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Christine Matzke

Eritrean comedian, theater artist, musician, and sports teacher, was born on 1 February 1925 during the Italian colonial period in Eritrea in Abba Shawl, the poor segregated Eritrean quarters of the capital Asmara. His father was Kahsay Woldegebr, and his mother, Ghebriela Fitwi.

At the age of ten he attended an Orthodox Church school and then received four years of Italian schooling, the maximum period of formal education for Eritreans under Italian rule. Thereafter Alemayo worked as a messenger for an Italian lawyer and, at the age of seventeen, found employment as a stagehand in Cinema Asmara, then Teatro Asmara, an imposing Italian theater and center for Italian social and cultural life. Here Alemayo was exposed to European variety shows, operas, and cinema that fascinated him greatly, particularly the genre of comedy, such as the works of Charlie Chaplin and the Neapolitan comedian Totò.

Italian colonization was characterized by strict ...

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Mimerose Beaubrun

was born in Port-au-Prince on 26 December 1918. The oldest of five children of a primary school administrator, he was educated by Jesuits at Petit Séminaire Collège Saint-Martial, which he left after his fifth year for Lycée Alexandre Pétion. He then entered École Tippenhauer, and later École Antonio Vieux. Upon receiving his secondary school diploma, he began studying law. Beaubrun had three children from his first marriage, to Luce Ameris (a talented actress and dancer), and three from his second marriage, to actress Ginette Monpremier.

Considered a role model in the sphere of Haitian arts Beaubrun was by turns a journalist teacher dramatist comedian and actor drummer dancer singer director head of an acting company and satirical author From the age of 13 in his last year of primary school at Petit Séminaire Saint Martial Beaubrun was already displaying his writing talent and publishing a small satirical pamphlet a ...

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Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

actor and comedian, was born in the town of Ouragahio, Ivory Coast. His family had high aspirations for their son, and later struggled at times to understand why he chose acting over a professional career. Bohiri used drying racks for cocoa beans as material to make makeshift stages. He watched other performers and rapidly became one himself, especially because he loved to make other people laugh. At the age of ten, Bohiri watched a play by Daniel Adjé that really caught his attention. From 1974 onward Bohiri aspired to be an actor as well At this point Bohiri had not yet even completed his primary education in Ouragahio Once he entered secondary school Bohiri began to perform in numerous theatrical competitions At a performance by comedian Hilaire Gomé Gnohité Bohiri was stunned by how funny the entertainer was With Gomé Gnohité as a model the young Bohiri ...

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Born in Harlem, New York, to Sarah and Alexander Cambridge, Godfrey Cambridge had an active career in theater, film, and stand-up comedy. He won an Obie Award for his role in the off-Broadway play The Blacks (1961 and he was nominated for a Tony Award for ...

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Eric Bennett

Born in a poor Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bill Cosby left home for a stint in the United States Navy that lasted from 1956 to 1960. He studied at Temple University in Philadelphia but dropped out to devote his time to stand-up comedy. After establishing his name on the nightclub circuit in 1963, Cosby auditioned successfully to fill a guest spot on American television entertainer Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. An instant success, Cosby became the first African American to host the program regularly. In 1965 he became the first black person to have a starring role on a predominantly white television drama, appearing alongside Robert Culp on the program I Spy. Because of Cosby's Emmy Award–winning success on I Spy, many fans paralleled his success with that of African American professional baseball player Jackie Robinson.

As a rising television celebrity Cosby ...

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Donald Roe

comedian, actor, philanthropist. When Bill Cosby, the wealthy, well-educated, mild-mannered comedian, goes on stage and begins a monologue of funny stories relating to his poverty-stricken background, the stories are most likely true. William Henry Cosby Jr. was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to William Henry Cosby Sr. and Anna Cosby in 1937. Known by its inhabitants as the “Jungle,” the Richard Allen housing projects, where Cosby grew up, were depressing, stylized, beige-colored, concrete housing, seemingly designed to prevent poor people from “contaminating” the rest of society.

When an IQ test confirmed that Cosby was highly intelligent his mother enrolled him in Central High School a school for gifted children However Cosby found it difficult to adjust there and transferred to Germantown High School There athletics provided a positive outlet for Cosby but his academic performance declined When school officials required him to repeat the tenth grade he ...

Article

Azeddine Chergui and Hassan Bourara

Moroccan comedian, singer-composer, and film director, was born David Bensoussan on 17 April 1971 in Casablanca. His father, a mime artist, instilled in him the love of the stage at a very young age. At the age of seventeen, he moved to Quebec in Canada, a way for him to achieve the American dream without the linguistic requirement. In Canada he was initiated into the theater, had a few experiences with radio, and sporadically performed in cabarets. Intent on becoming a professional, he left for Paris and enrolled in the Cours Florent drama school, from which he graduated two years later.

