In the late ‘60s and early ’70s, Moms Mabley was a staple of the TV talk show circuit, making memorable appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Already in her 70s at that time, she was usually introduced as “the funniest woman in the world,” but she is virtually unknown today. Whoopi Goldberg recently made some progress on this front, directing an HBO documentary that tells Mabley’s story and features tributes from Kathy Griffin, Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, and many other comics. However, the best surviving document of Mabley’s unique comic genius may be Amazing Grace, one of the most memorably eccentric comedies of the ’70s.

Moms plays Grace Teasdale Grimes, a Baltimore senior who discovers that her politician neighbour Welton J. Waters (Moses Gunn) is being manipulated by white business interests to run a corrupt campaign for mayor. With the help of her sidekick Forthwith Wilson (Slappy White), she riles up the local youth and convinces Waters to run a more positive campaign. When it comes time for her tearful speech at a political rally, Mabley becomes an unlikely source of revolutionary fervor, inspiring characters and audience alike.
It’s possible that Moms is an acquired taste, but those who appreciate her offbeat sensibility may find themselves quickly addicted. While her screen persona is not immediately recognizable as an act, Goldberg’s documentary makes it clear that Moms could turn this routine off anytime she wanted. But when you have a character this appealing, why bother?

Moms had her greatest success with the party albums made from her standup routines, so it’s no surprise that Amazing Grace can be enjoyed as a strictly aural experience. Memorable dialogue abounds, as she rambles about her potato salad (“You ain’t tasted nothing, son, till you taste some of this”), high-pitched voices (“I’m gonna get me a pair of pliers and fix this woman’s voice”), unwanted sexual advances (“Don’t kiss me honey, you might start something that you can’t stop”), and fools (“The only type of fool that you can fool is a fool… and people ain’t gonna be fooled no more”). But Moms is at her best when she lays down the law, threatening to stomp her enemies or write them a new name.
This Blu-ray from Olive Films isn’t quite pristine, but it offers a nice upgrade on the 2001 DVD. That said, the lack of subtitles is somewhat problematic, as verbal clarity is not one of Mabley’s strong suits. (At her most extreme, she sounds like a malfunctioning robot.) But even when Moms isn’t making sense, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off this one-of-a-kind comic creation.