There Is Nothing “Curious” Or “Declining” About Paul Mooney
There is actually nothing curious about Paul Mooney.
If you haven’t read it yet, definitely check out this article in Vulture by David Peisner entitled The Curious Decline of Paul Mooney.
As the title suggest, it is an article about how the great Negrodamus is not the same man he used to be. It is also a story about how the writer failed to get an interview with Mooney himself and instead wrote a cover on him anyway, but that’s besides the point…
Anyway, Peisner writes about Mooney:
“Today, that dancer’s elegance is almost entirely gone, replaced by a slumped and diminished figure with a rambling, uncertain delivery. The 74-year-old is still touring, though whether he should be is an open question. It’s a troubling state in which to witness one of the most important and underappreciated comics of the past half-century. And that’s exactly what Paul Mooney is. He was Richard Pryor’s writing partner and best friend. He’s worked with Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Dave Chappelle. A comedian’s comedian, he was known to command the stage at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood for hours, riffing acidly on show business, politics, and, especially, the ugly state of America’s race relations. Slavery, lynchings, riots — these weren’t isolated sins, they were the country’s foundation, and somehow Mooney made it funny. Filmmaker Robert Townsend, who cast Mooney in his satirical 1987 film, Hollywood Shuffle, says, “Paul didn’t care to be loved. He wanted to speak his mind. He taught a generation of comedians to be fearless.”
Now, though, Mooney’s legacy is in danger of being sullied by an increasingly disheartening series of appearances.”
Peisner then goes on to give examples of this alleged decline including a “rambling” appearance on the rehashed but now-defunct the “Arsenio Hall Show” and his rumored failing health (i.e. cancer). He also suggests that a recognizable part of Mooney’s act may have been nothing more than cover to hide his failing memory.
More specifically, Peisner writes:
“For most of the past decade, Mooney has worked as a stand-up, and he’s long incorporated forgetfulness into his routine. “He would joke about the queen of England,” says Brennan, “and start by going, ‘What’s her name? That woman in charge of England? That white woman?’ ” For a while, that technique may have also masked any mental decline, but by 2012, fans were commenting online that Mooney often lost his train of thought. One fan posted: “His people should not let him go out like this.”
And seemingly backing up Peisner claims are fellow comedian Charlie Murphy who told him that Mooney literally “almost died at my show.” Also Mooney’s own daughter Spring who assured Peisner that her father was both physically and mentally fine, but also added: “If he has a disease, it’s the first stages of dementia.”
As it reads, the career of a highly respected and regarded comedian appears to be ending on a less than humorous note. And some think it would be best if Mooney retires. Because right now, he is just embarrassing himself and ruining his legacy. That’s how this piece reads to me anyway…
I won’t get too far into pointing out all of the obvious ageism in all of that, but I will remind folks that Mooney is 74-years-old. And in spite of what the title of the article suggests, there is nothing “curious” about an old man doing old man things including rambling on too long and simply not giving a damn.
That’s not curious, that’s just nature and biology. That’s just being an old Black man in America. And even if Mooney does spend most of routine rambling on endlessly, who exactly is he hurting? And why should he stop? I mean obviously he loves it – or he needs the money. Either way, if there are people that are willing to support him, I say let him perform.
And perhaps it ain’t even Mooney’s age that is the problem here; perhaps its Peisner’s inability to get the joke?
I can certainly see the latter being a possibility.
As earlier in the article, Peisner defines Mooney’s brand of comedy as “acidity.” He also made particular note of Mooney’s ability to make topics like slavery, lynching and riot funny.
But the thing is, not only can I not remember a single one of Mooney’s “slavery or lynching” jokes, but I think it is safe to say here that Mooney’s “Black jokes” are not what he is most know for. Instead, what many might know and appreciate about Mooney is his no-hold barred critique of Whiteness and White supremacy.
In fact, even Peisner’s own attempts to smear Mooney as senile kind of illustrates that. For instance, this passage of the article, which describes the two times he went to see Mooney perform in Atlanta (in hopes of getting an interview for the piece he was writing):
“The second night also gets awkward. Mooney circles jokes without ever landing on one. He mentions that he likes the old Hitchcock movie The Birds and asks the audience, “What are those ni**er birds called?” People call out “crows” and “orioles” before Mooney goes with “magpies.” What starts as another riff about Donald Trump veers seemingly unintentionally into one about Howard Stern. A woman near the stage offers Mooney some fries. He starts eating. Initially, it’s kind of funny — a roomful of people watching a man snack. “I am hungry,” he says, adding, “These are good fries.” Then, as it goes on for 15, 20 minutes, it stops being funny and starts feeling deeply uncomfortable. He finishes the fries, and the show stops when a handler tells Mooney time’s up.”
I don’t know about anyone else but that entire passage really cracked me up. And if anything, it proves that there is nothing either curious or declining in Mooney.
Instead, Mooney is just an old magpie.
For those who don’t know: a magpie is a bird of the Corvidae family who, and according to Wikipedia, “is considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world, and the only non-mammal species able to recognize itself in a mirror test.”
And in case you were wondering about the mirror test: it was developed by Gordon Gallup Jr. as a way to measure self-awareness by seeing if an animal can recognize itself in a mirror. According to Wiki, the only animals on the planet to have successfully passed the test were humans, great apes, a single Asiatic elephant, dolphins and orcas, rhesus macaques, some ants and of course, the Eurasian magpie.
When Mooney posed the question about the N-word birds of course, folks were going to yell out ugly Black birds like “crows” and orioles, which technically are not ugly birds, but the way the Baltimore Orioles logo sees it…
I’m joking but I wouldn’t put it past folks. Like, People hate Black people that much.
Still Mooney was like nope. N-word birds are “magpies.”
Because in spite of being old and forgetful – some would even say senile – he still is self- aware enough to know that White folks (and I imagine that there were some brothers and sisters right along with those White folks) will never miss an opportunity to be low-key shady and call us the N-Word.
So therefore, he was going to sit his self-aware magpie behind on stage, eat all of some random (probably White) ladies’s delicious ass french fries and collect a check.
And nobody is gonna say anything about it. Why?
Because “there are no m**herf**king refunds at a Paul Mooney show.”