Black Comedians on Black Comedy: How African-Americans Taught Us to Laugh
With a little help from his friends, writer and stand-up comedian Littleton's overview of the history of African-American comedy in America is smart, quick and full of funny one-offs, falling just short of its potential. Littleton begins at the beginning, presenting a well-researched account of early performances by slaves before moving on to highlight key performers from minstrel shows to the current day. Interspersed throughout the text are comments from black comedians (Eddie Griffith, J.B. Smoove and Thea Vidale among many, many more) on the matters at hand, or on a particular question like, ""Which cartoon animals were supposed to be black?"" and ""What movie part would you not play?"" Littleton has done a good job compiling biographical information about the well-known (from Sam Lucas and Stepin Fetchit to Martin Lawrence and Bill Cosby) and the more obscure, such as Tim and Tom, who in 1969 became the first interracial comedic duo. Unfortunately, Littleton fails to include any excerpts or detailed examples of any comedians' acts, a frustrating omission for readers who'd like a concrete example to back up Littleton's claim that, for example, Charlie Barnett ""could have been the best stand-up of his generation."" As a casual look at black comedy's past and an informal survey of black comedians today, however, the book succeeds admirably.