Whoopi Goldberg, HBO's Sheila Nevins (center) and Sara Bernstein and executive producer Tom Leonardis. Photo: Starpix/Marion Curtis
Moms Mabley went home last night. The first female comedian ever to perform at the famed Apollo Theater back in 1939 made people laugh and cry all over again on 125th St when Whoopi Goldberg's doc about the 'original queen of comedy' screened for a Harlem crowd. The film, which includes a number of tributes from some of the bigget names in comedy both past and present including Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Jerry Stiller as well as Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, is also Goldberg's directorial debut.
Introducing the movie on stage, Goldberg told the audience to put down their phones and stop texting so as not to miss the incredible story of the influential woman they were about to meet on the big screen.
Hailed as the funniest woman in the world, Moms Mabley is known for the toothless but outspoken aging character that she honed over decades. A fixture on TV variety shows including Ed Sullivan and the Smothers Brothers, Moms Mabley's elderly woman persona was able to comment candidly on race, sexuality and contemporary American life. But, her story dates back to her time on the black vaudeville circuit with other African American entertainers of the day.
"I wanted her to come home," Whoopi Goldberg said last night, determined to share the story of a figure that has almost been lost to history. "This is one great story but there are other magical stories yet to be told," she added.
After the movie, HBO hosted a party around the corner at Sylvia's famous soul food spot and attendees buzzed about being introduced to a ground-breaking comedian who clearly paved the way for many of today's funny folks.
"If Moms had to be remembered," offered Sheila Nevins, the head of HBO's documentary division last night, "There just ain't a better person than Whoopi Goldberg to remember her."
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley debuts Monday, November 18 9pm ET/PT exclusively on HBO.