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Interview with Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

HBO

Moms Mabley isnt a widely remembered comedian. Do you think she was forgotten? Was that part of your reason for making this documentary?

Whoopi Goldberg

The real impetus came from the fact that I had planned to do Moms on Broadway as a one-woman show. I kept putting it off and putting it off and the next thing I knew, 25 years had gone by. So when I started to talk to people about her, theyd say, I dont really know who she is. I thought, Ill make a documentary cause thatll be a great way to get the information out there. Little did I know what goes into making a documentary.

I tried to find all kinds of great stuff; Id always heard that she was gay, but there were lots of things that I couldnt prove. But then along comes this card that says, Seasons Greetings from Mr. Mom, with her dressed as a man. Then I discovered other people saying, Yeah, she was the first woman I ever saw dressed as a man. To hear, On stage she was always after [fellow comedian] Cab Calloway, but in real life, she always had women on her arm, was kind of great. Nobody talked about it -- its just what it was.

HBO

The documentary explains that we dont even know for sure what year Moms was born. Why doesnt basic information about her exist?

Whoopi Goldberg

This is the case with so many artists of color -- nobody was chronicling them, nobody cared. The cameras werent really pointing in their direction. People didnt really get to her until the 60s, when suddenly youd see Moms on The Merv Griffin Show, or The Mike Douglas Show, or any of the TV shows. People fell madly in love with her because shes funny! She had great material.

HBO

Moms is often described as an X-rated comedian, but the material presented in the documentary doesnt seem too risqué by todays standards. Should she be slugged as X-rated?

Whoopi Goldberg

She's lumped in with the comics known as blue. Moms was talking about things, but she wasnt talking about them blatantly. She was into the double entendre. Its only recently that youve been able to be loose, especially on network television.

HBO

So for her time, she was considered risqué?

Whoopi Goldberg

Yes, yes. Theres a great joke she tells as two old ladies walking down the street. One turns to the other and says, I smell hair burning. The other one says, Maybe were walking too fast. Its only in the last five years that they would let you tell that joke on a network. Its a great joke! But that was considered dirty.

The material is funny, and her timing is flawless. She knows how to tell a joke. Anybody who knows how to tell a good joke will always have a job -- no matter how old they are.

HBO

In the documentary, you interviewed comedians such as Kathy Griffin, Joan Rivers, Arsenio Hall, and Eddie Murphy about their love for Moms, and they quote jokes that she had told. Were they really that familiar with her work?

Whoopi Goldberg

Well, its a specific thing because I asked a lot of folks, Do you remember Moms? Several people would say, No, no, no, no. And then youd get someone like Kathy Griffin, and shed say, I love Moms! I remember she did this and this and this and this. It was fascinating to hear what Moms had to offer in terms of her connection to people and why she worked for Kathy, this white girl growing up in Chicago; why she worked for Arsenio Hall. These were people who understood the jokes and got them, and remembered even crazier jokes from Moms.

HBO

You seemed very familiar with Moms before this project, but what surprised you most during your research?

Whoopi Goldberg

Just the fact that she was a ground-breaking comic particularly when it comes to civil rights -- especially when you really look at the material and what she was doing. Unless you have the context, you dont know why her joke where she called Miami They-ami is funny. But its really funny when you think about it in the context of the time. You go, Oh! OK, I get it. I get it. She had a joke about being asked why she went on the red light. Because I saw the white folks going on the green, I thought the red was for us. It was all about the politics of being an American at that time. She was extraordinary.

HBO

Would someone like Moms Mabley have a place in todays comedy environment?

Whoopi Goldberg

Oh yeah, absolutely. The material is funny, and her timing is flawless. She knows how to tell a joke. Anybody who knows how to tell a good joke will always have a job -- no matter how old they are.

HBO

Do you think Moms realized the impact she had on comedy, particularly for women and blacks?

Whoopi Goldberg

No, I dont think it was part of her thought process. I think all she knew was that she was trying to make the world a better place.

HBO

Are there a lot of other unsung comedians like Moms?

Whoopi Goldberg

There are ton of them! There are dancers and writers and directors and actors, all who came up during this period, who were trying to find a better way to do things. When you look at comedians like Slappy White or Red Foxx -- they were X-rated, but the jokes they were doing had to do with what was happening at the time. So there are a lot of folks out there whose stories should be told.

HBO

Its easy to fall in love with Moms Mabley via this documentary. Was building love for her a goal of making this film?

Whoopi Goldberg

Yes. Viewers can decide if they want to buy her albums now or watch her on YouTube, if you can find her. I wanted to say, Hey! This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

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