Category Archives: Humanities

Moms Mabley – Women in Comedy

“If you don’t want your children to know the truth about life don’t send ’em to the theater to see Moms, ’cause I’m gonna tell them THE TRUTH, hear?”
— Moms Mabley

Comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley became a familiar figure to television audiences in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Born Loretta Mary Aiken in 1894, Mabley was a veteran of the segregated vaudeville “Chitlin’ Circuit” (aka Theater Owners Booking Association) who held a residency at Harlem’s Apollo Theater before breaking into the white mainstream in the early Sixties. She released more than a dozen albums, gave a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, and made numerous appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Tonight Show, Merv Griffin Show, and other popular programs of the day. Mabley developed her distinctive persona – a toothless, bedraggled woman in a faded house dress and rumpled hat – in the 1920’s and refined it throughout her career.

This sly persona was one of the factors that enabled Mabley to perform what we now call transgressive comedy – that is, comedy that addresses a range of taboo topics. In Mabley’s case these subjects included race, gender politics, and sexual orientation. It was risky enough for white comedians such as Lenny Bruce to feature such material; for a black woman and avowed lesbian to achieve mainstream success while doing so was nothing short of transformational. Like Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, and other cutting-edge African-American humorists of the time, Moms Mabley was less concerned with “translating” her material for the comfort of white audiences than with expressing essential truths. As she once told an audience, “I don’t know no jokes, but I do know some facts.”

Since her death in 1975 Moms Mabley has gradually receded in the cultural landscape, and her work is now all but forgotten by the general audience. In the episode of the “Women in Comedy” series devoted to Mabley, Bambi Haggins (Film & Media Studies, UC Irvine) makes the case for Mabley’s influence on her contemporaries and the generation of comedians that followed, while arguing that Mabley should not be forgotten though we’re three generations removed from her heyday. Haggins was a consultant for the HBO documentary “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley,” and she shares Whoopi’s view that Mabley helped to pave the way for Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Dave Chappelle, and others, including Whoopi herself. Further, Haggins maintains that many up and coming young comedians who perform socially-conscious material can trace their lineage back to Mabley, even though they may not be overtly aware of Mabley’s influence. In this role as a progenitor Mabley’s nickname, Moms, is an apt one.

Watch Moms Mabley with Bambi Haggins – Women in Comedy.

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The Bright Future for Video Gamers and Esports

Real competition.
Real professionals.
Real emotions.
Esports have come a long way from groups of friends playing video games in the living room. Digital sports now fill arenas and command huge TV ratings, with hundreds of thousands of people watching online. So, what does the future hold for the growing industry? Dave Stewart, the executive producer of Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series, predicts the audience is only going to get bigger. In a fascinating conversation, Stewart discusses what it takes to put on huge events, like the World Championships that drew thousands of fans to a stadium in China in 2017, and how he plans to keep breaking records. He looks at how producers are taking notes from traditional sports – following player storylines and focusing on the emotions of the competition.

Watch Esports and Gaming Futures

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Bearing Witness

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” – Elie Wiesel

Following Eva Clarke’s presentation, you may be forgiven for thinking the title “Against All Odds: Born In Mauthausen” is an understatement. Clarke was one of only three children (the “miracle babies”) born into captivity in the notorious KZ Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. As she relates it, the camp had run out of Zyklon shortly before her birth, or her mother surely would have died in the gas chamber. Nine days after her birth World War Two ended and the camp was liberated. Eva and her mother, Anka Bergman, were the only survivors of their extended family, other relatives having died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1948 they emigrated to the UK and settled in Cardiff, Wales. Anka lived into her nineties, old enough to know three great-grandchildren.

