"Fascinating and exhaustive . . . at once a serious social history and an enormously entertaining reading experience." —Chicago Tribune
"A penetrating and immensely enjoyable history. . . . For many readers, this book will transform their conception of the character, and the source, of much American popular culture." —The New Yorker
This comprehensive history of black humor sets it in the context of American popular culture. Blackface minstrelsy, Stepin Fetchit, and the Amos 'n' Andy show presented a distorted picture of African Americans; this book contrasts this image with the authentic underground humor of African Americans found in folktales, race records, and all-black shows and films. After generations of stereotypes, the underground humor finally emerged before the American public with Richard Pryor in the 1970s. But Pryor was not the first popular comic to present authentically black humor. Watkins offers surprising reassessments of such seminal figures as Fetchit, Bert Williams, Moms Mabley, and Redd Foxx, looking at how they paved the way for contemporary comics such as Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Cosby.
Declaring that African American humor ``shadows, satirizes and humanizes America's main body,'' Watkins delivers a rich and ambitious history of such humor both in the mainstream media and in the black community. A former editor at the New York Times , he draws on prodigious research to describe such aspects of black humor as the African sources of slave wordplay, the sources of the minstrel tradition, the Negro caricatures of Hollywood silent films and the controversy over Amos 'n' Andy. He examines the contributions of the oft-forgotten early 20th-century comedian Bert Williams and the brillant Richard Pryor, and ventures into such topics as literary humor and street folklore. Because Watkins's research is so deep and his interest historical, his study of the varieties (and controversies) in black comedy after Richard Pryor is brief. This extensive compilation makes a valuable contribution to our cultural history. Illustrations not seen by PW.