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10 Groundbreaking Black Comedians, Redd Foxx, Who Paved the Way/Photo by Moneta Sleet Jr./Ebony Collection/AP Images
Published: 05 January 2024

So many stand on their shoulders!

Comedy has long served as a powerful vehicle for uniting people of all backgrounds. Through laughter, it serves as a medium for social commentary, challenging stereotypes, and addressing isms that would otherwise be taboo or shied away from in public discourse. Black comedians, in particular, have played a crucial role in shaping the landscape of stand-up comedy and given voice to the most marginalized in our society. Through this art form, they have opened the door for future generations, as evidenced by the new school of comedians dominating the airwaves, including Quinta BrunsonRobin ThedeKevin Hart, and Jerrod Carmichael, all of whom have found global and crossover success with their comedy. Here, we celebrate ten pioneering Black comedians who have left an undeniable mark on the world of comedy and, essentially, paved the way. 

Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor, often regarded as one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time, revolutionized comedy by bringing raw, unfiltered authenticity to the stage. His ability to tackle social issues with humor and vulnerability set a new standard for comedians. Pryor’s influence can be seen in the comedic styles of many present-day performers who appreciate his fearlessness and commitment to telling the truth.

Moms Mabley

Jackie “Moms” Mabley was a trailblazer in multiple ways. Not only was she one of the first female stand-up comedians, but she also broke age barriers, performing well into her 80s. Moms Mabley’s witty, observational humor challenged societal norms around what’s possible for women and paved the way for future generations of female comedians.

Redd Foxx

Redd Foxx, known as the “King of the Party Records,” was a groundbreaking comedian who pushed boundaries with his adult-oriented humor. His irreverent style and fearlessness in addressing taboo topics paved the way for a new era of comedy that embraced bold, edgy material. Foxx was also one of the first to cross over into the realm of television with his hit show “Sanford and Son.” 

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Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory was a groundbreaking figure in the world of comedy, known for his sharp wit and fearless approach to addressing social issues. Emerging during the civil rights era, Gregory used humor as a powerful tool to critique racism and inequality. His stand-up routines not only entertained but also challenged norms, making him a prominent voice in the struggle for civil rights. Gregory’s contributions extended beyond the stage, and he became a key figure in the civil rights movement. His ability to blend humor with activism set him apart, and he made rise for generations of contemporary comedians to use their talents for real change.

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg made history as the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but her impact extends beyond the silver screen. With her one-woman Broadway show and subsequent comedy specials, Goldberg showcased her unique ability to take humor to places it had never been, breaking down racial and gender barriers in the process. Goldberg also made history as the first Black woman to achieve the coveted EGOT status, earning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award for her work. 

Chris Rock

Chris Rock has become synonymous with incisive social commentary delivered through razor-sharp wit. Known for addressing race, relationships, and societal issues, Rock’s influence and versatility have illuminated comedy stages and drawn droves to stages and screens over the course of his career. Rock has mastered film, television, and animation, and his ability to balance humor with astute observations has solidified his place as a modern comedic icon.

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy’s meteoric rise from “Saturday Night Live” to blockbuster films and stand-up superstardom reshaped the landscape of comedy in the 1980s. Murphy’s infectious energy, memorable characters, and ability to connect with audiences across have left an enduring legacy. Murphy was a star actor from the start, and his ability to master his craft both on the stage and on the screen set the blueprint for comedic actors to come. 

Paul Mooney

Paul Mooney, a comedic genius and behind-the-scenes maestro, was the mastermind behind some of Richard Pryor’s most iconic material. As a fearless satirist, Mooney unapologetically tackled racism and socio-political ills. His approach to comedy laid the groundwork for a new era of thought-provoking humor and kept the flame of comedic freedom alive even as the world changed around him. 

Bernie Mac

Bernie Mac, affectionately known as the “King of Comedy,” left a lasting mark on the stand-up scene with his unique blend of humor, charisma, and unabashed honesty. His unforgettable performance in “The Original Kings of Comedy” showcased his ability to connect with audiences on a personal level, making him a beloved figure in the comedy world. Mac went on to star in his own eponymous hit series, adding to an already versatile portfolio of on-screen work and cementing him as one of the biggest and brightest in this generation of comedy. 

Martin Lawrence

Martin Lawrence, with his charismatic stage presence and impeccable timing, became a household name through his role in the groundbreaking series “Def Comedy Jam.” Lawrence’s role as host was legendary, and his memorable characters, full-body comedy, and timing made him a household name. When Lawrence’s hit show hit the airwaves, he was cemented as comedy royalty. The breadth and depth of Lawrence’s comedic acting, sharp wit, and wide-spanning characters have yet to be duplicated, and the success of his show and its place as a cultural staple will continue to influence generations to come. 


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