Bill Cosby

Although African-American comedians had long been a staple of the standup circuit prior to the emergence of Bill Cosby, none had come even remotely close to reaching the same heights of commercial success or universal acceptance. Before Cosby, black comics were largely relegated to the so-called "chitlin circuit" of black nightclubs and theaters, their albums banned from white-owned record stores; after Cosby, comedians of all racial and cultural backgrounds found a home in the mainstream, and were even given the opportunity to prove their talents in major film and television roles. Simply put, Cosby broke comedy's color barrier, and he set the stage for the widespread success of everyone from Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy.