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On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy 2nd Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-1556523519
ISBN-10: 1556523513
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the ribald tall tales of "The Signifying Monkey" and Moms Mabley's grandmotherly earthiness to Richard Pryor's blues-based character Mudbone, author Mel Watkins takes us beyond the seemingly harmless face of the black comedian and shows the complex, multifaceted, and historical use of humor by African Americans to articulate, combat, and overcome the effects of racism. Watkins begins with the coded, behind-master's-back mockery of slave humor and its outgrowth, the minstrels, where whites such as Al Jolson as well as blacks wore horrible blackface makeup. Watkins also chronicles the ascendancy of performers such as Bert Williams, Stepin Fechit, Redd Foxx, and Bill Cosby from the '30s to the '60s, when vaudeville, radio, motion pictures, and recordings catapulted black comedy around the world. For Watkins, the emergence of several socially aware comedians--for example, Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor--marked an important break with the tradition of concealed references. "Pryor and a few of his predecessors," Watkins writes, "began unveiling the satirical barbs concealed beneath the black jester's clownish attire." After Pryor's career was slowed down by health complications, he was followed by what Watkins views as a less political and more materialistic hip-hop generation, led by Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, and the Wayans brothers. With shows such as Def Comedy Jam and In Living Color Watkins feels, "some of the subtlety, misdirection, and magic that have previously characterized black American humor have been lost, the most outrageous and impious elements of African American humor are now being emphasized." --Eugene Holley Jr.

Review

“Fascinating and exhaustive . . . at once a serious social history and an enormously entertaining reading experience.”  —Robert Boynton, Chicago Tribune


“A penetrating and immensely enjoyable history. . . . For many readers, this book will transform their conception of the character, and the source, of much American popular culture.”  —The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 2nd edition (May 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556523513
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556523519
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a comedy nerd and have always been interested in the various cultures, hardships, suffering, and other experiences that lead to humor. This book covers it all with regard to African Americans in this history of comedy. I read this book shortly after it was originally released in hardback. I loaned it to a young lady and she never gave it back. I loved it so much that I decided to buy another copy,
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By bookman on October 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is definitely the best book written about African American Humor, but it is also one of the very best books written about American humor in general. Watkins' knowledge of his subject is encyclopedic, yet he manages to maintain a coherent thesis throughout nearly six hundred pages. Useful for both academics and general readers. My only regret is that by now (2009) it is a little bit dated, so there are no discussions of Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, etc. It would not be difficult, though, to extrapolate Watkins' readings and apply them to these contemporary artists.
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By Dennis Lebby on July 20, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book on black comedians
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