Among the many ways the pioneering comedienne Moms Mabley was a pioneer was that she performed at the Apollo in 1939, five years after the Harlem theater opened. In her signature hats, mismatched housedresses, and gummy lips, she was a hoot, although her jokes consisted mostly in telling the truth. Her deadpan was killer. She came from North Carolina, and avowed, she had no use for older men. Often escorted about by younger men, she was happiest in the company of women. Dressed most elegantly in tails, she was a sharp contrast to her stage look. A mystery endures as to whether or not she was raped, twice. As a teen she had two children who were given up for adoption. A veteran of the "Chitlin' Circuit" of black vaudevillians, she influenced every comic today, especially Whoopi Goldberg who produced and directed this documentary portrait, "Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin' to Tell You," to air on HBO on November 18.
At a special premiere at the now legendary Apollo, Whoopi Goldberg introduced the film. Not only does the documentary offer valuable archival footage and photographs of Moms Mabley, and the early years of television where she appeared on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Ed Sullivan Show, but a history of comedy unfolds with a who's who of comedians paying homage, along with Whoopi, Bill Cosby, Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, Elaine May and Mike Nichols, and Dick Cavett. When she met her, Joan Rivers said she could see that beneath that bumpkin exterior, Moms was smart, and then seeing her perform, she was funny. After the screening, Whoopi Goldberg, Dick Cavett and many other guests made their way to dinner at Sylvia's Restaurant a few blocks away. All feasted on collard greens, mashed potatoes, and fried chicken.
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