‘Laughter is the best medicine,’ they say, and black comedians have been at the center of it all.
From standups to situational comedy (otherwise known as sitcoms), so many black comedians exist to crack our ribs.
While celebrated modern comics like Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, and Tiffany Haddish rock our TV screens and stages today, some famous names paved the way for them that we rarely discuss.
Two particular eras that brought black comedy into recognition and appreciation were the 50s and 60s.
So, we’ll look at 10 of the greatest black comedians from these two ages that you would love to listen to.
Here we go!
Black Comedians of the 50s
1. Slappy White
Melvin Edward White, famously known by the stage name Slappy White, is one of the most accomplished black comedians of the 50s.
He’s one of the few comedians who worked with Redd Foxx during the Chitlin Circuit Standup comedy event in the 50s and 60s.
Throughout his career, Slappy White appeared on Saturday Tonight, Sanford and Sign, Blossom, and That’s My Mom.
Slappy White also featured on Playboy Comedy Roast Amazing Grace and The Man from Orgy.
2. Nipsey Russel
Another famous name from the 50s is Julius Nipsey Russel.
Russel was an American comic, dancer, poet, and actor best remembered for his appearance as a panelist on several game shows from the ’60s to the ’90s. Those shows include Match Game, Hollywood Squares, Pyramid, and Password.
Russel, however, began his comedy journey in 1952 when he joined comic Mantan Moreland on stage to replace another comic, Ben Carter.
Russel is also remembered to have performed at Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, Car 54 – Where Are You, and Lane Crow Show in the 60s.
Black Comedians of the 60s
3. Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor was a famed black comedian during the 60s. The standup comedian bagged 5 Grammies and a Primetime Emmy Award, among many other accolades.
Pryor is best remembered for his storytelling comedy style, which he performed in clubs while starting as a standup comedian in 1963.
He’s one of the most accomplished black comedians inspired by the iconic Bill Cosby.
During the 60s, Pryor graced several groundbreaking shows such as the Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show, and the Merv Griffin Show, among many others.
4. Redd Foxx
John Elroy Sanford, alias Redd Foxx, was a renowned black comedian known for his role in the 1960 American drama ‘All the Fine Young Cannibals’ and his performance at the Nightclub even during the 1954-1968 civil rights unrest.
Foxx is also remembered as one of the few black comedians to entrain a white audience at the Las Vegas Strip, a 4.2-kilometer stretch in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Until he died in 1991, Foxx was featured in countless TV shows and films.
5. Bill Cosby
It’s hard to talk about back comedy without mentioning the host of The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby. Sexual abuse allegations aside, Bill Cosby had an illustrious career as a black comedian and comedic actor.
Some of the most accomplished comedians, like Larry Wilmore and Jerry Seinfeld, claimed that Bill Cosby inspired them.
That explains why Mr. Cosby has 8 Grammies, numerous Emmy awards, a Hollywood Walk of Fame, among many others, even though some were rescinded f
6. Willie Best
William Best, or Wille Best for short, was an African American comedian of the 60s who was best known for playing the role of an illiterate, simple-minded, and indolent character.
Willie Best featured in over 100 films during the 30s and 40s, but his biggest breakthrough in the comedy world came in the 50s when he played the role of Willie, the house servant in the famous Stu Erwin Sitcom.
He was later featured on CBS’s My Little Magic in 1953-1955 and Waterfall in 1954 before his untimely death in 1962.
7. LaWanda Page
Code-named the ‘Black Queen of Comedy,’ LaWanda Page is one of the first women to do standup comedy—her love for standup comedy developed during the Chitlin Circuit event.
LaWanda is among the few black comedians who shared the stage with the legendary Redd Foxx.
During the ’60s, she created at least five individual comedy albums under the Laft Records Label.
8. Dick Gregory
Richard Claxton Gregory was an American actor, comedian, social critic, and activist who began his comedy career in the mid-50s while being part of the military.
1958 saw him perform comedy at the Apex Club in Illinois, and in 1959, he was hired as a master of ceremony for the Roberts Show Club to make people laugh.
The 6-s also saw him perform at the Blue Angel Nightclub, Playboy Nightclub, and the Jack Pear’s Show.
9. Pigment Markham
Pigment Markham is another distinguished black comedian from the 60s. In addition to being a comedian, Mr. Markham was also an actor, dancer, and singer.
His rise to prominence, however, was due to comedy, especially during the 1968-1969 Laugh-In Sketch Comedy TV show.
Moreover, he also had a comedy album collection in the 60s in association with Chess Records, a Chicago-based record company.
10. Godfrey Cambridge
Godfrey McArthur Cambridge was a celebrated American standup comedian and actor of the 60s.
He, together with the legendary Dick Gregory, Nipsey Russell, and Bill Cosby, were named by Time Magazine in 1965 among the country’s most celebrated negro comedians.
As a comedian, Cambridge performed on the night show and Hollywood Palace during the 60s, and the two shows saw him gain the audience’s love until he died in 1976.
Black comedy has undeniably come a long way, and the above men and women paved the way for it to be what we know today. While most of them are no more, their sacrifice and determination have earned black comedy the recognition it currently enjoys, and we all can do is be grateful.