The comedy world abounds with talented entertainers who have spent a lifetime making audiences laugh. Since the earliest days of the entertainment industry, comedy has been a significant characteristic of what makes an individual successful.
Around the world, people enjoy the work of black male comedy actors. Many of them have left an indelible imprint on the entertainment world, changing the name of the game for those who come after them.
Perhaps one of the best-known comedians and actors in the world, Eddie Murphy, was born in New York in 1961. A huge Peter Sellers fan, Murphy would practice imitations and play different characters as a child.
At 15, he decided to be a comedian. That goal was reached in 1976 when he began working at clubs – usually skipping school to do so.
Murphy became famous when cast in the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. His work was credited with bringing new life to a show that had grown stagnant in the 1980s. He also made his debut in film in the 1980s and has been a comedic sensation ever since.
Known as one of the most talented storytellers, Pryor was born in Illinois in 1940. His troubled childhood included growing up in his grandmother’s brothel with an alcoholic mother. He served in the U.S. Army for two years before moving to New York to launch his career.
His early work as a comic was not controversial. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that he began using profanity in his comedy. Around the same time, he moved to Berkeley, California, where his portfolio of accomplishments soon included writing for television and acting.
The 1970s saw Pryor’s long success streak as he won awards and gained popularity. Pryor’s work influenced countless artists who came after him, and he continues to impact the trade. He is often considered one of the best comedians to walk the earth.
Born in New Jersey in 1933, Wilson was a comedian and actor who gained popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s for numerous television appearances. He hosted the weekly variety show that earned him two Emmy’s and a Golden Globe for four years.
Flip Wilson is widely considered the first black superstar. He had one of the highest-rated shows on network television and was the first African-American to host a successful variety show.
Wilson’s energetic style and natural comedic instincts made him one of the most beloved comedy icons of the 20thcentury.
Bernie Mac’s rise to fame was slow and steady. Born in Illinois in 1957, Mac was raised by his mother and grandparents.
He attended Chicago Vocational High School, and after graduation, worked several odd jobs such as professional mover and cook. All the while, he would perform comedy on the weekends.
He gained attention in his early 30s after winning the Miller Lite Comedy Search. Working with other well-known artists in the industry boosted his popularity until he broke into the acting scene in the 1990s.
Eventually, he had his successful sitcom that won multiple awards through its five-season run.
Mac continued working until his untimely death in 2008.
Born in South Carolina in 1965, Chris Rock is considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians. He began his career in 1984, slowly gained popularity, and eventually got the attention of a man who would become his mentor – Eddie Murphy.
Rock’s popularity exploded during his three-year stint on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s. The award-winning comedian and actor remained on an upward slope of success through the 1990s, becoming one of the most influential comedians of the decade.
Known as a premier comic genius, Rock’s popularity has made him one of the best-known faces in the comedy world.
Kevin Hart was born in Pennsylvania in 1979. He gained a reputation in his neighborhood as the funny kid, which he parlayed into some amateur night gigs and local clubs in Philadelphia.
Though his career got off to a rough start, Hart eventually earned recognition through comedy competitions in the Massachusetts area.
Hart’s comedic reputation began to gain ground once he developed his style, which revolves heavily around self-deprecating and caustic humor.
He launched his comedy tours in 2009 and has become a well-known actor, appearing in roles opposite Hollywood greats like Will Ferrell and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
Hart’s work continues to earn recognition as highly successful and influential.
Dave Chappelle’s comedy has long been considered some of the funniest the world has seen. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1973, Chappelle studied theatre arts at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. In 1990, he moved to New York City to pursue his comedic career.
Every lousy audience spurred on Chappelle. He chased show business and was soon a well-known name in the New York comedy circle. A TV show appearance solidified his rising fame, and soon, more offers were coming in than he knew what to do with. He was quickly a well-known T.V. and movie actor.
A pillar of the comedic community, Chappelle is often considered a comic genius and one of the best stand-up comedians in the world.