His first stand-up comedy show, the autobiographical Décalages ensued immediately with a first tour to Quebec Morocco and Paris This show embodies the quintessential Gad Elmaleh a Moroccan Jew proud of his origins confronting new cultures where he must constantly negotiate his own space and define his identity ...

Article

Robert Fay

Redd Foxx was born John Elroy Sanford in St. Louis, Missouri. Called Redd because of his red hair and light complexion, he added the name Foxx after baseball player Jimmy Foxx. Redd Foxx dropped out of high school to play in a washtub band with friends. In 1939 they went to New York, calling themselves the Bon-Bons, but the band dissolved during World War II (1939–1945).

Rejected by the army, Foxx began to perform standup comedy in nightclubs. Teamed with Slappy White, he worked the African American nightclub circuit from 1951–1955. After the two broke up, Foxx moved to the West Coast to work. In 1956 he recorded the first of his fifty “party albums,” comedy records featuring adult humor. The albums eventually sold over twenty million copies.

Although he had never acted, Foxx accepted a small role as a junkman in the Ossie ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

actor and comedian, was born on 18 June 1951 in Djatégnoa, Ivory Coast. Despite his fame as one of the most acclaimed Francophone African humorists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, very little is available about his early life. “Gohou” is Ivoirian French slang for a poorly educated rural person, similar to “hick” in American English. He kept his real name a private matter later in his career. Gohou himself repeatedly told interviews that his early life and background did not matter. Rather than be drawn into the ethnic and national political disputes that rent his nation in civil wars in the early twenty-first century, Gohou presented himself as the archetype of a struggling African everyman. However, he did reveal some details to journalists over the years about his background. His parents were poor farmers. In 1980 his studies were interrupted by an illness that slowly ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Whoopi Goldberg was born in New York City, where she exhibited early talent as a performer. She struggled with schoolwork and was later diagnosed as dyslexic. Dropping out of high school, Goldberg spent her teen years amid the fashions, credos, and drugs of the hippie movement.

In 1974 Goldberg moved to California and worked in a variety of jobs while she tried to launch her acting career. She helped found the San Diego Repertory Theater and began performing one-woman shows, including Moms, which showcased the life of black comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley. Goldberg's satiric wit, as well as her talent for playing numerous character types, attracted the attention of producer Mike Nichols, who helped her stage an eponymous show of skits on Broadway.

Goldberg's success in New York caught the attention of Hollywood, and in 1985Steven Spielberg cast her in his adaptation of Alice Walker ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Whoopi Goldberg claimed a unique position in American entertainment, in large part because of her remarkable talent, but in some part because of the way she exploited the ambiguous position black women occupy in the American mind.

Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn E. Johnson to Robert James Johnson, a clergyman, and Emma Johnson. Her parents separated when she was young. She had one brother, Clyde K. Johnson They grew up together in a New York City housing project Goldberg received a Catholic education at St Columbia Church Parish School and started acting when she was eight years old at the Helena Rubinstein Children s Theatre at the Hudson Guild Theater She spent her childhood and adolescence watching old movies and television comedy and then after dropping out of Washington Irving High School in the 1960s she became an active part of the counterculture While participating in civil ...

Article

Daniel Donaghy

actress, comedian, and talk show host, was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in New York City, the daughter of Emma (née Harris), a teacher and nurse, and Robert James Johnson, a clergyman. Goldberg's father left the family when his daughter was very young, and Goldberg's experiences growing up with a single mother helped shape the way she carried herself as a woman and as a performer. Also influential to her theatrical career was her time as a child as part of the Helena Rubenstein Children's Theater. Goldberg did not perform well in school, partly because she suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia, and she dropped out of high school after only a few weeks. During the next couple of years, Goldberg battled drug addiction and struggled to keep low-paying jobs as a bricklayer, mortuary makeup artist, and bank teller. She ended up marrying her drug counselor, Alvin Martin shortly ...

Article

Grande Otelo, nicknamed Bastião as a child, expressed his artistic interest at a young age. In addition to attending school, he worked in the circus in his hometown of Uberlândia, and at the age of eight he sang at the lounge of the city's Hotel do Comércio. In the circus he became part of the cast of a comedy piece called “The Clown's Wife.” During one of his circus performances in 1924 he was discovered by classical singer Abigail Gonçalves. Impressed with the young boy's talent, Gonçalves became his tutor and took him to São Paulo to introduce him to professional acting. He acted in his first professional role when he was nine years old. He began to refine his identity as an actor with the Companhia Negra de Revistas, a theater troupe composed of black actors. In 1926 he performed major roles in plays such as Café Torrado ...

