Jackie “Moms” Mabley: The Original Badass Comedian

Jackie “Moms” Mabley

Jackie "Moms" Mabley
Writer: Jackie Zimmermann
Illustration: Kirby Salvador

1894–1975

A floppy hat and housedress became tools for subversion in the hands of comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley. Born in the late 1800s, Mabley gained national fame by adopting a persona as a bawdy, mischievous grandmother. This disarming role allowed Mabley to make sharp critiques of racism while earning invitations to the White House.

Mabley was reportedly raped twice as a child and had lost both her parents by the time she was 13. She channeled these traumatic experiences into her courageous humor. “My granny was a slave,” she told an interviewer. “She told me, ‘Child, you look into that fireplace and see the future in those flames, cause you’re gonna see the world like your granny never did.’”

This feature originally appeared in the Anxiety issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our 5 Women section.

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