Black comedians built so many of the comedic conventions that color our current humor landscape. This list contains the best Black comedians of all time, but there are dozens more iconic figures within Black comedy.
Sinbad’s stand-up comedy performances feel like a force of nature. This aggressive, high-energy entertainer is an expert at crowd work during his stand-up routines and can endlessly improvise. These skills transitioned into success in films such as Jingle All The Way opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.
30. Cedric the Entertainer
Never without his signature hat, Cedric the Entertainer earns his ambiguous name. This Black comedian succeeds as an actor, host, and stand-up comedian. Cedric the Entertainer is one of the Original Kings of Comedy, alongside comedians like D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey.
Cedric the Entertainer hosted the Def Comedy Jam and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. One of his most memorable film roles was as Eddie Walker in Barbershop.
29. Tiffany Haddish
Tiffany Haddish is known for being ultra-prepared and ready for her moment, coming from a tumultuous life and foster care background. Haddish’s breakthrough performance came in the movie Girls Trip in 2017. She also lends her voice to the animated adult cartoon Tuca and Bertie.
Haddish released Black Mitzvah, her 2019 stand-up comedy album. This album achieved major acclaim and won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album that year. Haddish stands as only the second Black woman to earn this honor, after Whoopi Goldberg in 1986.
28. Martin Lawrence
Martin Lawrence achieved significant fame as a Black comedian on both the big screen and the small screen. Lawrence starred in the Bad Boys franchise alongside Will Smith, as well as the comedic classics Wild Hogs, Big Momma’s House, and House Party. He also starred in Martin, one of the most successful Black television sitcoms of all time.
27. Moms Mabley
Moms Mabley ranks as a trailblazing comedian in more ways than one. Mabley dared to perform as a Black female comedian and also came out as a lesbian in the 1920s. She became a veteran performer in early African-American vaudeville.
Mabley’s long-lasting career landed her appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and resulted in her recording several comedy albums. This impressive Black comedian entertained audiences from the 1910s to her death in 1975.
26. D.L. Hughley
Another member of The Kings of Comedy, D.L. Hughley became a household name with his sitcom The Hughleys. He made appearances on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Scrubs and became a host of BET’s stand-up comedy show ComicView.
Hughley now serves as a commentator and author on social issues. Hughley has published numerous books covering politics and social justice, including Black Man, White House: An Oral History of the Obama Years, and How to Survive America.
25. Patrice O’Neal
Patrice O’Neal’s career shined bright for only a little while, as this Black comedian, unfortunately, passed away as his prestige was rising. O’Neal is known for his stand-up comedy work, performing for years around New York and on shows such as Comedy Central Presents and The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen.
O’Neal was also a busy character actor, appearing in some of the most iconic recent sitcoms like The Office and Arrested Development.
24. David Alan Grier
David Alan Grier holds a long career as a Hollywood character actor, playing small roles in dozens of Hollywood films. His strengths as an actor lie in his strong facial expressions and scene-stealing character work. Grier appears in movies such as Jumanji, Bewitched, and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
His career began in the early 80s, with his first dramatic role coming from a radio play. Reportedly, Grier got his start voicing a minor character in a radio adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back installment of Star Wars on National Public Radio.
23. Hannibal Buress
Hannibal Buress holds a unique stand-up comedian style, with a slow, mellow, almost mumbling tone of voice. However, that doesn’t mean comedy isn’t hard-hitting. Buress is possibly best known for breaking open the story of Bill Cosby’s sexual crimes, which had existed only as an open secret in Hollywood at the time.
He starred in successful small screen projects like Comedy Central’s Broad City and The Eric Andre Show. This comedian hit the big screen with comedy films such as Neighbors, Baywatch, and Tag. His recognizable voice appears in animated movies like The Secret Life of Pets and The Angry Birds Movie.
