or bond with the maniacal cheerleading coach.

[photo: i heart him, creative commons]

FINALLY! Gulf Benefit Tonight, CNN: Justin Beiber, Sting, Cameron Diaz

It’s about time! Finally there’s large scale national benefit for the Gulf region. The spill may not have injured orphans and displaced families like earlier telethons, but the BP spill’s impact  affects hundreds of thousands of people–oil workers, fishermen, shrimpers, support workers, the tourism industry–in at least four states, as well as millions of non-human life forms: Coral, crabs, fish, dolphins, manatees,  sea birds, plants. And all our oceans are connected…this could flow across the globe. Buh bye, world.

So Larry King is devoting two hours tonight, beginning at 8pm Eastern time for a telethon/concert/fundraiser for humans and the environment devastated by the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. Sting has signed on, along with teen sensation Justin Beiber, Cameron Diaz, Ryan Seacrest, and Robert Redford, Deepak Chopra, Philippe Cousteau, Ted Danson, Kathy Griffin, Chelsea Handler, Randy Jackson, Kerry Kennedy, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny McCarthy, Tim McGraw, Alyssa Milano, Aaron Neville, Edward James Olmos, Victoria Principal, Gloria Reuben, Tyson Ritter, Richard Simmons, Ian Somerhalder, Sam Trammell, Melania and Ivanka Trump, Pete Wentz, Herbie Hancock and India.Arie.

CNN states that the event will benefit

United Way, The National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy, organizations working directly with the families, individuals and wildlife affected by the Gulf oil spill.

The Nature Conservancy lists BP as a member of its International Leadership Council.

(shoop: commentary/fair use/creative commons by K.Baird)

Dan Choi, Others Arrested at White House DADT Protest

Lt Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo both of whom campaigned againt Dont Ask Don’t Tell were arrested–in uniform–as they were chained to the White House’s north fence. Also arrest was Robin McGehee, co-chair of GetEqual.org.

Towelroad reports:

According to Tweets from Robin McGehee at GetEqual reporting from the Kathy Griffin – Human Rights Campaign “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rally, McGehee, who is traveling with Lt. Dan Choi, asked Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese if Choi could speak at the rally and he rebuffed her, telling her it was Kathy Griffin’s rally. Choi took the stage anyway, told Griffin DADT is not a joke, and announced that he was marching to the White House. Choi then began leading hundreds on a march to the White House.

DC Agenda takes up the story from there

Choi encouraged Griffin and Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, to join him as he and others walked to the White House to protest the law against open service. Neither Griffin nor Solmonese joined him, but part of the rally crowd followed Choi to the White House.

Shortly after Choi and Pietrangelo arrived at the White House, they chained themselves to the fence, an action that drew a fast response from Secret Service personnel. Some agents quickly pushed the crowd of about 50 protesters away from the White House fence and into the street, and others erected yellow police tape around the area. About seven agents stayed behind the tape with Choi and Pietrangelo.

At around this time, McGehee was arrested near the White House fence. The basis for her arrest was not immediately clear.

The agents cut Choi and Pietrangelo free after an hour and arrested them.

I wish Kathy Griffin had the guts to chain herself to the White House fence…

There’s more at Pam’s Houseblend.