This clip of comedian Jean Carroll performing on television sometime in the 1950s gives a glimpse of one of the first nationally famous female stand-up comedians in action.
While Moms Mabley—whose life is the subject of a documentary directed by Whoopi Goldberg that will air on HBO later this year—was truly the first female stand-up, Carroll began performing solo in the early 1940s, before better-known stars such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers.
Throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s Carroll toured and appeared on television, both on The Ed Sullivan Show and on her own sitcom. This clip was uploaded to YouTube by a fan who got the video from a collector without any identifying information attached. It seems likely, given her recurring appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, that the footage comes from that source.
At a time when many moms on television were paragons of domesticity, Carroll’s act lampooned that image. In this clip, she’s dressed in a party dress, a choker, and heels. (She often wore fancy clothes to perform.) Working contrary to her prim-and-proper appearance, many of her jokes skewered suburban life, child-rearing, and marriage.
Here’s Carroll on her new life in the suburbs:
In the country everything is done in groups. Two women meet up on the street, “Oh Agnes, I’m going to have a baby!” “Oh, so am I!” “Isn’t that wonderful! Who else can we get?”
Carroll’s material, which she wrote herself, still resonates after all these years. But the most charming aspect of this clip is Carroll’s small reactions to the big laughs she gets after delivering each punchline—a comical roll of the eyes, a little giggle, but nothing to interrupt the rapid flow of her delivery.
I originally saw this clip on stand-up Dave Anthony’s Tumblr.