Def Comedy Jam’s return is occurring at a time when Black entertainment is booming—echoing the show’s arrival in 1992 as an R-rated beacon for grown folks’ comedy tuned to the hip-hop generation. Just like then, Black TV and movies are experiencing a lot of high profile successes and the show’s cultural significance is still timely and necessary.
A big part of the show’s legacy is it’s melding of the kind of blue humor that has been a part of Black culture since before the Chitlin Circuit ever existed to an undeniably hip-hop sensibility. And as a result of that heady mix, a cadre of brilliant comics emerged in the early 1990s that would come to define comedy for a generation. In many ways the descendants of Richard Pryor who had Eddie Murphy-like aspirations, these comics are still as indelible as those icons whenever the topic of Black stand-up comedy is discussed.
So in recognition of the return of this comedy staple, we decided to list the 10 most iconic comics to emerge from Def Comedy Jam in the early 1990s.
It may seem strange now, but there was a time when Bill Bellamy was one of the most talked-about comics in the game. And it started with Def Comedy Jam. Playing his ladies’ man persona, Bellamy would go on to his own hit specials and movie roles, but most memorably served as a high-profile MTV VJ throughout the 1990s.
One of the most well-known Black women in comedy during the 1990s, Adele Givens’ raunchy wisecracks made her one of the most formidable comics to ever appear on Def Comedy Jam. Knock for cracking on the audience, the Midwestern diva would go on to standup specials and movie appearances, but she remains one of the most beloved funny gals of the Def Comedy Jam era.
He’s a political commentator now, but D.L. Hughley was first the loud-mouthed Cali comedian that took over the Def Comedy Jam stage. D.L., like Cedric, would breakout on Def Comedy Jam before going on to host BET’s Comic View, and he would go on to his own hit sitcom before he infamously co-starred as one of The Original Kings of Comedy before reinventing himself as a political pundit.
Before Rush Hour or Money Talks made him a box office star, the motormouth funnyman got his big break as a young comic on Def Comedy Jam. With his memorable delivery and persona, Tucker became a breakout star on the show in the early 90s, on the way to his star-making performance alongside Ice Cube in the cult classic Friday.
Cedric the Entertainer
Ced was virtually unknown to national audiences before he graced the Def Comedy Jam stage. He built his reputation with his down-home humor and everyman relatability; and he would parlay his appearance on Def Comedy Jam into national stardom, landing a gig hosting rival show BETs Comic View and eventually landing a string of high-profile movie roles.
He was just a teenaged up-and-comer when Dave Chappelle took the Def Comedy Jam stage, armed with a clever point-of-view and a fearless commitment to the truth. He would go on to a few forgettable movie roles before he hit pay dirt in the early 2000s with his beloved TV series Chappelle’s Show.
One of the personalities who defined Def Comedy Jam in the early 1990s, Bernie Mac fought long and hard for the stardom that he would finally attain in the 2000s. But before he was a household name, he was the bombastic joker from Chi-town with the unforgettable delivery and a classic catchphrase: “I ain’t scared of you muthaf---as!”
Steve’s star was just beginning to rise in the early 1990s. He’d built a reputation as a comic throughout the 1980s, and an appearance on Def Comedy Jam galvanized his already speeding momentum towards fame. He would go on to a failed sitcom (Me and the Boys) and a successful gig as host of Showtime at the Apollo! before his second, much more successful sitcom The Steve Harvey Show paved the way for his success as a host, writer and radio personality.
She was the brassy and bold voice alongside several comediennes that took the Def Comedy Jam stage, and along with Sommore and Adele Givens, Mo’Nique forged a name for herself with her wit and unique point-of-view. She would go on to TV success as star of The Parkers, and eventually became an Oscar winner after he acclaimed turn in 2009s Precious.
He’d been in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and was a featured regular on What’s Happenin’ Now in the mid-1980s, and he’d enjoyed breakout success as Bilal in House Party in 1990. But Martin Lawrence’s star really took off in 1992—that was the year he starred alongside Eddie Murphy in Boomerang, launched his hit FOX sitcom, and it was also the year he landed the job as the original host of Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam.