Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor will be honored the same night the legendary theater kicks off its new comedy club.
In 1969, trailblazing comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley stood onstage in her trademark floppy hat and flowered housedress and told the audience her slogan for the week.
“Quit it if you can’t get it,” she told the crowd to raucous laughter. “If you can do something with it, get it!”
The African-American vaudeville-circuit fixture turned Broadway stage and film star was the first female comedian featured at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem in the late 1930s. Mabley, born Loretta Mary Aiken, appeared on its stage more times than any other performer. Now she, along with fellow comedians Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, is being inducted into the theater’s Walk of Fame Thursday at 5 p.m. in a special ceremony. After that, the Apollo will kick off its new Comedy Club at 9 p.m. on its Soundstage, featuring up-and-coming comedic talent.
“It’s about time someone other than a musical act has been inducted,” says Bob Sumner, Apollo Comedy Club curator and former producer of Def Comedy Jam. “It’s time for them and it’s beautiful because, when you think of comedy, that’s who you think of in so many different ways.”
Sumner sees this as the Apollo’s return to its comedic roots. He remembers going to Amateur Night at the Apollo with his parents as a child in the 1970s, or to the Sunday matinee show. He says that there would be a movie, then you could look through the curtain and see Reuben Phillips and his band prepping for the show.
“And there was always that comedian that would open up the show,” Sumner says, adding that Mabley was the first comedian he ever saw. He also remembers hearing stories about the so-called party records that Redd Foxx had in the 1950s. “He could bring those to a live stage, no different than a music act would, and he would headline at the Apollo.”
By Allison Keyes | October 1, 2015