Top Black Comedians
The Best Black Comedy Actors, By Decade
Whether strictly stand up black comedians or black comedy actors who have solely starred in comedy films and movies, African Americans have come a long way to almost dominating the comedic world. From the early days of comedy with Flip Wilson to the great Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy to the rise of the entire Wayans family to today’s generation with Kevin Hart at the head, there have been many to paved the way for black comedians to make it in show business.
With platforms like the Def Comedy Jam, BET’s Comicview, Showtime at the Apollo, and, before all, the local Chitlin Circuits, many black comedy actors and comedians had the chance to showcase the talent to audiences all over the country, and not just crowds of African Americans. Today, social media, whether Youtube or Instagram, has created similar opportunities for comedians and striving to be comedians to showcase their talent. To be clear the lists below will showcase many comedians that have had long careers that expanded well into multiple decades, but each comedian is placed in their peak year, whether it is when they started to gain stardom or when they were at their best. With that being said, below is a list of the top comedians by decade, from the generation before the 1960s to the 2010s breakout with Youtube personalities.
Black Comedy Actors and Comedians: 1960s and Before
The true pioneers of the comedy world for African Americans are the likes of Pigmeat Markam, Moms Mabley, while there were other earlier comedians, actors and performers, like Stepin Fetchit. During the 1960s comedians like Redd Foxx and Slappy White would get an early start on their careers as there were numerous rising stars were beginning to emerge during this era of the 1950s and 1960s.
Top 10+ Black Comedians (Before the 1970s and No Specific Order)
1. Bill Cosby. Starting his career in the 1960s, by first doing standup and later releasing around 20 comedy albums throughout the 60s and 70s, Bill Cosby would become mostly known for The Cosby Show, which aired for 8 seasons. Beginning his television career on the show I Spy and later creating the iconic cartoon series Fat Albert, The Cosby Show was truly his the biggest landmark of his career as the show was viewed as one of the greatest television shows of all time.
2. Redd Foxx. Born in St Louis but grew up in Chicago, most know Redd Foxx for the hit television show Sanford and Son, which aired through the 1970s. Before Sanford and Son, he was already recognized as one of the country’s top comedians.
3. Flip Wilson. Viewed as a pioneer for black comedians, Flip Wilson was the first African American to have his own variety show that came equipped with skits and sketches and brought out a lot of laughs from the audience. During the 1950s and the 1960s, he was a renowned comedian, which eventually helped landed him his show.
4. Moms Mabley. Another pioneer, and not just for African Americans but women also, who began her career as early as the 1920s and continued performing most of her life, well into the 1970s. While she had many bad life experiences off the stage, on the stage she was a true star, while starting her success on the Chitlin Circuit she gradually advanced in performing in front of larger audiences and more advanced crowds.
5. LaWanda Page. Starting her life in entertainment at a very early age, proximity during the 1940s, LaWanda Page began her career as a unique stage performer and dancer. Her dancing routine included her playing with fire, similar to performances at a circus. She eventually moved on from dancing and ventured off into the comedy world. In comedy, she recorded a number of comedy albums, toured while performing her comedic routines on the Chitlin Circuit, and starred in a few hit television shows, all during her peak from the 1960s to 1980s.
6. Pigmeat Markham. Beginning during the 1920s appearing in traveling shows, Pigmeat Markham would have a long lasting career that spanned over 40 years, appearing in movies as early as the 1940s and recording albums throughout the 1960s.
7. Dick Gregory. Some may know him as an activist, but Dick Gregory would be well known for his standup routine during the 1950s and 1960s and would later become known for appearing on a number of late night talk shows, recording over a dozen albums during the 1960s and 1970s, publishing over ten books, and being a political activist.
8. Nipsey Russell. Starting in the 1950s, Nipsey Russell would have a successful career appearing, co-starring, co-hosting, and even guest hosting on the top talk shows and variety shows.
9. George Kirby. Starting in the 1940s on the South Side of Chicago, George Kirby’s comedy routine catered to both black and white crowds and made numerous appearance on late night talk shows.
