Rolling: Blackness and Mediated Comedy

Indiana Univ. Apr. 2024. 218p. ed. by Alfred L. Martin Jr. ISBN 9780253068880. pap. $30. SOC SCI
This essay collection is an informative examination of the evolution of comedy and the role of Black performers. Editor Martin (media studies, Univ. of Miami; The Generic Closet: Black Gayness and the Black-Cast Sitcom) notes that the convergence of comedy and Blackness has existed since before the years of enslavement. The essays indicate that comedy has evolved into a defense mechanism against racism and sexism. Contributors show the ways that Black comedians mirror American society, particularly regarding how white people respond to and act around Black people. Each essay is designed as an academic exploration, with authors focusing on icons like Eddie Murphy, Flip Wilson, and Dick Gregory. Among the strongest essays is Martin and Ken Feil’s “Look at Me,” which studies Robert Townsend’s campy 1999 pseudo-documentary Jackie’s Back!, starring Jenifer Lewis. Also excellent are Joshua Truelove’s essay “Blue Is the New Green,” which looks at the success of comedian Martin Lawrence in the ’90s, and Kelly Cole’s “Can You Say P-Failure?” Both serve as cautionary tales about white studio executives’ need to serve white audiences and their ignorance of Black culture and history.
VERDICT An enlightening collection of essays that will appeal to readers interested in the history of Black comedy.
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