4. Richard Pryor
Nearly a decade removed from his passing Richard Pryor remains one of the most influential comedians in history. By using his own life experiences, he brought light to issues like poverty, racism, and drug abuse, all the while paving the way for African American comedians. Without Pryor, the landscape of modern comedy would look very different.
As for the controversy, his many specials and shows were deemed too risqué for their time, especially during the late '60s and throughout the '70s. His four-episode 1977 sketch comedy series on NBC, The Richard Pryor Show, included skits where he portrayed a rock musician who kills every white member of his audience with a machine gun, and a bit where a woman describes her first lesbian experience. Pryor went there.