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Dialect comedy

The term "Dialect comedy" was coined by David Marc in his essay, Origins of the genre. Dialect comedies are a genre of radio (and later television) sitcoms that were popular between the 1920s and the 1950s. They relied on the exaggerated and highly stylized portrayal of stereotypes, usually based on ethnic humor. The genre has its roots on the vaudeville stage and in the minstrel shows that became popular in the 19th century. The ethnicities of the actual actors portraying the dialects did not have to match the characters; while much Jewish dialect comedy was created and portrayed by actual Jews, other dialect comedies, such as those involving blackface, were often not.

One of the most notable dialect comedies was The Goldbergs, the brain child of creator/star, Gertrude Berg about a Jewish family living in the Bronx. After its debut in 1929, the series had several incarnations in radio, television and a musical on Broadway. Berg continued to play the character of Molly Goldberg until 1955. In an article in the May 1936 issue of Radio Mirror, in a piece called Ghetto guides the Goldbergs, writer Dan Wheeler describes Berg’s “double life." Berg, the successful actress and business woman takes the reporter to a Jewish Ghetto on New York’s lower East Side where she spends a few hours a week, Gabbing in Yiddish with the old Yentas of the neighborhood about their children and pouring over the vegetable carts that line the streets. This is her inspiration for her characters; Berg emphasized both realism and being a positive role model in portraying the lead character as a Jewish mother.

Probably the most enduring program in this genre, Amos N Andy had two feet planted firmly in the minstrel tradition. In 1928, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white performers took their blackface act, Sam N Henry, which they did not have the rights to and changed it to Amos N Andy, which became one of the most popular shows of the time. In 1948 Variety proclaimed the show “a national habit, almost as familiar as radio itself.” Upon transitioning the show to television, Gosden and Correll took on the role of producers and hired a black cast including Alvin Childress (Amos), Spencer Williams (Andy) and Tim Moore (as King Fisher); Gosden and Correll had appeared as their characters in blackface on-screen in the 1930 talkie film Check and Double Check, which received poor reception. By the time of its final broadcast in 1960, the show had been renamed Amos N Andy Music Hall.



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