22. Flip Wilson
While not a household name for many, Flip Wilson ranks as one of the most influential figures in Black comedy of all time. Wilson first appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1965, but he worked in nightclubs since the 1950s. By the 1970s, Wilson was hosting his variety show, The Flip Wilson Show.
Wilson made his mark on popular culture, popularizing two often-used phrases in the American language. This Black comedian established both “The devil made me do it” and “What you see is what you get.” Wilson died in 1998.
21. Leslie Jones
Leslie Jones is a former Saturday Night Live cast member and current movie star. She also happens to own one of the most entertaining celebrity Twitter accounts of all time! Jones may be considered a late-bloomer in the comedy field, coming onto the scene in her 40s after a long struggle to break through.
Jones has now starred in blockbuster films like Ghostbusters, Sing, and Coming 2 America. This Black female comedian is outspoken and one-of-a-kind, which exposes her to a lot of online harassment. Jones is also a successful host and TV panelist, appearing on shows like Supermarket Sweep and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
20. Wanda Sykes
Known for her wise-cracking humor and pint-sized posture, Wanda Sykes ranks as one of the most influential Black female comedians of all time. Sykes’ signature voice led to successful voice-over work in films like Rio, Over the Hedge, Brother Bear 2, and the Ice Age franchise.
Sykes starred in comedy films like My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evan Almighty, and Monster-in-Law. She was first recognized for her comedy writing on The Chris Rock Show, earning her an Emmy Award in 1999.
19. Chris Tucker
Chris Tucker’s bulging eye acting and signature high-pitched voice make his comedic work so memorable. Tucker is best known for starring alongside Jackie Chan in the Rush Hour franchise. These movies sparked so many famous catchphrases and amazing moments between this unlikely acting duo.
Tucker also stars in the cult classic movie The Fifth Element. This early breakout role depicted Tucker as a flamboyant science-fiction creature with an unforgettable wardrobe. These roles helped seal Tucker’s stance on our list of best Black comedians.
18. Kenan Thompson
Another famous veteran of Saturday Night Live, Kenan Thompson has appeared on television screens for nearly 30 years. Thompson began as a child star in the Nickelodeon sketch comedy show called All That. This fame led to spinoff roles in Kenan and Kel and Good Burger.
Thompson segued his early success into a long-running stint on Saturday Night Live. This Black sketch comedian has served as an SNL cast member since 2003, earning him the title of longest-running cast member ever. Some of Thompson’s characters include the host of Black Jeopardy, the host of What’s Up With That?, and fellow African American comedians like Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Harvey.
17. Arsenio Hall
Arsenio Hall is best known for The Arsenio Hall Show, which is his late-night talk show. Presented as competition to The Tonight Show and other weeknight shows, Hall developed a devoted core audience, especially among young viewers.
The show became so popular that it developed a sustainable alternative to applause. Members of Arsenio Hall’s audience would woof their approval instead of clapping, a gesture immortalized in movies like Pretty Woman and Aladdin.
Hall also starred in Coming to America, a blockbuster Black comedy starring Hall and Eddie Murphy. A sequel to this film, featuring Hall and the rest of the original cast, debuted more than 30 years later.
16. Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory used his trailblazing career as a Black comedian to achieve world-changing activism. Like many comedians, Gregory used comedy to communicate wise and inspirational thoughts. His later career involved hunger strikes and other demonstrations to protect against racial injustice and the Vietnam War and to advocate for vegetarianism before his 2017 death.
Gregory dominated the stand-up comedy scene in Chicago during the 1950s and 1960s. The legend goes that Hugh Hefner spotted Gregory and helped him achieve fame. Gregory released several comedy albums, like Dick Gregory at the Blue Angel. Gregory is considered one of the most influential figures in Black comedy and culture.
15. Anthony Anderson
Anthony Anderson is a Black comedian whose star has recently started to rise even more. Anderson stars in Black-ish, a successful ABC sitcom that ran for eight seasons. Before this crossover role, Anderson appeared on All About the Andersons, The Bernie Mac Show, and The Shield.