A veritable powerhouse of talent and success, Will Smith, was born in Philadelphia in 1968. After garnering some recognition as a rapper in the 1980s, he rose to stardom with the hit show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Blockbuster hits came next, quickly transforming Smith into one of the most sought-after leading men in the industry. His comedic timing and intuition made him a reliable addition to any cast.
As a rapper, an actor, and a producer, Smith has earned a reputation that propelled him into stardom at a young age. Will Smith was Hollywood’s number one box office draw for nearly ten years.
Born in West Germany in 1968, Lawrence was an army brat who moved back to the United States at seven. Starting his career early, Lawrence would work comedy clubs in the Washington, D.C. area and supplement his income with odd jobs.
Eventually, he moved to New York and gained recognition on Star Search.
Lawrence’s acting career kicked off soon after moving to New York. At the same time, he was picked to host HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, which gave numerous comedians the spotlight for the first time.
Since rising to fame in the 1990s, Martin Lawrence has maintained his reputation as one of the funniest men in the business.
Born in New York in 1968, Tracy Morgan is a comedian and actor known for his long-standing roles with Saturday Night Live and the NBC sitcom 30 Rock. He was a drug dealer and a street performer when he first started. Eventually, his stand-up career took off.
Citing comic influences like Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, and Lucille Ball, Morgan quickly became known for his unique comedy style, whose bold expression seemed to embody his personality perfectly.
Morgan’s career continues to thrive. His characters felt like different versions of himself as an actor, making them believable and hilariously ridiculous.
The other half of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s comedic success, Alfonso Ribeiro, was born in New York in 1971. An actor, comedian, dancer, television host, and director, Ribeiro has done nearly everything that one can do in the entertainment industry.
He started his career at eight years old, though his breakout role would come later when he starred opposite Will Smith in the 1990s. Film and television roles would continue to follow him through the late 90s and early 2000s, and he soon tried his hand at directing.
Ribeiro’s career hit another high in 2015 when he began hosting the beloved show America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Redd Foxx is best known for his role in the highly successful show Sanford and Son, though his career dates back long before its famous run. Born in Missouri in 1922, Foxx garnered a reputation for his raunchy nightclub performances and somewhat irreverent style.
The situation comedy Sanford and Son brought Foxx widespread fame. After six seasons, Foxx played other minor roles throughout the 1980s.
Foxx’s comedic style hinged mainly on his intonation, wild facial expressions, and indifference to societal norms for stand-up content. He is considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time and has inspired many aspiring comedians who have come after him.
Witherspoon was an actor and comedian born in Detroit in 1942. Witherspoon began his career as a model, though comedy soon won him over.
He worked on his stand-up routine and started rubbing shoulders with the likes of Robin Williams, Jay Leno, and David Letterman.
Known for his outlandish style, Witherspoon soon earned roles in films and television shows. He starred opposite Eddie Murphy in Boomerang and gained recognition for his work on Friday.
After a long career in film and television, Witherspoon returned to his stand-up routine and launched a tour in 2008. His work continues to influence others in the industry even after he died in 2019.
David Alan Grier
Born in Detroit in 1956, Grier got his start on Broadway, performing in musicals that earned him Tony Award nominations. He gained recognition for his comedic skill and worked on film projects that catered to those talents. Soon, he was a popular choice for film comedies.
His success on the variety show Living Color earned him renown and a stellar reputation for his ability to take on any character. His comedic range made him a valuable piece to any project, and soon he was working with the likes of Eddie Murphy and Damon Wayans.
Grier also worked as a stand-up comedian, which he continued to play well into the 2000s. He hosted the show Premium Blend in 2001 and has been widely considered as one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time.
The beloved T.V. host of shows such as Family Feud, Celebrity Family Feud, and The Steve Harvey Morning Show started as a stand-up comedian. Born in West Virginia in 1957, Harvey began his career in the 1980s.