10. Godfrey Cambridge. While starting his career in theater, which led to him receiving a Tony Award, Godfrey Cambridge would have a decent career starring in a number of plays, films, and even as a standup comedian.
11. Butterbeans and Susie. A comedic duo that began their career during the 1910s and lasted for over 40 years by touring and being well-liked traveling acts, as well releasing numerous comedic albums where they combined blues and synchronized dancing with sketch comedy.
12. Don Bexley. Known for his appearances on Sanford and Son, but Don Bexley started on the East Coast beginning with standup in the 1940s and would later appear in a handful of movies and television shows throughout the 1970s
13. Slappy White. While known for working and being close friends with Redd Foxx, from the 1940s to the 1960s, Slappy White was very successful at performing in various arenas.
Black Comedians and Comedy Actors: 1970s
The 1970s were dominated by the late Richard Pryor, from his often classical stand-up routines to his appearances in numerous classic films that were starring himself as the lead actor. While there were other top comedians of the era like Garrett Morris, John Witherspoon, George Wallace, Paul Mooney and a few others, as well a number of comedians who began their careers during the 1950s and 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s, but without a doubt the 1970s was the era of Richard Pryor.
- Richard Pryor. Coming from a small city in central Illinois, Richard Pryor began his iconic career during the early 1960s where he would perform at nightclubs and appear on late night talk shows. His career truly took off during the 1970s and continued into the 1980s with dozens of legendary standup specials and starred in numerous classic films.
- Garrett Morris. One of the most underrated black comedians of all time. Garret Morris began his career in entertainment originally through music by acting and performing in a number of musicals. He received his big break as an actor on Saturday Night Live during the 1970s. His role on SNL would lead him to have a very successful career in television by co-starring on Martin, the Jamie Foxx Show, and 2 Broke Girs, as well appearances in a number of other shows and films.
- John Witherspoon. While many may recognize him for his work starring in some of black cultures top sitcoms and movies during the 1980s, 1990s, and the 2000s, John Witherspoon truly began his very successful career during the 1970s, first with standup and later with cameo appearances on the time’s hit television shows.
Black Comedy Actors and Comedians: 1980s
Similar to the 1970s, the 1980s were dominated by the great Eddie Murphy, from his stand-up routines and specials, “Delirious” and “Raw”, to his movies that were often box office hits, like Coming to America, 48 Hrs. or Beverly Hills Cop. Other key black comedians who began their careers in comedy of the 1980s, or at least began to become recognized, were Robin Harris, Michael Colyar, Damon Wayans, J. Anthony Brown, Tommy Davidson, and a few others, but Eddie Murphy’s career and platform clearly overshadowed any comedic acts during this era of comedy.
Black Comedians and Comedy Actors: 1990s
The 1990s is the true golden year for African American comedians as large platforms like Def Comedy Jam and Comicview brought the talent to the people.
1. Martin Lawrence. Being introduced to the world through his hilarious roles in House Party and as host of Def Comedy Jam, Martin Lawrence would later create what some agree is the greatest sitcom of all-time. Following his hit show Martin, Martin Lawrence would star in a number of movies that includes Bad Boys I and II, Life, Blue Streak, Big Mommas House, Nothing to Lose, and many more throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
2. Chris Rock. One of the greatest comedians of all-time has been famously known for his standup specials, Bring The Pain, Bigger & Blacker, and Never Scared, his hit HBO show “The Chris Rock Show”, the creator of “Everybody Hates Chris”, and starring on Saturday Night Live and briefly on In Living Color. Beginning with minor movies in the 1980s, not until New Jack City and following CB4 during the beginning of the 1990s did Chris Rock truly begin his movie career.
3. Bernie Mac. “I ain’t scared of you mother****ers” the famous line on Def Comedy Jam that introduced Bernie Mac. Before having his own successful sitcom, “The Bernie Mac Show”, Bernie Mac had minor, but very iconic and memorable, roles in movies like Friday, How To Be A Player, Player’s Club, Life, and Booty Call during the 1990s. Not until following The Original Kings of Comedy did Bernie Mac begin to receive larger roles in moves.