He has also starred in several comedy movies, like Kangaroo Jack, Scream 4, Me, Myself and Irene, and Transformers. This charismatic Black comedian lights up the screen, serving as a game show host for To Tell the Truth or a judge on reality TV shows like Iron Chef America.
14. Maya Rudolph
The product of a memorable 70s crooner, Maya Rudolph made her mark through Saturday Night Live. Rudolph worked for seven years on Saturday Night Live, playing a variety of characters such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Donatella Versace, and a game show spokesmodel named Shonda.
Rudolph continued her acting career with several movie roles, including 50 First Dates, A Prairie Home Companion, Bridesmaids, and Wine Country. She has lent her recognizable voice to animated films like Big Hero 6, The Angry Birds Movie, Luca, and The Emoji Movie.
13. Kevin Hart
No current movie star commands more attention and higher contracts than Kevin Hart in the 2020s. Hart, known for his sharp, barking voice and short stature, holds down blockbuster comedy films.
Hart starred in Jumanji, Scary Movie 3, Soul Plane, and more straightforward comedy movies. He frequently appears alongside enormous action movie stars, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Hart has also released several stand-up specials, including Seriously Funny, Laugh at My Pain, and What Now?
12. Tracy Morgan
Tracy Morgan enjoyed a successful television career for much of the 1990s and early 2000s. Morgan first became famous as a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2003. This Black comedian is known for his signature deep voice and the kooky characters he embodies.
Morgan then successfully transitioned his signature style into a long-running role on the award-winning comedy sitcom 30 Rock on NBC. Morgan starred in this show, spoofing sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live alongside his former SNL colleague Tina Fey.
11. Steve Harvey
With his signature mustache and wardrobe in tow, Steve Harvey has become a household name for Black comedy. Harvey now hosts daytime TV shows like Family Feud, but Harvey boasts a long and influential comedic career.
Harvey starred in The Steve Harvey Show on the WB network from 1996 to 2002. This show earned lasting appeal to the African-American audience. Harvey achieved more crossover success with the 1997 Kings of Comedy stand-up tour. This tour became the highest-grossing comedy tour ever, earning $37 million.
10. Nicole Byer
After starting her career in New York and Los Angeles improv, Nicole Byer has transitioned to mainstream success. Byer began with roles in MTV shows like Girl Code and the Facebook creation Loosely Exactly Nicole, starring and named for Nicole Byer.
Byer is now a celebrated stand-up comedian and TV host, known for her candid comments and compelling, wild storytelling. Byer released stand-up specials on Netflix and frequently appears and hosts her comedic podcasts, such as Why Won’t You Date Me? and Best Friends. Byer hosts the wildly popular baking show Nailed It! and Wipeout.
9. Jamie Foxx
Like so many other of the top Black comedians on this list, Jamie Foxx is an astonishingly talented multi-hyphenate performer. Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop in Texas. Foxx showed early promise in both comedy and music. He studied music composition in college and was recognized for his comedic chops as early as third grade.
Jamie Foxx dominated television and film. He starred in In Living Color in 1991 and helmed The Jamie Foxx Show from 1996 to 2001. Foxx may be best known for his dramatic roles, most notably Collateral and Ray in 2004. These roles lead to heavy critical acclaim. Foxx is only the third male to ever hold two Oscar nominations for acting in the same year for two different films.
8. Bernie Mac
Born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, Bernie Mac most notably starred in The Original Kings of Comedy. Mac starred in many films, such as Ocean’s Eleven, Bad Santa, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and Mr. 3000. Mac toured extensively as a stand-up comedian, saying he would do so for 47 weeks each year.
Bernie Mac’s ascension to stardom is truly inspiring. He famously held down many unglamorous day jobs like a janitor, professional mover, and bus driver before becoming a stand-up comedy and movie star. Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Mac died in 2008 after a lengthy history of lung disease.
7. Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle’s stand-up comedy and sketch comedy show dominated screens and conversations throughout much of the early 21st century. His television show, Chappelle’s Show, reigned on Comedy Central before Chappelle abruptly canceled and abandoned the show.
This mercurial attitude continued to play out in headlines for the stand-up comedian, with more controversial comments and stand-up specials into the 2020s. However, many other critics believe Chappelle is an artistic and comedic genius. Chappelle received the prestigious Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2019.
6. Will Smith
Will Smith has dabbled in stand-up comedy, but he is much more well-known for his comedic film and TV roles. Smith dominated both with roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Men in Black, and Wild Wild West. Throughout his film career, Smith has earned almost as much reward for his roles as criticism for high-profile flops such as After Earth, Gemini Man, and Bright.
Smith achieved acclaim for dramatic roles as well, starring in movies like King Richard, The Pursuit of Happyness, and I Am Legend. He earned an Academy Award for his role in King Richard.
One of the Queens of Comedy, Mo’Nique ranks as a powerful figure for Black women’s comedy. Not only a trailblazing stand-up comedian, but Mo’Nique earned acclaim for several dramatic roles as well. She won a BAFTA, Sundance Film Festival, and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious in 2009.
Before these roles, Mo’Nique made a statement on stage in memorable stand-up appearances such as The Queens of Comedy and Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam.Mo’Nique won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for Queens of Comedy. She has appeared in comedy movies like Beerfest, Two Can Play That Game, and Soul Plane.
4. Whoopi Goldberg
Born Caryn Elaine Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg reigned in the 1980s and 1990s. This dramatic and comedic performer served as an iconic figure throughout many celebrated, diverse roles. Goldberg still stands as an influential cultural figure today, making headlines and sparking controversial conversations as a talk show host on The View.
Goldberg starred in films such as Sister Act, Sister Act II, The Little Rascals, and Theodore Rex. She lent her recognizable voice to children’s films like The Lion King and Pagemaster. Goldberg is one of the few celebrated entertainers to earn an EGOT. This award stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards. Goldberg has won all four.
3. Chris Rock
Known for his signature staccato style of speech, Chris Rock burst onto the stand-up scene in the 1990s. Rock appeared as a stand-up and on Saturday Night Live before starring in movies such as Pootie Tang, The Longest Yard, and I Think I Love My Wife.
Rock is an award-winning comedian, holding three Grammy Awards, four Emmy Awards, and a Golden Globe nomination. Chris Rock continues to release movies, stand-up specials, and host award shows.
2. Richard Pryor
Another trailblazing Black comedian, Richard Pryor stands as a symbol for stand-up comedy. Pryor developed a signature style that revolves around storytelling and witty observations. An influential comedian, most of today’s funnymen and women cite Pryor as an inspiration.
Pryor reached the peak of fame through the 1970s with his observations on the realities of Black life. Richard Pryor died in 2005. Like other comedians on this list, Pryor received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1998, becoming the first awardee.
1. Eddie Murphy
From Shrek to The Nutty Professor, comedian Eddie Murphy held down movie screens throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Even before he hit the big screen, his raunchy, scandalous stand-up specials remain a classic. Murphy set the standard for comedy that all comedians still attempt to replicate to this day.
Today, Murphy keeps a lower profile. While no longer lighting up stages and screens, Murphy is frequently the topic of hoax death reports. Murphy is famous for employing a very realistic body double to take his place at public events.
Top Black Comedians, Final Thoughts
No list would be complete without giants of Black comedy such as Eddie Murphy, Mo’Nique, Richard Pryor, and Whoopi Goldberg. From today’s TV stars like Steve Harvey and Kenan Thompson to throwback movie actors like Chris Tucker and Sinbad, these figures represent the best Black male and Black female comedians ever. Be sure to revisit the amazing performances of these trailblazing funnymen and women.