7 Legendary Stand Up Comedians You Should Know
Richard Pryor was a stand-up comedian, writer and actor. He was born in Peoria, Illinois. With his biggest influence being Bill Cosby, Pryor moved to New York City and started his stand-up career in the 1960’s. Soon he was featured on all the popular mainstream TV shows at the time, such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. This popularity lead him to be a successful comic in Las Vegas. In 1967, Pryor had an “epiphany moment” when he walked onto a stage in Vegas and looked at the sold out crowd, then said into the microphone “What the f*** am I doing here?!” He left the stage and didn’t return. Soon after that he moved to Berkeley, California and got involved with the counter culture movement . That is when his material completely changed. He started using curse words in his routines and his jokes became notoriously controversial. In the 1970’s his stand up albums were commercially and critically successful. He branched out to Hollywood to act and write for movies and TV shows. His career would span until 2005 when he died of a heart attack in Los Angeles. He was 65 years old. Richard Pryor is considered to be the one of the best stand-up comedians of all time, as well as one of the most influential.
George Carlin was a stand-up comedian, author and actor. He was well known for his dark humor revolving around culture commentary like religion, politics, American consumption, psychology and other various taboo subjects. He started his career in the 1960’s as a conventional comic for that time, wearing a suit and rocking a short slick back haircut. But then his style would go on to change as he reinvented himself as an anti-establishment critic. In July of 1972, Carlin was arrested for obscenity laws when he preformed his most famous joke “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television”. In this bit he would simply say all the words you were not allowed to say because of the censorship laws at the time. It prompted the U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which there was a 5-4 decision stating that the government can regulate indecent material on the public airwaves. Carlin would go on to have a long and successful career before he passed away in 2008 of cardiac arrest. Later that year he was posthumously awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine named him as number 2 on their list of 50 Best stand-up comics of all time.
Robin Williams was an award winning actor and stand-up comedian. He was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1951 and attended the world famous Juilliard School on full scholarship in 1973. Then he moved to San Francisco to continue his stand-up career. He is credited to being a prominent figure in San Francisco’s “comedy renaissance” of the mid 1970’s. He was also extremely popular for his characters, voices and improvisation skills. In 1979 he won a Grammy for a live recording of one of his shows. Robin continued on to have an amazing acting career in both television and movies. He wasn’t just the funny guy, his acting range was broad. He won an academy award for playing a depressed therapist in Good Will Hunting. He continued working until 2014, when he unfortunately committed suicide at age 63.
Bill Hicks was originally born in Georgia but his family settled down in Houston, Texas when he was 7 years old. Hicks started doing stand-up when he was just 16. During the 1980’s, he honed his craft by touring with the comedy group The Texas Outlaw Comics that comprised of other comics such as Sam Kinison and Ron Shock. In 1987 he moved to New York City where he did stand-up 300 nights a year and within a couple of years he was signed by a manager. In 1990, Hicks released his first comedy album titled Dangerous and performed on HBO. He was quickly becoming a very popular comedian, especially in Europe where he was a huge hit. People loved his material because of it’s social commentary and satire. Hicks would often talk about religion, politics and philosophy. His jokes were dark and cynical. Hicks died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 1994, at only the age of 32.
Eddie Murphy is a stand-up comedian, actor, screen writer, film producer and singer. He was born in New York City and raised in the boroughs Bushwick neighborhood. His father died when he was eight and Eddie had to spend some years of his childhood in foster care. It was there where he developed his sense of humor. By the time he was 15, Eddie wanted to become a stand-up comic after listening to Richard Pryor. Eddie’s other influences were Bill Cosby and Robin Williams. Eddie was getting consistent work in clubs while he was still in Highschool so he started skipping classes. In 1982, he released his first comedy album Eddie Murphy, and then another one in 1983 titled Delirious. By 1987, Eddie was a huge star because of his concert film Eddie Murphy Raw, filmed in Madison Square Garden. The film made $50 million. He would go on to Hollywood and have a extremely successful acting career. In 2014, his films had grossed 6.6 billion dollars worldwide and in 2015 he was the 6th highest grossing actor in the United States. The comedians Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle have listed Eddie Murphy as one of their biggest influences. Comedy Central ranked him as number 10 on their 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time. In 2015, Eddie was awarded with the Mark Twain Prize For American Humor.
Jerry Seinfeld is a stand-up comedian as well as a writer, director, producer and actor. His humor focuses on observational comedy. He is best known for having written and acted as himself in the wildly popular sitcom Seinfeld. He was born in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. He went to Queens College where he graduated with a degree in theatre and communications. While attending college he started doing open mic nights which gave him the opportunity to be featured in a Rodney Dangerfield HBO special. In 1981, Seinfeld had his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which proved successful as he would be invited back for many more sets. He started building a large audience and in 1987 he filmed his first stand-up special that aired on HBO. In 1988 NBC recruited Seinfeld and started producing the now legendary sitcom Seinfeld about his life in New York City as a comic. After he ended the show he went on to have a very successful and lucrative Hollywood career. In 2005 Comedy Central listed him as the 12th Greatest Stand-up Comedian of all time.
Bernie Mac was born in 1957 in Chicago, Illinois. During his 20’s Bernie worked many jobs to take care of his Highschool sweetheart wife and daughter while he pursued stand-up on the side. When he was 32 he won the Miller Lite Comedy Search, which was a nationally known contest for up and coming comedians in Chicago. He then gained even more notoriety when he was featured in HBO’s Def Comedy Jam with fellow comedian Martin Lawrence. He began acting in movies with his break out role “Pastor Clever” in Ice Cube’s Friday. In 2000, he co-starred in the Spike Lee movie The Original Kings of Comedy along side the comedians; Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley. In 2001 Mac got his own sitcom called The Bernie Mac Show where he played himself taking care of his sister’s kids. The show won an Emmy. Bernie Mac would go on to act in many Hollywood movies like Ocean’s Eleven, Guess Who, Bad Santa, Transformers, Head of State and many more. When Bernie Mac was 50 years old, he died of cardiac arrest due to complications from pneumonia. Many prominent public figures attended his funeral like Steve Harvey, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Rock and Don Cheadle.