The Evolution of Black Stand-Up Comedy from 1955-1995
Kenneth Orlando Lively
Robert L. Harris, Jr.
Thesis DT 3 .5 1996 L784
xvii, 154 leaves; 29 cm.
This thesis examines the history of Black stand- up comedians and how the political and social climate of the Black community affected their development. Throughout the history of Black people in the United States, African- Americans have been defined through the lenses of the dominant group. The mid-1950's saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, that laid the foundation for the greater acceptance of Black entertainers by "mainstream" America. Some of the earliest beneficiaries of this greater acceptance were Black comedians, who in response to racist misperceptions, empowered stereotypes and demonstrated how silly they were.
The introduction will give the background of Black stand-up comedy and discuss its roots in various aspects of Black humor. The four chapters that comprise the body of this thesis will examine four different time periods in Black comedy. The first time period will consider the years 1955-1964, which was the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The influence of the Civil Rights Movement is quite evident in the routines of the three comedians featured in this chapter; Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx, and Dick Gregory.
The next chapter will discuss the effects of the Black Power Movement on the comedy of Black comedians, during the period of 1965-1979. The routines of Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor will be analyzed in this chapter.
The next stage in Black comedy was the period between 1980-1989, that displayed the mood of the country as it moved from active social consciousness to self-indulgent and individualistic values and attitudes, which influenced Black comedy. Eddie Murphy, Robin Harris, and Sinbad figure prominently in this chapter.
The final era is the most problematic. It is difficult to state that the comedy of this era reflects the mood of the Black community, because we are still in the middle of it. But the comedians of this era (so far), are considered to be the "gangsta" rappers of Black comedy. This chapter will feature the routines of Damon Wayans, Martin Lawrence, and several comedians who have appeared on "Def Comedy Jam," as well as several other Black oriented comedy shows.
I also argue that Black comedy has not changed much over the last forty years. This is evident when the routines of comedians from each of these generations are examined. The old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same applies to Black stand-up comedy.