Article

Larissa Oliveira Pires

was born in the Brazilian town of Uberlândia, in the state of Minas Gerais on 18 October 1915. Originally named Sebastião Bernardes de Souza Prata, his first stage name was “Pequeno Otelo” (Little Otelo) because of his young age, physical attributes, and dramatic potential. Later, when he reached adulthood, he received from his colleagues the artistic name “Grande Otelo” (Big Otelo) that he used until his death in 1993 The son of poor African Brazilians Otelo learned early on that he had to struggle for his own survival especially after the violent death of his father Francisco Bernardo da Costa His mother Maria Abadia de Souza struggled with alcoholism and little is known about the difficult family dynamics and the tragic circumstances of his father s death What is known is that as a result of the hardships of his early childhood Otelo roamed the streets of his ...

Article

Karl Rodabaugh

Americancomedian and satirist, human and civil rights activist, author, and nutritionist. Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory has been recognized as the first African American comedian to break through to white audiences on a national level. Appearing at the Playboy Club and other trendy Chicago nightclubs, Gregory gained fame as a stand-up comic whose humor offered a lighter side to the emerging civil rights movement. From the perspective of comedic history, Gregory is listed alongside other “satirical renaissance” comics of the 1950s and 1960s—Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Shelley Berman. By the early 1960s Dick Gregory and other satirical comics had been brought to the fore by the supportive hosts of the Tonight Show: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson.

Gregory was popular among urbane whites sympathetic to the early civil rights movement They readily ...

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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dick Gregory demonstrated a strong sense of social justice from an early age. While he was a student at Sumner High School, in St. Louis, he led a march protesting segregated schools. His first forays into the world of comedy came later, while serving in the United States Army. Gregory would eventually combine his comic talent and thirst for justice in a wide-ranging career as a prominent comedian and social activist.

Gregory was attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on a track scholarship when he was drafted in to the army in 1954. It was during this tour of duty in the military that he began performing comedy. He returned to school after being discharged in 1956 but felt that the university didn t want me to study they wanted me to run Gregory left school without earning a degree deciding instead ...

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Robert W. Logan

A young girl in a small town facing an uncertain future, Jackie “Moms” Mabley ran off with a minstrel show when she was thirteen and never looked back. Her six-decade career encompassed black vaudeville, the chitlin circuit, the Harlem Renaissance, off-Broadway revues, Broadway musicals, records, television, nightclubs and movies. She was a path-breaking comedienne and social satirist who nurtured the careers of younger performers and anticipated the day when no subject matter would be considered out of bounds for standup comedy.

Born Loretta Mary Aiken in 1897 in Brevard, North Carolina, Mabley was one of twelve children of Jim Aiken a businessman and grocer and a mother whose name is not known Her ancestry was mixed African American Cherokee and Irish She was especially close to her grandmother some sources say her great grandmother a former slave who lived to be 104 years old She credited her grandmother ...

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Roanne Edwards

Jackie “Moms” Mabley rose to national recognition as a stand-up comedian in the early 1960s. A pioneer of social satire, she has strongly influenced such contemporary black comedians as Richard Pryor and Whoopi Goldberg. Author Elsie A. Williams said that Mabley “found a unique way to connect herself to her audience … often breaking propriety and breaching established lines of decorum, across gender, race, and class.” Mabley was also known for her compassion and kindness to others—qualities that earned her the endearing sobriquet “Moms”—and focused her humor on the pain and dissonance of black life.

Born Loretta Mary Aiken, Mabley grew up in a large family in Brevard, North Carolina. Her father ran several businesses, while her mother presided over a large household that included boarders. When Loretta was eleven her father, also a volunteer firefighter, died when his fire truck overturned and exploded.

Loretta underwent additional trauma ...

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Donald Roe

comedienne and entertainer. In 1986Alice Childress wrote the play Moms: A Praise Play for a Black Comedienne in honor of Jackie “Moms” Mabley, a remarkably inventive and creative comedienne who survived numbing personal tragedies, racism, and sexism to become the first lady of African American humor. Born in Brevard, North Carolina, around 1894, Loretta Mary Aiken was one of twelve children whose parents both died in accidents when she was a child. To compound her misery, Loretta's childhood was cruelly taken away when on two separate occasions older men raped her. Each brutal sexual violation resulted in a pregnancy that left her with two young children to support and few resources with which to do so. In 1908 the disheartened and frightened young teenager sought refuge in Cleveland Ohio leaving her children in the care of others She would not see them again until they were ...