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Laughing Mad

Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America

Bambi Haggins
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Laughing Mad
    Book Description:

    A rigorous analytic analysis,Laughing Madinterrogates notions of identity, within both the African American community and mainstream popular culture. Written in engaging and accessible prose, it is also a book that will travel from the seminar room, to the barbershop, to the kitchen table, allowing readers to experience the sketches, stand-up, and film comedies with all the laughter they deserve.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4265-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Enter Laughing
    (pp. 1-13)

    My jaw was tight.” I can’t remember the first time I heard this phrase but I’m sure that it was my father who spoke it—whether in response to a slight on the job, an injustice in the world, or a blatantly bad call made by some person in a position of authority. When recounting the incident, which in a different man might have elicited either a stream of obscenities or other exclamations of anger and frustration, my father would say with a mild smile, “I wasn’t angry, but my jaw was tight.” Decades later, when I heard Richard Pryor...

  5. Chapter 1 From Negro to Black: Coming of Comic Age in the Civil Rights Era
    (pp. 14-68)

    Bill Cosby’sWonderfulnesswas the first comedy album I ever heard. I remember the feeling of anticipation as I watched my older sister lift the center panel of the huge walnut Philco stereo console and place the LP on the turntable. With the static crackle, as the needle hit the vinyl, I listened to Cosby recount, for a generation at least once removed from radio days, his experience of listening to the Lights Out presentation of “The Chicken Heart Who Ate New York City.” Even though in this early routine the young Cosby torched a couch and smeared Jell-O to...

  6. Chapter 2 Murphy and Rock: From the “Black Guy” to the “Rock Star”
    (pp. 69-98)

    Chris Rock’s breakthrough Home Box Office special,Bring the Pain(1998), begins by invoking a personal canon of stand-up comedians. “Ladies and Gentlemen, are you ready to bring the pain? Give up the love for Mr. CHRIS ROCK!” The sound of pandemonium accompanies a medium close-up of Rock’s black-and-white leather shoes as he swaggers toward the stage. A series of comedy album covers is then superimposed over his strut, including Bill Cosby’sTo Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With, Dick Gregory’sIn Living Black and White, Richard Pryor’sIs It Something I Said?, Steve Martin’sComedy Isn’t Pretty, and...

  7. Chapter 3 Post-Soul Comedy Goes to the Movies: Cinematic Adjustments and [Pop] Cultural Currency
    (pp. 99-131)

    The transition from stand-up to screen has been markedly easier for Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock than for the previous generations of black comedians. Nonetheless, the creation of their cinematic personae has required the negotiation of comedic identities, as well as industrial and generic conventions and constraints. Thus, for the purposes of this study, their film roles will be examined in relationship to three unique subgenres: the “fish-out-of water” film, the comedy of color-coded color blindness, and cultural comedies with creative control. To varying degrees these subgenres simultaneously recognize and elide race and correspond to roles played by Murphy—and,...

  8. Chapter 4 Crossover Diva: Whoopi Goldberg and Persona Politics
    (pp. 132-177)

    Since her landmark one-woman show in 1985 Whoopi Goldberg has been somewhat of an entertainment anomaly: a black comic diva. On stage and screen Goldberg has gained a degree of critical and financial success attained by few African American comics—and industrial clout accorded to even fewer women. With the notable exception of Jackie “Moms” Mabley and Pearl Bailey, whose careers, like Goldberg’s, straddle stage and screen, Whoopi has acquired what few black female comic entertainers of either the pre–or post–civil rights era have been able to gain: access to white main stages and the entertainment mainstream. All...

  9. Chapter 5 Dave Chappelle: Provocateur in the Promised Land
    (pp. 178-236)

    The comic persona of Dave Chappelle is the logical end point for this ongoing study of African American comedy. In many ways Chappelle represents the intersections of multiple comic trajectories in black comedy. His act is often observational, like Cosby’s, or perhaps more aptly, he’s like Bob Newhart, if Newhart were black and had come of age in Washington, D.C., during the crack epidemic of the late eighties. Although Chappelle is a storyteller, who, with casual and almost lackadaisical candor, pulls you into his world and his logic, the content of his humor often has the sly righteousness and progressive...

  10. Epilogue: Laughing Sad, Laughing Mad
    (pp. 237-244)

    I began writing this epilogue days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the United States’ Gulf Coast. The childhood hometown of my parents, Pass Christian, Mississippi, was devastated by wind, water, and debris—and relief was slow in coming. As my mother and the rest of my family awaited word from friends and relatives who lived in Katrina’s path, all of whom survived and many of whom lost everything, it was difficult to think about comedy. Nothing was funny. Yet in the wake of Katrina, as the “the blame game” rhetoric was spun and as the stories of those who survived hurricane...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 245-268)
  12. Index
    (pp. 269-274)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-275)