Mabley was the first woman comedian to perform at the Apollo.
Comedian Moms Mabley dressed the part of an elderly grandmother on stage, but when she opened her toothless mouth, her irreverent zingers made crowds roar: “Ain’t nothing an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young one.”
Moms Mabley on the Differences Between Older and Younger Men
Loretta Mary Aitken had been a live entertainer for almost 50 years when she performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1964. The North Carolina native, born in 1894, ran away as a teen to be a singer and comedian in a traveling minstrel show. She took the stage name Jackie Mabley while in a short-lived duo with comedian Jack Mabley, and it stuck for the rest of her career. She gradually developed the on-stage persona of a dowdy but sharp-tongued housewife whose unassuming appearance and randy jokes about younger men contrasted with her hilarious and edgy material about racism, sexism and homosexuality. As an out lesbian within the industry from the 1920s on, she could be considered the grandmother of all LGBTQ comedians. A top star on the Chitlin’ Circuit for decades, Mabley broke through with white audiences in the early ‘60s, reaching mainstream success as she approached her 70s. She appeared frequently on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, performed on Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin’s shows, and released a string of popular comedy albums throughout the 1960s.
It was during this career renaissance when Mabley was booked at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1964. Her set that day was a fine snapshot of what made Mabley so important and popular—she moved seamlessly from the kind of “racy grandma” jokes that her persona was built on to the more disarming political material and brusque social commentary that she was always known for. And she also sings.
You can hear Mabley’s full Newport Jazz set through the Paste Music & Daytrotter mobile app. Here’s a little taste of what you can expect from that. On “Young Men, Si; Old Men, No” Mabley rips through what white audiences probably knew her best for—jokes about dating younger men and why she can’t stand being with guys her own age (or older). Listen to that clip below, and find info on how to download the Paste Music & Daytrotter mobile app beneath the audio player.