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Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America Paperback – January 31, 2007
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"In Laughing Mad, Bambi Haggins deftly uses comedy to complicate the construction, performance, and masquerade of blackness especially as it relates to racial politics, white supremacy, and black critique." -- Herman Gray, author of Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation
"This enormously valuable book will have a major impact on the ways in which scholars and general readers alike think about race, gender, and comic performance." -- Valerie Smith, Princeton University
About the Author
Bambi Haggins is an assistant professor in Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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Black comedians are in an untenable position. Unlike white performers, who can play a buffoon without fear of being criticized for perpetuating minstrelsy, black performers "represent" so every joke, every career choice, even personal relationships are scrutinized by both supporters and detractors and usually found wanting: too black or not black enough, Keepin' It Real or not. As Chris Rock stated in a New York Times interview, "... journalists start analyzing it and talking to me like I'm Kwesi Mfume. I don't need that gig. All I care about is being funny."
And a problem arises when attempting to mainstream material developed for black audiences, material which is often self deprecating and which, when removed from the privacy and security of the black enclave and put on display for the entertainment of whites, can be received and enjoyed in a racist way, or criticized as "airing dirty laundry." When discussing why he terminated his show, Dave Chappelle's summed up to Oprah as discomfort over "the white guy laughing" a little too loudly at, rather than with, humorous aspects of black culture.
Such struggles are at the heart of this study; in fact, the author says the question which inspired it arose at the late show of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" when she contemplated some frat boys in the audience and wondered " I know what I'm laughing at, but what are you laughing at?"
As the author states, "Comedy is a powerful discoursive tool" and this study provides many thought provoking insights and raises even more questions. The book is written primarily for academics, and lay readers might find the jargon challenging at times but I still recommend it to them. It prompted me to make several trips to the video store in order to view some unfamiliar material but more importantly, to view some familiar material again in a new light. Recommended for anyone interested in media, African American or American Studies.