On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying — The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, From Slavery to Richard Pryor In the best of possible worlds, every ethnic group would be lucky enough to have someone write so lively and comprehensive a history of its…
Book Review

On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying — The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, From Slavery to Richard Pryor

In the best of possible worlds, every ethnic group would be lucky enough to have someone write so lively and comprehensive a history of its humor as Watkins has. A writer who has appeared in The New York Times and in magazines (including Entertainment Weekly) and taught at Rutgers, Watkins understands that comedy is a social art, and he demonstrates how American society shaped (and was shaped by) black artists and performers. He covers in depth African sources, slavery humor, minstrel shows, vaudeville, literature, film, radio, TV, and stand-ups. There's hardly a page of On the Real Side without a hilarious quote (Dick Gregory to a white audience: ''Wouldn't it be a hell of a thing if all this was burnt cork and you people were being tolerant for nothing?'') or some amazing fact (movie houses stopped the projectors every evening at seven to pipe in radio's Amos 'n' Andy). No matter the subject, every history should be this authoritatively analytical, uncluttered by superficial trivia and steeped in the spirit of its topic. A+

Originally posted Mar 11, 1994 Published in issue #213 Mar 11, 1994 Order article reprints