Black Laughter Matters: An interview with Comedy Historian Bambi Haggins

Labeling herself as “comedy nerd since birth,” Dr. Bambi Haggins, the author of Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America, joined Raina and I for episode eight of Up in Smoke.

Bambi has worked as a historical consultant for Showtime’s Why We Laugh: Funny Women and as a writer for HBO’s Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley. She also is a PhD-vetted film and media studies professor, who teaches “Comedy as a Social Discourse,” in which students explore the ways that comedy has both directed and dissected history.

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Whoopi Goldberg + Bambi (Nbd).

“One of the things as a film and media studies teacher, sort of my raison d’etre, is to turn out conscious media makers,” Bambi told us during the show.

The class ends with the all-student comedy show, “Standing Up for Discourse,” giving many students the option to try stand-up comedy for the first time. The class comedy show also gave Bambi the opportunity to put her comedy historian skills into action, pushing her to also try standup for the first time, she said.

“I did standup for the first time at the same time that some of my students were doing it,” Bambi said.

Bambi is now in the process of writing her latest book, Black Laughter Matters, which focuses on comedy and blackness in the age of Obama and beyond. While her prior book, Laughing Mad, focused on comedy from the Civil Rights era to 2007, Black Laughter Matters is aimed to dissect what comedy has become in the last decade.

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Bambi and her dog Willow.

The result of November’s election have forced Bambi to pivot her prior narrative of Black Laughter Matters, which she spoke more about during the show.

Bambi had originally focused the book on the progressive surge for people of color as an escalating force in the last decade, but is now going back to also record the fallout to some of that power in the last few years, she said.

“When you look at the sort of ‘white-lash’ that took place, I feel like I have to go back and look for the ways in which we suspected this could happen,” Bambi said.

Nonetheless, Bambi has continued to use her position in academia and her comedy expertise to raise questions for both her students and readers about if a comedian’s mic is “a tool or a weapon.”

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She also spoke about her admiration for female queer comics of color and the current over-saturation of ‘club’ comics.

——–which you can listen to here.

Bambi ended her talk with some numbered bullet points for anyone itching to try standup but still too scared to do it, as she once faced those same obstacles:

  1. Watch as much comedy as you can.
  2. Don’t be afraid to think about what you want your comedy to convey.
  3. Do it. Do open mics, do storytelling nights, plays— any space that there’s a microphone and you can tell jokes, do it.
  4. Remember that it’s gotta come from who you are – speak your truth.

You can follow Bambi and find out updates about the release of Black Laughter Matters via Facebook.

ALSO —Raina recently released her latest documentary, Unsinkable, which focuses on four amateur comedians doing shows across the states. Check it out!

ALSO ALSO — I am currently drinking overpriced coffee in the city of dirty glitter and Skid Row — so message me if you are in town!!

–Jamee

 

 

 

Black Laughter Matters: An interview with Comedy Historian Bambi Haggins

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