Laughing To Keep from Dying: African American Satire in the Twenty-First Century

Univ. of Illinois. (New Black Studies). Nov. 2020. 208p. ISBN 9780252043390. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252085307. $24.95. performing arts
Many comics hone their craft primarily to amuse, but with this thoughtful, academic work, Morgan (English, Santa Clara Univ.) explores the idea of Black satire with an added function: to more or less safely rock the boat, expressing ideas that might otherwise be tuned out or provoke uncomfortable or even dangerous backlash. In this work, which joins about 30 other volumes in the “New Black Studies” series, Morgan rejects the idea of a postracist society and instead looks at how satire illustrates the spectrum of Black experience, illuminates Black interior thought and feelings, and delivers messages to audiences who may be closed to hearing them without laughter to create a space for discussion. Opening with a chapter on “Slavery and the Satiric Impulse,” the book moves chronologically, including discussions of Black women presented as Mammy and Jezebel, comedians such as Dave Chappelle and Issa Rae, and the success of Jordan Peele with Get Out. Richard Pryor is mentioned; Bill Cosby is not. Readers may particularly appreciate the analysis of “satiric misfires” such as Ted Danson’s blackface performance at the roast of his then-partner Whoopi Goldberg, along with stand-up riffs and Saturday Night Live sketches gone wrong.
VERDICT This scholarly analysis may find its audience in academic performing arts collections.
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