How does a white woman’s love of stand-up comedy end up being dominated by male, African American comedians? I don’t know the science behind it; I just accept that God gave me great taste.
I first took an interest in stand-up comedians after getting hooked on “Chappelle’s Show” (2003-2006) in college. I’ve always been picky with comedy, and it’s always been hard for anyone to make me laugh. I think my laugh trigger was just hidden at birth, buried somewhere no one could find it. So, when I caught that first episode of Chappelle’s Show and couldn’t stop laughing, I knew I had chanced upon comedic genius, incarnate: Dave Chappelle. To this day, Dave’s style remains one of the greatest influences on my own style as an amateur comedian.
Now, if you really want to do Black History Month justice, I recommend – no, I insist – that you watch “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” (2013). But for my own lighthearted tribute here, I’m recommending that you check out (or continue to support) some of the greatest African American stand-up comedians today.
In alphabetical order, here are my 15 favorite stand-up comedians (all of whom happen to be African American, although I didn’t plan that). Beside each name, I list the aspect of that comedian’s style that resonates with me the most, and I briefly describe what I love about his style overall. Then, I provide a link to a sample that demonstrates what I’m talking about.
WARNING: THE CONTENT IN THE HYPERLINKED CLIPS CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE, OFFENSIVE MATERIAL AND ADULT THEMES THAT MIGHT BE CONSIDERED INAPPROPRIATE FOR THOSE UNDER THE AGE OF 18. VIEWER AND LISTENER DISCRETION ARE ADVISED.
1. Ali Siddiq: Audible Relatability
Ali’s style is, as I interpret it, founded on unadulterated honesty. Whether sharing anecdotes about his time in prison or imparting life lessons, he addresses audiences with a tone that’s so natural it’s relatable at a subconscious level. And relatability is key to comedy. | Example: “Men Are Not Your Friends” from “Talking Loud Saying Something (Live at the Improv)” (2010).
2. Alonzo Bodden: Political Bluntness
Alonzo dives into politics with a discernable bias but double-edged sword, dissecting both the left and the right to make his point. He says what he’s thinking, and he doesn’t ruin his delivery with forced political correctness. | Example: “Who to Hate” from “Tall Dark and Funny” (2006).
3. Arnez J.: Laughing Mid-Set
Arnez’s laugh is so infectious that I succumb to it every time! While he’s telling a joke, his voice will begin to waiver as he attempts to resist laughing at his own material. It’s like the comedy is breaking through physically. | Example: “Getting Pulled Over” from “Racially Motivated” (2014)
4. Chris Rock: Acting out Characters
Chris’ talent as an actor comes through in his stand-up bits. He can tell a story with multiple characters, throwing his voice for each even only slightly, and give you a full-ensemble skit. | Example: “Tossed Salad Man” from “Cheese and Crackers” (2007).
5. Clayton English: Plot Twists
Clayton’s jokes sneak in interruptions that reverse course to catch you off-guard. He adapts effortlessly to audience participation – often inviting it – and is great at improvisation. | Example: “Cereal” from “All the Same” (2017).
6. Dave Chappelle: Physical Theatricality
Dave’s stand-up style is inherently physical, so listening to it without watching it is ripping yourself off. His contemporary stuff still has his golden touch, riddled with good-natured offensive observations, so I could’ve chosen a sample from his 2019 work. But I chose this 2004 clip because it best captures the thing I love most about Dave’s style. | Example: “Public Transportation” from “For What It’s Worth” (2004).
7. Deon Cole: Clever Insults
Deon’s way of making fun of people – even himself – is comical because it’s so detailed. His precision, along with his impersonations, make smiles and laughs irrepressible. | Example: “Move Out” from “Live from the Laff House” (2013).
8. D.L. Hughley: News Coverage
D.L. finds the funniest bits about current events and amplifies them by 1,000. He conjures up elaborate hypothetical outcomes, or calls attention to obvious discrepancies people are willfully overlooking, to make a point. | Example: “Guns” from “Clear” (2014).
9. Earthquake: Defiant Indifference
Earthquake has a juggernaut comedic style: an unstoppable force that won’t relent for anyone’s feelings. He’s clear about his refusal to water down his content, and it works. | Example: “Peaches and Plums” from “These Ain’t Jokes!” (2016).
10. Eddie Griffin: Expansive Intellect
Eddie’s bits are genuinely scholarly, even if crude. Listening to him is like taking a class in science, history, physics, theology and many other topics, while laughing almost reflexively. Add his adorable laugh to his undue modesty, and you have someone I never get tired of listening to and laughing with. | Example: “Science of the Pyramids” from “Freedom of Speech” (2008).
11. Hannibal Buress: Fake Anger
Hannibal acts out full skits during his sets that are often exaggerated hypothetical situations. He gets intensely emotional, and I find his pretend rage to be the funniest emotion. | Example: “Bomb Water” from “Animal Furnace” (2012).
12. Katt Williams: Hyper Sass
Katt’s grievances with the world fuel his humor, and he’s hilariously cheeky when airing them. He might be small (something he often pokes fun at himself about), but his voice is big. | Example: “Commercials Lie and Tell the Truth” from “Pimpadelic” (2009).
13. Kevin Hart: Embellished Insecurity
Kevin’s humor is highly self-deprecating, but in a way that invokes laughter and not pity. My favorite bits of his are the ones that make fun of his size or timidity. | Example: “The Gym” from “I’m a Grown Little Man” (2009).
14. Steve Harvey: Vivid Imagery
Steve’s descriptions of physical details while telling his stories are always hilarious. Between his choice of words and his vocal inflection, I can always imagine exactly what he’s talking about. | Example: “The Wedding” from “Still Trippin’” (2012).
15. T.K. Kirkland: Musical Cadence
T.K.’s lyrical delivery is one of his trademarks, along with a host of catch phrases, such as “Who raised you?!” Even if you find yourself insulted by his generalized comments, you can’t help but find what he’s saying funny. | Example: “Who Raised You?” from “Who Raised You?” (2017).