Cover image for African American humor : the best Black comedy from slavery to today
African American humor : the best Black comedy from slavery to today
Watson, Mel.
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : Lawrence Hill Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
xxv, 374 pages ; 23 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN6231.N5 A37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PN6231.N5 A37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PN6231.N5 A37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
PN6231.N5 A37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN6231.N5 A37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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This collection of anecdotes, tales, jokes, toasts, rhymes, satire, riffs, poems, stand-up sketches, and snaps documents the evolution of African American humor over the past two centuries. It includes routines and writings from such luminaries as Bert Williams, Butterbeans & Susie, Stepin Fetchit, Moms Mabley, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Redd Foxx, Ishmael Reed, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, and Chris Rock. This anthology includes classic stage routines, literary examples, and witty quotations presented in their entirety.

Author Notes

Mel Watkins is a former editor at the New York Times Book Review

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Comedy of and by blacks often reflects a strong counterpoint to comedy about blacks in mainstream white America. During slavery and Reconstruction, blacks embraced the minstrel show format, a caricature of blacks via whites in blackface, to find their reflections even in the debilitating genre. That desire continued in film with Stepin Fetchit, Willie Best, and the Amos and Andy series. However, Watkins draws from a deeper well and includes literary sources of jokes, rhymes, poems, and stand-up comic routines that reflect nearly two centuries of black American humor. Chris Rock, Flip Wilson, and Martin Lawrence are included as examples of contemporary humorists. Watkins also includes such pioneer comedians as Bert Williams, who often performed in blackface; Moms Mabley; and Redd Foxx. He also provides excellent examples of black humor and social commentary through excerpts of literary work, including Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Ishmael Reed, and others. This comedic focus provides a prism view and critique of America usually shielded from mainstream exposure. An entertaining and thoughtful work. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

"If I really want to scare the hell out of my white friends, I drive out to the suburb they live in and walk down their street slowly, carrying the real estate section of the New York Times." This bon mot from 1960s comedian Godfrey Cambridge (1933-1978) is among the many jokes, snaps, comedy sketches, satires and folk anecdotes gathered in African American Humor: The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today. Selected by editor and writer Mel Watkins (On the Real Side), the witticisms come from such luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, Satchel Paige, Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor, Damon Wayans and many others. () (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Fascinating, amusing, and exciting, this volume covers the history of African American humor from the first tales recorded by Joel Chandler Harris through the contemporary comic versatility of Chris Rock. Watkins includes not only animal tales, trickster tales, short stories, rhymes, riddles, songs, lies, conjure stories, jokes, and comedy routines, but the best literary stories from first-class writers--Rudolph