Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley Is One Historical Badass You Should Know

She was a pioneering lesbian comedian, the first woman to perform at the Apollo theatre, and a general badass. And yet most people have no idea who she is. posted on

1. Whoopi Goldberg’s latest project, a documentary that will air on HBO, chronicles the audacious career of black lesbian comic Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

The film, Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this week.

2. Whoopi said she was inspired to make the film when she realized that although Moms was a huge inspiration to her, very few people outside the comedy world knew about her legacy.

“Moms was just unusual, she didn’t look like anybody else.”

Donald Bowers / Getty Images

3. Who was this, badass you ask?

4. Moms Mabley was a stand-up comic and Vaudeville performer who is widely regarded as one of the most important African-American entertainers who ever lived.

She was the first bona fide female stand-up comedy superstar. She would be launched into national fame on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. All the while, she was an openly out lesbian.

5. She knew how to play the crowd:

Mabley would put on a harmless grandmother persona on stage, and then use it to touch on serious issues such as war, racism, and segregation. LIKE A BAMF.

6. And she knew how to work the showbiz industry:

7. You don’t mess with her.

8. She ran away from home:

At a young age she ran away to Cleveland, Ohio to join the “chitlin circuit” of venues that catered to African American audiences.

9. She knew exactly how to deal with an ex-boyfriend:

Born Loretta Mary Aiken in 1894, she took her stage name “Jackie Mabley” from an early boyfriend. The “Moms” nickname stems from her compassion for other performers. Of the early boyfriend, she told Ebony:

10. She could hang with the boys, and even beat them at their own game:

She took her talents to New York City in the early ’20s. She opened for the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Cab Calloway at famous venues like The Cotton Club and The Savoy.

On her move to New York City:

12. She gives new meaning to the “IDGAF” lifestyle:

She came out as a lesbian at the age of 27, becoming one of the first triple-X-rated comedians on the comedy circuit. She was obviously a pioneer of the “IDGAF” attitude and lifestyle.

13. She wasn’t afraid to go where no woman had gone before:

In 1939 she became the first female comedian to perform at The Apollo. This landmark establishment, in operation for 35 years at the time, had opened its doors to Harlem’s black population only four years earlier. Badass? Badass.

14. She hit a huge milestone in 1968 when she was booked for two shows at Carnegie Hall.

Billboard reported that she was her “pixie like self” and that her “song and dance were effective parts of the venerable performer’s hilarious stint.”

15. Just look at this badass on the cover of Jet:

16. Like every badass before her, and the badasses to come, Mabley knew the importance of work ethic:

17. And she never lost her edge:

18. She enjoyed playing checkers between sets, like a badass.

Also can we please bring back the term “kibitz”!?

19. Her ability to put on an entirely different persona in her act and live a seemingly double life has been unmatchable by any comedienne since:

20. A year after staring in the feature film Amazing Grace (1974), she passed away in White Plains, New York, on May 23, 1975.

In the middle of filming Amazing Grace, Moms Mabley had a heart attack. The shoot was put on hold for three weeks while she had emergency surgery. A pacemaker was installed. She returned to the set considerably weakened.

21. Yes, Moms is truly an american historical badass.

And now you know.

22. Listen to some of her badassery:

23. And watch the last interview with Moms before her death:

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