In honor of Black History month, I have compiled series of top five lists highlighting the contributions of African Americans in comedy. This is one of them. A panel of leading experts consisting of the voices inside my head; Suge Knight, Eartha Kitt, and Steve Guttenburg; have spent countless hours debating, drinking and drugging to bring to you The GOAT…. Greatest of All Time…Its an Acronym.
The GOAT: African American Stand-Up Comedians
5. Chris Rock- Rock made his mainstream debut on SNL but most of his success is attributed to his raunchy yet socially aware stand-up. His distinctive voice made him a stand out on the comedy scene. Though some of his cross-over film roles have been… well kind of whack, Rock has maintained well deserved respect for his comedic styling and stand-up acts.
4. Bill Cosby- Before the pudding, before the Huxtables, this Philadelphia native had stand-up. Unlike many black comedians of the time, Cosby was able to relate to a wide range of audiences with his notoriously clean sets in a time when more politically active, socially charged, risqué subject matter was the norm. “A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I see it too.’ Okay. He’s white. I’m Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I’m doing as much for good race relations as the next guy”.
3. Redd Fox- Probably best known for his role as Fred Sanford in the 1970s television classic Sanford and Son, Foxx began doing stand-up comedy on the infamous “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the 1940s and 1950. Redd developed his style of blue humor to get a rise out of the audience. Redd’s style combined perfect timing, delivery and a conversational storytelling vibe to make clean material sound dirty and dirty material sound filthy. Many of today’s greatest comedians note Fox as an inspiration.
2. Eddie Murphy- Norbit and The Adventures of Pluto Nash aside, Eddie Murphy has to be considered one of the most successful comedians …ever. By the time he was 15, Murphy was working as a stand-up comic in New York. At the age of 19 he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, where Murphy exercised his comedic abilities in impersonating African American figures and originating some of the show’s most memorable characters. His Eddie Murphy Raw concert film remained the most successful stand-up concert film until The Original Kings of Comedy was released. (eh) Not to mention, he’s the 2nd highest grossing actor in Hollywood.
1.Richard Pryor- If you ask any comedian who their biggest inspirations have been, Richard Pryor is bound to be included in about 99.3% of those responses. (a Me Fact) Highly influential and always controversial, Pryor drafted the blueprint for the progressive thinking of black comedians. With his monologues, he brought to life the entire range of the black American experience. He transcended the color barrier that inhibited Redd Fox in the 50s, while addressing the taboo topics Bill Cosby would not touch and essentially set the bar for the younger generation of comics such as Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock solidifying, to me, his spot at number 1.
Honorable Mentions: Bernie Mac, Kevin Hart, Dick Gregory, Dave Chapelle, Paul Mooney
Suge Knight – the founder and CEO of Black Kapital Records and co-founder and former CEO of Death Row Records. Murderer of Tupac Shakur… probably.
Eartha Kitt- An American singer, actress, and cabaret star. Catwoman to Adam West’s Batman. Deceased.
Steve Guttenberg- An American actor and comedian. Would be bigger were it not for Tom Hanks. Nickename: The Gute.