Black Women's Humor and Humanity

By J Finley


234 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-8002-6
    Published: August 2024
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-8001-9
    Published: August 2024

MF! Momentary Futures in Black Studies

Paperback Available August 2024, but pre-order your copy today!

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Black women comedians are more visible than ever, performing around the world in physical venues like comedy clubs and festivals, along with appearing in films, streaming specials, and online videos. Across these mediums, humor—and particularly sass—functions as a tool for Black women to articulate and redress cultural, social, and political marginalization.

J Finley theorizes sass as a new critical lens to better understand the power of Black women’s humor and humanity and explores how sass functions as a powerful resource in Black women’s expressive repertoire. Challenging mainstream assumptions about “sassiness” as an identity or personality trait to which Black women humorists may be reduced, Finley deploys sass to create a new genre of discourse for understanding the ways in which Black women use language, style, gesture, and intent to produce meaning—often humorous—in speaking back to authority. Grounded in an ethnographic approach to Black women’s experiences, Finley conducted extensive interviews as well as participant-observation as a critic, audience member, and comic herself to collect and honor the stories that Black women comics tell about themselves. Interdisciplinary and conceptually rigorous, Finley’s work shows us how we can and should read Black women’s expressions of sass in humor as attempts at social transformation that involve a fundamental critique of power and authority, and a gesture at collective liberation.

About the Author

J Finley is associate professor of Africana studies at Pomona College.
For more information about J Finley, visit the Author Page.


"Nuanced and creative . . . . an enlightening and rigorous examination of sass as a means of asserting one’s power in an oppressive world. It’s an insightful study of the politics of humor."—Publishers Weekly

“A good read in every sense of the word. Finley gives us the depth and stakes of Black women’s humor and the frameworks for understanding how humor manages the parameters of stereotype and misogynoir.”—Bettina Judd, author of Feelin: Creative Practice, Pleasure, and Black Feminist Thought

"An astounding book. Finley provides readers with a wealth of information—personal accounts, criticism, biography, and textual analysis—that gives texture to our understanding of these comedians, their influences, and how they influence others."—Danielle Fuentes Morgan, author of Laughing to Keep from Dying: African American Satire in the Twenty-First Century