4. Steve Harvey. While today we recognize Steve Harvey as the host of the Family Feud, he received his big break as the host of Showtime at the Apollo. Following a successful career in standup and as a host, the WB would bless him and viewers with “The Steve Harvey Show”.
5. DL Hughley. From being a top radio host to once having his own hit television show, DL Hughley began as the first host of BET’s Comicview, and would later have his own show, The Hughley’s, before appearing on Kings of Comedy.
6. Cedric the Entertainer. Beginning his road to fame by appearing on Def Comedy Jam and Comicview, but his true claim to fame came by appearing on side of Steve Harvey on The Steve Harvey Show and Kings of Comedy before being recognized for his own appearances in dozens of films throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
7. Mo’Nique. During the era when television programming on the WB and UPN was at its peak, Mo’Nique was able to be play major part in the success with the hit television show “The Parkers”.
8. Eddie Griffin. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Eddie Griffin would appear in classic comedies like Deuce Bigalow and Undercover Brother, along with having his own show with Malcom Jamal Warner called Malcom & Eddie, but nothing can be compared to his standup comedy routines.
9. Sommore. While having brief cameos in movies and on television, Sommore is a true comedian that is highly known for her hilarious standup routines, appearances on BET’s Comicview, and being the star of the Queens of Comedy alongside Mo’Nique and Adele Givens.
10. Bill Bellamy. Arguably one of the top comedies of the 1990s and had major role in one of the most classic films for the black community as Bill Bellamy left a memorable performance as the star of How To Be A Player. Throughout the 1990s, Bill Bellamy was very successful from his standup routines to his appearances in movies and on television.
Honorable Mentions: Bruce Bruce, Aries Spears, Earthquake, Luenell, DC Curry, Adele Givens, Arnez J, Guy Torry.
Black Comedy Actors and Comedians: 2000s
Continuing into the 2000s with the same energy as the 1990s with over a dozen of black comedians making a name for themselves. Big names like Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, and many others would get their start or have their true introduction to stardom within the comedy world during the 2000s.
1. Dave Chappelle. As some may consider the greatest comedian of our time, Dave Chappelle started as the not the most popular standup comedian, but with hit films like Half Baked and eventually one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of all time, Chappelle Show, eyes were started to be on the career of Dave Chappelle. After brief hiatus following his exit from the Chappelle Show, Dave Chappelle has now become the most liked comedian.
2. Mike Epps. Introduced to the world through a handful of Ice Cube films, Next Friday, Friday After Next, and All About the Benjamins, but eventually Mike Epps would step away from the shadows of Ice Cube and become the top comedian of the era with some of the most memorable and iconic standup specials.
3. Katt Williams. Originally known for his legendary performance as Money Mike in Friday After Next, but eventually Katt Williams’ standup specials would leave him to stardom as one of the top comedians of the 2000s and 2010s with iconic lines and jokes that people still are currently quoting.
4. Kevin Hart. The movie Paper Soldiers introduced the world to Kevin Hart, and eventually appearing in over ten films and his special I’m a Grown Little Man during the 2000s led him to dominate the 2010s and continue his domination into the 2020s as the top comedian.
5. Tracy Morgan. Beginning in the 1990s as Hustle Man on Martin, but his roles on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock and appearances in over dozens of films would lead him to become a legend in the comedy world.
Honorable Mention: Lil Duval, Patrice O’Neal, Leslie Jones, Lavell Crawford, Corey Holcomb, Deon Cole, Michael Blackson, JB Smoove, DeRay Davis, Craig Robinson, Tony Rock.
Black Comedians and Comedy Actors: 2010s
Continuing the trend of one black comedian per generation, Kevin Hart dominated the 2010s. Behind his reign, top comedians of the 2000s continued their success as well the rise of numerous comedians through various of platforms of traditional television, film and standup, along with social media platforms of Youtube and Instagram. Some of the top comedians of the era included actress Tiffany Haddish, DC Young Fly, Ha Ha Davis, Jess Hilarious, Lil Rel, Michael Che, Jay Pharoah, and Ms Pat.