Cracking Up archives and analyzes Black feminist stand-up comedy in the United States over the past sixty years. Looking closely at the work of Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Mo’Nique, Wanda Sykes, Sasheer Zamata, Sam Jay, Phoebe Robinson, Jessica Williams, Amanda Seales, and Michelle Buteau, this book shows how Black feminist comedy and the laughter it ignites are vital components of feminist, queer, and anti-racist protest.
Katelyn Hale Wood interprets these artists not as tokens in a white, male-dominated field, but as part of a continuous history of Black feminist performance and presence. Broadly, Cracking Up frames stand-up comedy as an important platform from which to examine citizenship in the United States, articulate Black feminist political thought, and subvert structures of power. Wood also champions comedic performance and theatre history as imperative contexts for advancing historical studies of race, gender, and sexuality. From the comedy routines popular on Black vaudeville circuits to stand-up on contemporary social media platforms, Cracking Up excavates an overlooked history of Black women who have made the art of joke-telling a key part of radical performance and political engagement.
“Wood expertly examines Black feminist comics who blend humor with resistance and rebellion in this important work. It deserves a place in all performing arts and women’s history sections.”—Library Journal starred review
“Wood assembles a coalition of highly skilled, politically charged Black feminist comedians who have ruptured and subverted their lived experiences to perform what they see as truth. . . . She offers a political strategy of laughter to break down and open up other voices with unruly delight. Through her case studies, e.g., the hilarious Wanda Sykes and the strutting Mo'Nique, she conflates feminist, Black, and queer persona and enunciates a marginalized identity that aims to challenge, “critique, and dismantle white heteropatriarchy.” What brightens this ideologically charged work is the inclusion of performance routines from these grand comics that reveal the hearts, minds, pain, and hilarity of their subjects.—Choice
“Cracking Up is an inviting study. Wood has delivered a book that cracks up theatre and performance history, thus prompting readers to reevaluate the possibilities of comedy routines steeped in social justice. The book further propels us to center Black women as pioneers and interventionists within the popular entertainment industry.”—Theatre Topics
“Cracking Up is a timely and beautifully written book that boldly centers Black queer feminist subjectivity within the stand-up comedy tradition. By situating Black/queer feminist comedians as intellectuals, activists, and Black cultural producers in their own right, Katelyn Hale Wood captures a long-overdue chapter in Black women’s history and culture.”—La Donna L. Forsgren, author, Sistuhs in the Struggle: An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theatre and Performance
2022 ATHE Outstanding Book Award Finalist