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By Camille Jackson
Next Thursday, Sept. 19, comedienne, actress and self-dubbed “upper ghetto godmother,” Marsha Warfield, perhaps best known for her wise-cracking bailiff ‘80s-sitcom character, Roz, on NBC’s “Night Court,” will visit Duke University.
Warfield is a special guest for the Duke University course “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy” course, taught by Professor Mark Anthony Neal, the James B. Duke Professor of African & African American Studies. The course features guest appearances by professional comedians, critics and screenings of rare and/or classic films.
The 6:15 p.m.-7:30 p.m. class is free and open to the public on Thursdays where it is held at the NorthStar Church of the Arts, a converted church founded by Nnenna and Phil Freelon that serves as “a sacred space for healing, creative expression and spiritual connectivity.”
Registration is not necessary but RSVPs are requested: tinyurl.com/DukeMarshaWarfield.
Warfield lives and works in Las Vegas where she performs her show, The Marsha Warfield Experience, at L.A. Comedy Club at the Stratosphere Casino & Hotel. She describes herself as “a loving godmother, an opinionated feminist, an out and proud Black lesbian and a talented actress,” she brings these attributes to her one-woman show. After an overlong period of retirement, Warfield now tackles issues including politics, blackness, coming out as a gay woman and her affair with pizza.
Warfield is best known for “Night Court,” but she also starred in “Empty Nest” as Dr. Maxine Douglas, and as a performer on “The Richard Pryor Show.” She has appeared on shows such as “Soul Train,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “The Tonight Show,” and her own talk show, “The Marsha Warfield Show.”
Other guests are:
Bassey Ikpi is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying.” An active voice in pop culture commentary and the mental health community, Ikpi’s essays have been published by The Root, Ebony, Huffington Post and Essence. She was also the resident pop culture critic for Philly’s WURD FM radio station and is currently a contributing editor for Catapult. A poet, she has been featured on HBO’s ‘Def Poetry Jam.’ Ikpi is the founder of The Siwe Project, a mental health organization, and the creator of #NoShameDay, an initiative that attempts to reduce stigma and create space for neurodivergent people to be heard and seen through their own personal stories.
These days comedienne and actress Kim Coles, best known as “Synclaire” on the FOX comedy series “Living Single, is using comedy to inspire and empower others through a series of designed programs. “Pulling from her experiences, research and years in the entertainment business,” Coles hosts workshops and group sessions related to topics such as using your gifts, “walking in purpose,” and “sharing the power of your story.” She has made appearances on Oprah, The Dr. Oz Show, and at the annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.
Mel Watkins is an author and former editor, writer, and critic for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Since 2007, he has been the NEH Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University where he has taught courses on literature and African American studies. His books include On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy, Dancing With Strangers, and Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry. His articles and reviews have appeared in numerous national magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, and he has frequently appeared as a commentator on televised documentaries about American culture and humor.
ABOUT THE COURSE
AAAS 331: Black Popular Culture
Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy
At the peak of his fame in the 1960s, Dick Gregory may have been the most influential comedian in America, offering truths about race, the Black community and politics in an era highlighted by the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy” will examine the roots of the Black comedic tradition that informed Gregory’s art and activism, with a particular focus, in the spirit of Mr. Gregory, on the ways in which Black comedy has been used in the quest for civil and human rights.
The course will also highlight the role of Black literary satire, including the work of George Schuyler and Ollie Harrington, as well as contemporary examples such as novelists Danzy Senna, Kiese Laymon, Paul Beatty, and Fran Ross, cartoonist Aaron McGruder, comedians Issa Rae, Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, Chris Rock and, even critical race theorist and legal scholar Derrick Bell.
The course is taught with the support of Dr. Christian C. Gregory, executor of the Estate
of Dick Gregory and the Estate of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian.
Classic Black Comedy Films
August 29 Ethnic Notions (dir. Marlon Riggs, 1987)
September 5 Putney Swope (dir. Robert Downey, Sr., 1969)
September 12 Bamboozled (dir. Spike Lee, 2001)
September 26 Watermelon Man (dir. Melvin Van Peebles, 1970)
October 3 Sweet Love, Bitter (dir. Herbert Danska, 1967)
November 7 Blue Collar (dir. Paul Schrader, 1978)
November 14 Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (dir. Goldberg, 2013)
December 5 Hollywood Shuffle (dir. Robert Townsend, 1987)