It takes a great deal of talent to make a room full of strangers laugh in unison, so it’s no surprise comedians tend to be multifaceted creatives. Black stand-up comedians in particular have always held a special place in our hearts thanks to their ability to bring joy amid pain — even their own.
They may have started all on the small stage, but eventually their raw skillsets transformed these comedians into national and international stars. Let’s take a look at our list, in no particular order, of the best comedians of all time below. Did your favorite make the cut?
1. Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor influenced everyone on this list. The megastar helped lay the blueprint for Black comedians by delivering raw, unfiltered jokes that would make anyone blush and laugh at the same time. He also wrote for television (“Sanford and Son,” “The Flip Wilson Show”), dropped best-selling comedic albums (the Grammy-winning “That N**ger’s Crazy”) and starred in films (Stir Crazy).
2. Eddie Murphy
Murphy’s stand-up talent earned him a spot on the cast of “Saturday Night Live” when he was just 19 years old. Even that quickly became old news as he shot to superstardom with the films 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop and maintained his box office dominance for years with The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle films, amongst others, like the cult classic Coming To America.
3. Dave Chappelle
If the 80s were Pryor’s and the 90s were Murphy’s, it’s without question that the 2000s belonged to Chappelle. With his star burning bright after the runaway success of his “Chappelle’s Show” sketch comedy series, he took a mental health break hiatus to Africa that would have snuffed out most careers. But, he managed to come back a bigger star, on his own terms.
4. Katt Williams
Katt Williams might be short in stature, but he is monumental in confidence and has the comedic chops to match. While plenty of his peers went passed stand-up and treated it like a side hustle, he’s continued to tour, hitting hundreds of cities annually and will still pop up on your TV, like Money Mike from Friday 2 did when he helped “Atlanta” win an Emmy.
5. Bernie Mac
The late great Bernie Mac was a king of comedy (literally with Cedric The Entertainer, Steve Harvey and D.L. Hughley). His stand-up skills came in handy as a breakout performance on Def Comedy Jam set him on the road to stardom. Before leaving us too soon in 2008, the Chicago native found success on the big screen (Ocean’s 11, Mr. 3000, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) and television with “The Bernie Mac Show,” which was based on his own life.
In a genre full of men and their outsized egos, Mo’Nique elbowed her way in the comedy circuit and has stayed relevant for decades. While she rose to fame starring in the sitcom “The Parkers,” an Oscar for 2009’s Precious certified her talent, while she’s continued to tour the country as a comedian.
7. Martin Lawrence
Lawrence’s stand-up talents earned him slots in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and soon-followed roles in House Party and the Eddie Murphy-starred Boomerang. But, it was his namesake show and hosting HBO’s Def Comedy Jam that truly made him a household name. Along the way, the comic also became a box office star thanks to Bad Boys with Will Smith and numerous other films including Life and Big Momma’s House.
8. Wanda Sykes
Sykes had been making headway as a stand-up comic for years before she got attention as a writer for “The Chris Rock Show,” which earned her an Emmy Award. She’s only lived up to the hype ever since with critically acclaimed comedy specials, television shows (“The Upshaws”), films (Ice Age), and co-hosting the Academy Awards in 2022.
9. Chris Rock
Chris Rock’s talent is undeniable as he has conquered film and television, while still commanding the stand-up stage with the Netflix specials to prove it. From hosting awards shows to starring in films to numerous critically acclaimed comedy specials (Bigger & Blacker, Never Scared), even an unfortunate slap can’t stop his success.
10. Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart has turbocharged all the progress of Black comedians before him to the benefit of his own career. The Philadelphia native has starred in films (Jumanji, Soul Plane), has numerous comedy specials and just seems to be everywhere. But, never forget his first film was Paper Soldiers, which is a Roc-A-Fella Records Films production.
11. Tracy Morgan
After gaining his reputation as a stand-up comic, Tracy Morgan had an impressive run on television as a cast member of “Saturday Night Live” from 1996 to 2003 to portraying Tracy Jordan on “30 Rock” from 2006 to 2013. And we can’t forget his role of “Hustle Man” on Martin.
12. Redd Foxx
The man born John Elroy Sanford is a Black comic pioneer, so much so that even Richard Pryor cited him as an influence. Foxx was known for his lewd comic records, but was nevertheless able to finesse his way onto television, starring in the acclaimed “Sanford and Son” sitcom from 1972 to 1977.
13. Robin Harris
Robin Harris is another rarefied talent who left way too soon, but not before blessing up with scene stealing scenes in House Party and Mo’ Betta Blues, and the “Bebe’s Kids” show inspired by one of his famed stand-up sets.
14. Steve Harvey
It seems like Steve Harvey has a million jobs (“The Steve Harvey Morning Show,” “Family Feud,” et al.), but it can all be traced back to his stand-up talents. Harvey hosted Showtime At The Apollo for almost a decade, launched the Kings Of Comedy and put in so much time on stage that his last comedy show was in 2012. Yet, he remains a household name.
15. Chris Tucker
Chris Tucker shot to stardom as Smokey from Friday, and he still managed to find success beyond that iconic role. While his record may seem limited compared to others on the list, it’s potent thanks to starring in the Rush Hour franchise and his undeniably hilarious stand-up sets.
16. Cedric The Entertainer
Cedric The Entertainer is a King of Comedy with a CV that goes on for pages. The Missouri native came to fame acting on “The Steve Harvey Show” and he hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since, appearing in an exhausting amount of films (Barbershop, Madagascar) and TV shows (“The Proud Family,” “The Neighborhood”) over the years.
Sommore (born Lori Ann Rambough) has been putting in work for decades, and her consistency is unmatched. The New Jersey native was the first female host of BET’s famed “ComicView” and, along with Mo’Nique, she was one of the original Queens of Comedy.
18. Jamie Foxx
No disrespect to Eddie Murphy, but Jamie Foxx is the best R&B artist on this list. But even before “Blame It On The Alcohol” was a smash, Foxx went from playing Wanda on “In Living Color” to a box office monster, starring in films like Dreamgirls and Django Unchained, and earning an Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray.
19. Paul Mooney
If you know comedy, you know Paul Mooney. He was the head writer of “The Richard Pryor Show,” which in turn credits him with giving early looks to future stars like Robin Williams and John Witherspoon. Although he was a talented comic in his own right, it was his skill as a writer for other series like “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times” and “In Living Color” — and some clutch appearances on “Chappelle’s Show” — that cemented his legacy.