Comedy is an art that is appreciated by all, but to be a successful comedian, one requires more than just an endless arsenal of good jokes. With the widespread use of tools on the Internet and the growing audiences of television, it is simple to understand why there are so many comedians around. In the midst of it all, there are some black people who have stood out amongst their contemporaries. While, some of them have achieved a lot of success and earned great plaudits for their work, some others have not got the recognition they deserve. There are also a few who have surpassed expectations and have gained popularity when they shouldn't have.
African-American comedians have a different take on matters of religion, politics, race and lifestyle. It is this unique perspective which makes them good in their field. They offer an insightful angle into things that may generally be overlooked, and the approach they adopt enables them to stand out in a sea of emerging comedians.
This list is in no particular order and it would be impossible to do that since these comedians have all emerged at different times. The general state of affairs of the country and the world at the time also plays a part in determining how readily someone is accepted.
Eddie Murphy (April 3, 1961) is one of the most recognizable faces in the comedy circuit of Hollywood. He started out as a stand-up comedian and has slowly worked his way up the ladder to be included in the list of the 10 funniest African-American comedians of all time. He is probably known best for his role as 'The Nutty Professor', and you may also recognize him as the voice of 'Donkey' in the 'Shrek' series. He has performed a large number of stand-up shows as well.
Richard Pryor (December 1, 1940 - December 10, 2005) is considered to be the best black comedian of all time. Every African-American comedian who has surfaced since his time has held aspirations to emulate his success. Even Eddie Murphy has vocally stated that Pryor has been his role model. He famously made a lot of extremely funny jokes about racism in particular. Jerry Seinfeld has called Pryor "The Picasso of our profession". The true sign of greatness is appreciation by his peers, and Pryor is looked up to by every single comedian.
David Chappelle (born August 24, 1973) surged into the public limelight with his timeless show called 'Chappelle's Show', on comedy central. To have a show named after you, you must be pretty darn good. Chapelle is also popular for bringing the comedy sketches on screen. This is a brand of comedy that utilizes various comic actors to create short scenes or vignettes that are also known as sketches. He is also a well-known actor, and he also briefly held the record for stand-up endurance when he went on a stand-up spree of 6 hours and 12 minutes!
Chris Rock (born February 7, 1965) began doing stand-up comedy in 1985, and has established himself as one of best black stand-up comedians of all time. Being mentored by Eddie Murphy can only be a good thing. Covering a wide range of topics, Chris seems to derive inspiration for his material from his teenage experiences.
Martin Lawrence (born April 16, 1965) has achieved levels of popularity and success that no one expected him to. He ran his own show called 'Martin' from 1992 to 1997, which brought him adulation and appreciation. He has also managed to carve out a decent acting career and has been the main man in numerous mainstream Hollywood movies.
Better known as Redd Foxx, John Elroy Sanford (December 9, 1922 - October 11, 1991) was one of the first black stand-up comedians to dazzle American audiences. He was completely unafraid to speak his mind through troubled times, and it was he who paved the way for the greatest stand-up comedian - Richard Pryor - to appear. 'Sanford and Son' was a very popular sitcom that was centered around Foxx, and it still remains one of the classics of African-American comedies. He routinely performed at various nightclubs which were considered to be too 'liberal' in those times.
Bill Cosby (born July 12, 1937) grew up in the tough neighborhood of Philadelphia. Along with being a comedian he is also an actor, author, activist, musician, and producer. He has been around for quite some time, and is widely respected for being one of the veterans of the comedy circuit.
Dick Gregory (born October 12, 1932) is another stand-up comedian who has seemingly been around forever. Mixing his shows with a lot of political humor, Gregory was another comedian who paved the way for Richard Pryor. A hardened civil rights activist, Gregory used sarcasm and satire to make his mark, and his presence built the image of African-Americans as good comedians.
Flip Wilson (December 8, 1933 - November 25, 1998), also known as 'TV's first black superstar', was another renowned comedian. People who have seen him claim that he was extremely hilarious, and he also managed to get his own television show when not many producers were offering roles to African-Americans.
Will Smith (born September 25, 1968) never did stand-up comedy in particular, but he has played so many comic characters on television and in movies. He has also carved out a career as a musician, and is well-known for many of his movies. 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' was one of his breakthrough shows and it was absolutely hilarious.
Black Women Comedians
Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are a few women comedians who deserve an honorable mention as well:
- Moms Mabley
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Tess Drake
- Mariana Franklin
- Wanda Sykes