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[Detail] Experience and personal narrative of Uncle Tom Jones...1858

Minstrel Humor

The “Black American Joker” offers a collection of comic minstrel dialogues and jokes for the minstrel stage. This 1897 pamphlet features sketches such as “That ‘Tale’ Did Not Wag,” a dialogue with a man who just returned from the American West that concludes with the following exchange:

Inter. Oh, Steve, while there did you meet any Indians?

Bones. No Injuns there--all gone to de happy hunting-ground!

Inter. Oh, why do they call their heaven that?

Bones. 'Case there are no Injun agents there an' no white sojers to stop them hunting one anoder!

page 12

  • How does this exchange portray Native Americans and the white Americans who were charged with providing food and "civilizing" them?
  • What does the joke imply about the relationship between the two groups?
  • How do these sketches reflect historic events of the era?

In addition to featuring sketches, the “Black American Joker” also features advice for selecting pieces for the minstrel stage. The “Negro Plays” section offers suggestions on performance styles:

[I]n all of the following described plays, the female characters may be assumed by males. In such cases let me warn the amateur against indulging in any action displaying the least trace of vulgarity.

In playing a female role, even in a negro farce, it is better to under-act than over-act. Of course the dress may be somewhat outré and the gestures exaggerated, but coarseness must be strictly forbidden . . .

In regular minstrel companies all the characters are played with black faces. I advise amateurs to follow this rule, as a white-face character in a negro minstrel entertainment is decidedly out of place.

page 72

  • What does an actor in a woman’s costume convey to an audience?
  • Why do you think that it was recommended that men portraying women not project vulgarity?
  • What does an actor in blackface makeup convey to an audience? What is the difference in the meaning of blackface makeup depending upon whether a white or an African-American actor uses it?
  • Why would a white character be “decidedly out of place” on a minstrel stage?
  • Who do you think is the intended audience for these plays? What were the intended goals?