Early Black Comedians
Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On looks at African American comedy innovators.
"Momma always told me the best medicine to deal with the illness of a society was through laughter," wrote legendary comedian Dick Gregory in his introduction to the 2006 book Black Comedians on Black Comedy. Given the litany of illnesses that have afflicted African Americans since their arrival in the United States, it's thus unsurprising that many of the country's most successful funnymen are black. Indeed, African Americans have been blunting the pain for centuries, along the way helping transform American comedy from thoughtless entertainment to poignant, razor-sharp commentary. Long before Dave Chappelle there was Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham, a former minstrel who began his career on the Chitlin' Circuit but was selling out records (and appearances at the Apollo) by the time he died. To learn more about African American comedy pioneers, read on.
View photo essay
The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about African American contributions to popular dance. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)