In the world of comedy, segregation may be a good thing. Black comedy is something like extended time with a member of our family. Instead of the person on stage coming up with ridiculous situations only they went through, black comedians thrive on finding ways to relate to their people via the audience before them. It’s as if they say, “Being a black person in this world is a trip, and I know you know what I’m talking about.” Here are nine black comedians who took us on trips we were all familiar with, and made us laugh throughout the entire journey.
Eddie Murphy may still be making at least one movie ever year, some of which are good, but a lot of his die-hard fans miss the Eddie Murphy of old. He was the one wearing the red leather suit in Delirious making jokes about men claiming the house when they’re drunk and memorable impressions of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and James Brown. Or, for some fans, the Eddie Murphy in the leather purple jump suit from Raw. Whichever one you choose, no one can deny, before Murphy went all “Nutty Professor” on us, he was the biggest black stand-up comedian in the world.
Before Murphy, there was Richard Pryor, the larger-than-life stand-up comedian who broke through the mainstream in a way few had before him. Pryor’s act was unapologetic, aggressive, and deeply steeped in black life. The man didn’t just know how to tell a joke, he knew how to tell a joke in areas of life where people hadn’t thought laughter existed. From drug addiction to his public demolishing of the N-word in his off-stage conversations, Pryor knew how to make others laugh at things he could barely smile about.
Dick Gregory made a name for himself as the face of black comedy during the Civil Rights era. At a time when black comedy was and stand up comedy in general was still a somewhat cottage industry, Gregory came of age to an audience that was both black and white. His popularity was undeniable, just ask Hugh Hefner who hired Gregory to perform at the Chicago Playboy Club.
Before he became America’s dad in his sitcom series, The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby was one of the biggest stand-up comedians in the 60s and 70s. Unlike his peers like Pryor and Gregory, Cosby gained notoriety for keeping his stand-up acts clean and without curse words.
Arguably the best comedian performing stand-up today, Rock’s stand-up comedy is so smart, his jokes would not sound out of place in a college classroom. Rock rifts from the heart but most noticeably from his brain, where he comes up with some of his most well-known bits like his long tirade and explanation about the difference between “black people” and “niggers” and rich” and “wealthy”.
Chapelle will go down in history as the man behind one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of all time, “Chappelle’s Show”. But prior to his show, Chappelle was one of the sharpest stand-up comedians working in the 90’s. His aw-shucks style on the microphone gave his routine a childlike innocence, but his jokes were strictly for grown folks who never could stop laughing.
Before Cedric became the host of BET’s popular Comic View, and one of four comedians featured on the Kings of Comedy Tour, he was a funny man who sold insurance during the work week and told stand up jokes on the weekend. The grind paid off and now, Cedric The Entertainer has lived up to his stage name in venues around the world.
Harvey wears a lot of hats, but none of them would be worn without his first one: stand-up comedy. Unlike most comedians who pander to a younger audience, Harvey takes a different approach. Harvey laces his humor with bits of wisdom he learned back in his younger years, like the older uncle you love to hear talk at the family barbecue.
The late great stand-up had a long career before coming into fame as a member of the Kings of Comedy tour back in 2000. After his performance — the raucous, prfoanity-laced finale — Mack went onto find success with his own sitcom on FOX and numerous roles in successful movies like the Ocean’s Eleven franchise.