Since her age at the time precluded first-hand memories of the Holocaust, Clarke focuses instead on her family’s history in the years just prior to the war. She describes in detail the incremental process by which the Nazis disenfranchised, segregated, dehumanized, and ultimately exterminated Jews in Czechoslovakia, her mother’s homeland. Dozens of laws were enacted to marginalize Jews, each more draconian than the last, until finally they were categorized as “undesirables” and shipped en masse to one of over 40,000 camps and ghettoes established throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Clarke describes the rationalizations used by both their neighbors and by the affected Jews, including some of her relatives, to reassure themselves that “this isn’t so bad” and “it won’t get worse than this.” Sadly, they were wrong. As Clarke’s narrative attests, conditions in the camps – overcrowding, disease, starvation, arbitrary brutality, and profound despair – made them one of the most hostile man-made environments on the planet, and especially so for an 80-lb. pregnant woman. In this regard the “miracle” mentioned earlier is not so much that both Eva and Anka lived, but that anyone survived at all.

Eva Clarke cites four reasons for wanting to tell this story. The first is commemoration, to honor the memories of those millions who did not survive the Final Solution. The second is a desire to relate her family’s story, one that is unique but nevertheless representative of many others. The third is to enable her listeners to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. The final reason is to counteract any and all forms of racism and prejudice, a daunting task in view of the many genocides since World War Two – Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Myanmar, South Sudan, to name but a few – but one we must undertake if the Holocaust’s lessons are to have any broader meaning in the modern world.

Watch Against All Odds: Born in Mauthausen with Eva Clarke — Holocaust Living History Workshop — The Library Channel.

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Celebrating Paper Theater

Paper theater (also called toy theater) is a form of miniature theater dating back to the early Victorian era. Paper theaters were often printed on posters and sold as kits at playhouses, opera houses, and vaudeville theaters, and proved to be an effective marketing tool. The kits were assembled at home and the plays performed for family members and guests, sometimes with live musical accompaniment and sound effects.

At the height of its popularity over 300 European theaters were selling kits, but paper theater saw a drastic decline in popularity in the late 19th century as realism began to dominate the dramatic arts, and again with the arrival of television. Thankfully, paper theater survived near-extinction and has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years among puppeteers, writers, hobbyists, designers, educators, and filmmakers. Several publishers now offer replicas of famous paper theater kits as well as new models, and there are numerous international paper theater festivals throughout the Americas and Europe.

One such festival is presented yearly at the UC San Diego Library under the direction of staffer and “paper devotee” Scott Paulson. The Library’s Paper Theater Festival (billed as “The Smallest Show on Earth”) features examples of the form from Paulson’s personal collection, as well as performances of student-authored plays. The exhibition runs the gamut of paper theater history and formats, including posters, pop-ups, postcards, and souvenir books. Paulson attributes his interest in the medium to seeing Franco Zeffirelli’s autobiographical film “Tea with Mussolini,” which prominently features a paper theater performance. Others are drawn by paper theater’s tactile nature and by its value as an interactive educational toy, one that serves to stimulate a child’s creativity. A number of well-known figures were introduced to art by paper theater or have worked with the form, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Winston Churchill, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Ingmar Bergman, Terry Gilliam, Pablo Picasso, and Orson Welles, to name just a few.

Like these luminaries Paulson appreciates paper theater both as a fascinating link to theater history and as an art form in its own right, one that celebrates craftsmanship and beauty on an intimate scale. He inaugurated the annual Festival in order to share his enthusiasm and to encourage others – children especially – to step away from our technocratic age for a time and let their imaginations take the lead.

Watch Celebrating Paper Theater.

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Sally Ride Forever!

When the United States Postal Service chose UC San Diego as the site to unveil its new Sally Ride Forever postage stamp, the UCSD community could not have been more thrilled. Ride, the first American woman in space, taught physics at UCSD after finishing her stellar run at NASA and then, through Sally Ride Science, inspired a new generation to embrace STEM. As seen in the Stamp Dedication Ceremony [uctv.tv/shows/33665] and the Women in Leadership [uctv.tv/shows/33160] discussion that followed, Dr. Ride’s fellow trailblazers Billie Jean King, Ellen Ochoa, Lynn Sherr and Condoleezza Rice, proudly honored the memory of their late friend.

Watch Women in Leadership Presented by Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego.

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