A national comedy search in early 1990 earned Harvey a spot hosting It’s Showtime at the Apollo, where he would thrive and gain greater recognition for his comedic work. This led to him eventually getting his show, The Steve Harvey Show, which ran from 1996-2002.
Harvey’s hosting days were only beginning. Today, he is known for the numerous shows he hosts, having ended his stand-up career in 2021. However, he continues to make audiences laugh and has earned The Family Feud some of the highest ratings the show has ever seen.
Born in Texas in 1967, Jamie Foxx got his start working on the sketch comedy show In Living Color. He earned a reputation that landed him his own show called The Jamie Foxx Show, which ran from 1996-2001.
While known primarily for his comedy genius and impeccable timing, Foxx has also earned a reputation for outstanding dramatic roles. His acting capabilities have seen him nominated for Academy Awards, working alongside superstars like Will Smith and Tom Cruise.
Foxx continues to work on comedy and television, even moving behind the scenes to produce and create projects of his own.
A long-standing cast member on the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL), Kenan Thompson was born in Ohio in 1978.
While he started acting in the early 1990s, his roots were in sketch comedy. His facial expressions and bodily reactions make him one of the more compelling comedians to have around.
He first started working for SNL in 2003 and soon became a staple to the cast. His presence has become a reliable feature for any sketch, and his reactions alone are sure to bring a laugh or two from the audience.
As of 2021, Kenan Thompson has been the longest-serving cast member on SNL. For 19 seasons, he has been a staple of the sketch show known for his hilarious expressions and his hyper-accurate impressions.
Tyler Perry has worked on all sides of the entertainment industry. Born in New Orleans in 1969, Perry is an actor, a director, a writer, a producer, and a comedian. In the mid-2000s, he was one of the highest-paid entertainers.
Perry is perhaps best known for his creation of the character Madea, a tough old lady who seems to find herself in sticky, comically ridiculous situations. The subject of multiple feature films, Madea has become as beloved in the entertainment industry as Perry himself.
Perry’s success as a comedic actor and producer has made him one of the more influential people working in the industry. He continues to work in numerous capacities, even dabbling in writing.
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson
Known to many simply as “Rochester,” Eddie Anderson was born in California in 1905. He got his start working on vaudeville tours, doing comedy, singing, and dancing.
He gained popularity as a recurring member of various radio programs, most notably The Jack Benny Program.
Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson worked together for a number of years, producing a successful show that was filled with running gags and popular skits.
They gained such popularity that Anderson quickly became one of the highest-paid performers of the 1940s. The radio show eventually moved to television, bringing Anderson and Benny together on the screen for nearly 15 years.
Known not only for his comedy and film roles, but Anderson was also a renowned philanthropist. His legacy remains steadfast as his foundation helps reform young men suffering from substance abuse in the Los Angeles area.
Born in Maryland in 1921, Melvin “Slappy” White was a comedian and television actor who worked with the likes of Redd Foxx, Clifton Davis, and Billy Crystal.
He made his start at the age of 13, attempting to run away with a traveling circus. Dancing was his passion until he realized he had a gift for comedy. Working with comedy teams, he began touring and quickly rose through the ranks.
His career continued well into the 1990s, up until his death in 1995.
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Arguably one of the greatest entertainers to ever walk the earth, Sammy Davis, Jr. was born in New York in 1925. He got his start working with his father in vaudeville and became a sensation for his talent as a singer, dancer, comedian, and actor.
His shows often included his impeccable impersonations, usually of fellow celebrities with whom he had worked. He was a member of the famed Rat Pack, along with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and starred in multiple films alongside his friends.
Davis was one of the most popular entertainers of his day, something that helped break down racial barriers in the industry. His self-deprecating humor made him beloved by audiences, and his natural talent made him a sight to behold on stage.
Best Black Male Comedy Actors & Comedians, Final Thoughts
Black male comedians have long graced the industry’s stage as pillars and influences. From Eddie Anderson to Jamie Foxx, these funny men continue to make us laugh with their quick wit, their impeccable timing, and their ridiculous ability to turn everyday situations into comedic gold.