Parallels Between Rappers and Comedians are Surprisingly Numerous


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Comedians and rappers have a lot in common. Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, Hannibal Buress and Richard Pryor are famous, and some of the best to do comedy. Rappers like Eminem, Queen Latifah, and Snoop Dog also have some comedy crossover.

Asher Zumwalt, Staff Writer

Content Guide: This article is going to mention comedians and rappers who have said hurtful and ignorant things towards the transgender community, Black people, Jewish people, and others. These comments and actions are too large to unpack without losing the focus of this article. While these individuals are referenced by name, their actions and statements are not. Readers sensitive to these issues should proceed with care.

Rap music and standup comedy have had an American center for years. While hip-hop has clear American roots, comedy is not distinctly American but there is some sort of American-ness to it. The concept of someone standing up in front of a brick wall with a microphone, making jokes to an audience at a bar or a comedy club, about politics, or any other topic is exciting and matches the American personal freedom ideal.

Comedy is one of the first ways that Black Americans were able to reach success beyond good living and to become a celebrity or something similar. As is also seen with rappers and other musicians. It is also a time where Black people are known as some of the best comedians. Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, and Richard Pryor are famous, and some of the best to do it. But how do they connect to hip-hop, or more specifically rap music?

Jokes about rappers are common, rappers and comedians hang out together on occasion, and there are also other connections. Chris Rock’s bit on Eminem is a classic. Also, Rock is a guest voice on the rap album Extinction Level Event II by Busta Rhymes. He provides the anger and humor that matched the intro to the album. There clearly is solidarity to say the least. Take Chappelle’s show, which would often conclude with performances by rap musicians such as the artist formerly known as Kanye West and the Wu-Tang Clan. 

Hannibal Burress, another hilarious comedian, has all but dropped comedy in order to perform hip-hop, which in his eyes allows for more personal expression. There seems to be some fluidity between genres. Eminem once rapped on the track ‘Beautiful’, “I think I’m startin’ to lose my sense of humor/ everything’s so tense and gloom/… laugh at every single joke a crack and half of ‘em ain’t even funny like/ ‘Ha, Marshall you’re so funny, man/ You should be a comedian god***n’/ Unfortunately I am/ I just hide behind the tears of a clown”. 

Wanda Sykes is also one of the funniest comedians ever and has her own show The Upshaws and she has some personal connection to hip-hop too. She performed Queen Latifah’s ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’ in an interview. In 2010 Snoop Dogg appeared on the Wanda Sykes Show, all with hilarious results, standard for this iconic comedian who pairs being naturally funny and exciting but also has a complex understanding of writing and performing. Snoop Dogg himself has hosted a comedy special featuring some of the greatest Black comics, and is often seen with comedians and pulling for laughs. 

Maybe this is because both artforms promote pushing the limits of what is politically correct. Maybe it has more to do with two artforms that have been excellent opportunities for Black people to succeed and express the struggle that they’ve been through. Both rap and comedy allow opinionated expression more than any other art, and have such an ingrained connection to Black culture in the last hundred years or so. Maybe the connections are also in the fact that traditionalists view these two art forms as second-rate, even though hard work and talent goes into writing and performing music and jokes. 

There is much commonality between how writing lyrics and writing jokes works. The process of breaking words apart is essential to higher levels of both comedy and rap. Breaking a word into pieces and reanalyzing it in rap is used to create clever wordplay and to force rhymes into spots they may normally not fit. On the comical side, breaking words apart can be used to find small jokes like puns, or to spark inspiration. A comedian could take advantage of the structure of the word repeat, for example. One might see the word repeat and think, ‘if repeating means to say something over again, does peat mean to say it once. Don’t make me peat again, I’m only going to peat it once” It’s not the funniest joke, but more can flow from that. A rapper could enjoy the word repeat for its alternating pronunciations. 

The use and manipulation of language is yet another huge similarity between these genres. Both involve pressing the envelope of what can be done with words and speech. Both are primarily audible arts and can change the way people think about words. Bending language is something special about both of these artforms. Wordsmithing is a necessary skill of both talented comedians and rappers. This is a key reason that there is such comradery and ability to switch between the two . 

Big comedy performances are often just as exciting and popular and do as well as the most popular rap musicians. They are both a great time and are an exciting experience when the performer is talented. Performing anything is difficult, it takes courage, practice, and the ability to shake your nerves and tune out or deal with distractions.