Fisher, Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. The editor divides the material into four sections: "Playing the Fool ... Slavery"; "Lay My Burden Down ... Emancipation to the Roaring Twenties"; "New Day's A-Coming ... The Harlem Renaissance to the Fifties"; "What You See Is What You Get ... Civil Rights to the Millennium." The last part will especially catch the attention of contemporary readers and scholars because it delineates and includes a first-rate listing of the humorous comedic skits of such contemporary favorites as Redd Fox, Flip Wilson, LaWanda Page, Richard Pyror, Damon Wayans, Bernie Mack, and Bill Cosby along with O.J. Simpson jokes. Readers from secondary to graduate school will find much to enjoy and learn here. Released in "The Library of Black America" series, this volume--even without a bibliography--is essential for collections supporting African American studies, folk tales, and humor. B. Taylor-Thompson Texas Southern University

Table of Contents

Dick GregoryMel WatkinsCharles W. ChesnuttCharles W. ChesnuttPaul Laurence DunbarRudolph FisherZora Neale HurstonGeorge SchuylerRudolph FisherFolkDick GregoryRalph EllisonCharles WrightChester HimesIshmael ReedCecil BrownDavid BradleyMel WatkinsMartin LawrenceCharles Johnson
Forewordp. xi
Introductionp. xvii
Part 1 Playin' the Foor ... Slavery
Plantation Proverbs (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 3
Some New Proverbs (M. Quad)p. 4
Animal Tales and Rhymes
Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 5
The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 6
Why Mr. Possum Loves Peace (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 8
How Mr. Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 10
Mr. Rabbit Grossly Deceives Mr. Fox (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 11
Mr. Fox Is Again Victimized (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 14
The Ape (Folk)p. 16
Bad Birds (Folk)p. 16
Catching the Snake and the Yellowjackets (Charles C. Jones)p. 17
The Flea (Folk)p. 18
The Woodpecker (Folk)p. 18
A Roost on the Rim of the Moon (E. C. L. Adams)p. 18
The Rooster and the Chicken (Folk)p. 20
Numskull Tales
Talking Turtle (Folk)p. 20
The Mojo (Folk)p. 21
Amos and the Union Officer (Folk)p. 22
John in Jail (Folk)p. 22
John and the Blacksnake (Folk)p. 22
Trickster Tales
The Laugh That Meant Freedom (Folk)p. 24
Mo' Nigger (Folk)p. 24
The Champion (Folk)p. 25
Old Master and Okra (Folk)p. 26
Strong Man Jack (Folk)p. 29
Swapping Dreams (Folk)p. 29
The Passing of Grandisonp. 30
Pompey and the Jackass (Peter Randolph)p. 44
Rhymes, Riddles, and Songs
We Raise de Wheat (Frederick Douglass)p. 44
Run, Nigger, Run (Folk)p. 45
Massa Had a Yaller Girl (Folk)p. 45
Comic Lyrics from Slave Folk and Work Songs (Folk)p. 46
John and Ole Massa Tales
The Horsefly (Folk)p. 47
The Ducks Get the Cotton (Folk)p. 47
Baby in the Crib (Folk)p. 48
The Fight (Folk)p. 49
The Yearling (Folk)p. 50
Old Marster Eats Crow (Folk)p. 50
John Praying (Folk)p. 51
Old Boss and John at the Praying Tree (Folk)p. 51
Part 2 Lay My Burden Down ... Emancipation to the Roaring Twenties
Lies and How Come Tales
Git Back! (Folk)p. 56
Apple Peelin' (Folk)p. 57
Heard the Bullet Twice (Folk)p. 57
The Story of the Deluge and How It Came About (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 57
Why the Negro Is Black (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 59
The First White Man (Folk)p. 60
The Water's Deep (Folk)p. 60
De Ole 'oman an' Me (A. C. Gordon)p. 61
Uncle Remus's Church Experience (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 63
The Conjurer's Revengep. 64
John Sharecrops for Old Boss (Folk)p. 74
John on Trial (Folk)p. 76
Uncle Remus and the Savannah Darkey (Joel Chandler Harris)p. 76
Jesse James and the Graveyard (Folk)p. 78
Post-Slavery Aphorisms (Folk)p. 78
When Malindy Sings (Paul Laurence Dunbar)p. 79
Practical Preacher (Folk)p. 81
The Preacher and the Board Meeting (Folk)p. 81
Colored in America (Bert Williams)p. 82
The Fruitful Sleeping of the Rev. Elisha Edwardsp. 82
Move My Ears (Billy Kersands)p. 87
Bank Robbers (Williams and Walker)p. 88
Jokes, Stories, Songs, etc.Bert Williams
Stories and Jokesp. 88
Songs and Rhymesp. 91
When It's All Goin' Out and Nothin' Comin' Inp. 91
Believe Mep. 92
Dat's Harmonyp. 92
Jonah Manp. 93
The Pig and the Porcupinep. 93
Doughnuts Roundp. 93
The Medicine Manp. 94
Nevermo'p. 94
Sayings and Observationsp. 94
Objections (Folk)p. 98
Children's Rhyme (Folk)p. 98
Lord, Will I Ever (Folk)p. 98
An Indignation Dinner (James David Corrothers)p. 99
Same Old Question (W. E. B. DuBois)p. 99
Indefinite Talk Routine (Miller and Lyles)p. 100
Bad Nigger Tales
Jack Johnson and the Hotel Clerk (Folk)p. 101
Champion's Still a Nigger (Folk)p. 102
Jack Johnson in Georgia (Folk)p. 102
Looking for Change (Folk)p. 102
Who Goes There? (Folk)p. 102
Mind Yo' Business (Folk)p. 103
Kill Me if You Can (Folk)p. 103
John and the Judge (Folk)p. 103
Can't Win for Losing (Folk)p. 104
Guilty as Charged (Folk)p. 104
Bottom Bound (Stringbeans and Sweetie)p. 105
Shine, or the Sinking of the Titanic (Folk)p. 105
The Signifying Monkey (Folk)p. 108
Part 3 New Day's A-Coming ... The Harlem Renaissance to the Fifties
Jokes and RoutinesButterbeans and Susie
Get Yourself a Monkey-Manp. 113
Too Many Upsp. 113
I Want a Hot Dog in My Rollp. 114
I Ain't Scared of Youp. 114
Until the Real Thing Come Alongp. 115
Indefinite Sentence (Folk)p. 116
From The Walls of Jerichop. 116
The Faith Healer (Folk)p. 130
Early Blues Lyrics (Folk)p. 130
Ghost Story (Tim Moore and Andrew Tribel)p. 132
Why Women Got the Advantage of Menp. 134
Sound Advice (Folk)p. 138
From Black No Morep. 139
Hanging Out (Folk)p. 158
Great Men (Oscar Micheaux)p. 158
Chitlin' Circuit Routines
Go Ahead and Sing (Rastus Murray and Henry Drake)p. 161
Ain't Nobody Here! (Willie Too Sweet)p. 162
Open the Door, Richard (Dusty Fletcher)p. 163
Where's the Money? (Spo-Dee-O-Dee)p. 166
Here Come de Judge (Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham)p. 166
Half Mine (John "Spider Bruce" Mason)p. 167
The Conjure-Man Diesp. 168
No'lasses (Folk)p. 171
Quips and Cracks from Hollywood Film Clowns
Stepin Fetchitp. 172
Mathew "Stymie" Beardp. 173
Willie Bestp. 173
"Butterfly" McQueenp. 173
Mantan Morelandp. 174
Radio Repartee (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson)p. 174
Laziest Man in the World (Stepin Fetchit)p. 176
How Old? (Satchel Paige)p. 176
Mexicana Rosep. 177
Fastball (Monte Irvin)p. 182
Cartoon (Oliver W. Harrington)p. 183
Jokes and RoutinesMoms Mabley
Old Menp. 184
Counting on His Fingersp. 184
$25 a Questionp. 185
Cab Callowayp. 185
Love Is Like a Game of Checkersp. 185
Miami-Red Light's for Usp. 186
Old Man in the Hospitalp. 186
Old Men Left Behindp. 187
Accidentsp. 187
Robbersp. 188
Thought I Was Having a Good Timep. 188
You Ain't So Smartp. 188
Dog on the Busp. 189
Trouble with Old Menp. 189
Jesse B. Simple TalesLangston Hughes
Temptationp. 190
There Ought to Be a Lawp. 192
Race Relationsp. 194
That Word Blackp. 195
Dear Dr. Buttsp. 197
From Amos 'n' Andy (Various Writers)p. 200
ObservationsSatchel Paige
Illegal Pitchesp. 203
In Demandp. 203
Second Basep. 203
Second-Class Immortalp. 203
Ain't Ghana Eat (Nipsey Russell)p. 204
Still a Nigger (Nipsey Russell)p. 204
Comeuppance (Junior Mance)p. 205
Train to New York (Two Tons of Fun)p. 205
My Nigger (John H. Johnson)p. 205
Jokes and RoutinesRedd Foxx
Boss Spelled Backwardp. 206
Snakebitep. 206
Black Scientistsp. 206
Sneezesp. 207
Toastsp. 207
Knivesp. 207
Eat What You Lovep. 207
Backing Upp. 208
$240,000p. 208
Oh, George!p. 208
Sugar Rayp. 209
Revival Preacherp. 209
FMp. 209
President Johnsonp. 210
Depression Timep. 210
First Politicianp. 210
Love Songp. 210
Part 4 What You See Is What You Get ... Civil Rights to the Millennium
From Nigger: An Autobiographyp. 214
The Battle of Little Rock (Folk)p. 218
Heroes Ain't Born (Redd Foxx)p. 219
Cadillac Flambep. 219
From The Wigp. 233
Temporary Job (Timmie Rogers)p. 241
Steamin' (Folk)p. 241
Closer to Welfare (Slappy White)p. 241
Running for Vice President (Slappy White)p. 241
A Fair Fight (Folk)p. 242
Cartoon (Oliver W. Harrington)p. 243
From Blind Man With a Pistolp. 244
Lean and Mean (Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.)p. 249
Blackface (Ossie Davis)p. 250
Tall, Tan, Young, and Fly (Frankie Crocker)p. 250
Black Rioters (Dick Gregory)p. 251
American History (Dick Gregory)p. 252
Kittens and Biscuits (Malcolm X)p. 254
From Yellow Back Radio Broke-Downp. 255
Before God Get the News (Muhammad Ali)p. 265
From for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf (Ntozake Shange)p. 265
JokesGodfrey Cambridge
After Youp. 267
Eating Too Wellp. 268
The Suburbsp. 268
Just in Casep. 268
From The Loves and Lives of Mr. Jiveass Niggerp. 268
Jokes and RoutinesFlip Wilson
Cowboys and Colored Peoplep. 272
Kidsp. 274
Cheap Hotelp. 275
Church on Sundayp. 277
Ugly Babyp. 277
Christopher Columbusp. 278
JokesPaul Mooney
Paul Revere/Betsy Rossp. 280
Blame-a-Niggerp. 281
Nigger Raisinsp. 281
From South Streetp. 281
Magid and Mudbonep. 291
Baseball Jokes (Various Players)p. 300
Nigger Look Just Like You (Richard Pryor)p. 301
Don't Let Me Down (Eddie Murphy)p. 301
O.J. Simpson Jokes
Going to Cancun (Folk)p. 302
The Best Defense (Folk)p. 302
Bad Fit (Johnny Cochran)p. 303
The Dozens--Caps and SnapsFolk
Smell and Looks Capsp. 303
Dumb and Poor Capsp. 304
The Dozens--Yo' Momma Capsp. 305
Women and Men
Marital Counseling (Folk)p. 307
Equal Rights (LaWanda Page)p. 307
A Prayer and a Promise (Folk)p. 307
Different Strokes (Richard Pryor)p. 308
Old Man and Young Man (Moms Mabley)p. 308
Perfect Health (Folk)p. 308
Women vs. Women (Damon Wayans)p. 309
Payback Is a Bitch (Michelle Youngblood)p. 309
Lost Luggage (Folk)p. 309
Curb Your Dog (Eve)p. 310
Hunters (Dave Chappelle)p. 310
Overeating (Janet Cormier)p. 310
Random Quips from Famous Wits
Gettin' It (Steve Harvey)p. 310
Senility (Bill Cosby)p. 311
New Tricks (Bill Cosby)p. 311
On My Feet (Spike Lee)p. 311
Not All Black (Redd Foxx)p. 311
Just Us (Richard Pryor)p. 312
Being Famous (Dave Chappelle)p. 312
The American Dream (Paul Mooney)p. 312
Pass the Milk (Bernie Mack)p. 312
From You So Crazyp. 313
The Old School
All Turned Around (Folk)p. 315
Cockeyed Junior (Richard Pryor)p. 315
Old Bull and Young Bull (Folk)p. 315
Running Machinery (Folk)p. 316
I Ain't Loss! (Folk)p. 316
Trifocals (Bill Cosby)p. 317
Hard to Fool (Folk)p. 317
Pennies from Heaven (Folk)p. 317
Top That (Folk)p. 318
The New School
Worse Than That (Folk)p. 318
One White Guy (Dave Chappelle)p. 319
Hyde Park (Folk)p. 319
Fool Me Once (Folk)p. 319
Unforgettable (Folk)p. 320
Rappers (Damon Wayans)p. 320
Formal Introduction (Folk)p. 320
Don't Blame Me (Folk)p. 321
Yardwork (Folk)p. 321
From Oxherding Talep. 321
JokesLeighann Lord
Acne Curep. 336
Big Wordsp. 336
Third World Perfumep. 336
Wrong Warp. 337
From Rock This!Chris Rock
Reverse Racismp. 337
A Country Dividedp. 338
The Black Experiencep. 338
We All Look the Same in the Darkp. 340
Help Wanted: One Leader. Please Apply Withinp. 341
A Creative Solutionp. 343
Who You Calling Racist?p. 344
Mommy? Can I Say "Nigger"?p. 346
The Most Racist Guy in the Worldp. 347
Color Codingp. 348
Supermarket Sweepstakesp. 349
Why Do You Think They Call It "School?"p. 350
Money Money Money Moneyp. 352
Authors and Comediansp. 357
Creditsp. 370
Indexp. 373