A welcome departure from the grim accounts in the Arsenault volume comes via Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. Novelist Paul Beatty, whose own works The White Boy Shuffle and Tuff are satiric triumphs, personally selected this compendium of routines, speeches, folktales, poetry, snippets from theater and film, even some rap lyrics. Some are delivered in pristine English, others in wildly profane fashion, but together they illuminate the wealth of the black comedic tradition. Though few readers would associate Dr. W.E.
B. Dubois or Sojourner Truth with hilarity, their contributions are just as funny as those of Hattie Gossett or Wanda Coleman. Not quite a history of black comedy, Hokum serves more as a reference guide through various eras, showing how humor and comedy have changed over the years, and how laughter and wit have sometimes been as effective in the fight against racism as marches and votes.
Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville City Paper and other publications.