More Than A Token: Underrated Black Actors Who Steal The Show Every Time

January 21, 2013  |  
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Black actors have come a long way in the last few decades. These stars may be one of the only black actors on their shows but not only do they hold it down, they steal almost every scene they are in. If you haven’t tuned in to any of these shows, click through for a reason to.


Last year, RZA gave us a reason to watch Californication, a show starring David Duchovny as a boozing writer who slores around town. In it, RZA plays a rapper named Samurai Apocalypse (of course). Since RZA is basically playing himself — a ride or die preacher/prophet with a sharp tongue — he is a lot of fun to watch.

Donald Glover

Donald Glover makes NBC’s Community hilarious with his grown a– little kid antics. The NYU grad and former 30 Rock writer seems to be building his career around being the scene-stealing black actor. Now he’s signed on to join the cast of HBO’s Girls to prove he has acting chops in dramatic roles.

Damon Wayans Jr.

He’s one of the best reasons to tune in to ABC’s Happy Endings. To say he gets it from his daddy is an understatement. Jr. is everything you missed about classic In Living Color Damon Wayans. He’s just as goofy and talented as his father and maybe even a little bit funnier.

Ray Ford

Ray Ford plays James Van Der Beek’s catty gay assistant in ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 and he’s hands down the best reason to tune into the show.  His one liner’s cut to the white meat and he’s not afraid to put a bish right in her place. Ray Ford started on the show with just a few cameos, but he was so good they gave him his own regular spot. We can’t wait to watch him blow up.

Mindy Kaling

OK, so Mindy’s not Black, but she still deserves a shout out. Mindy Kaling is the star and creator of The Mindy Project on Fox, a comedy about an Indian-American doctor looking for love and respect in New York City. If you liked Kelly Kapoor’s character on The Office, you’ll love watching Mindy. She’s crazy as hell and watching her try and fail to nab and lock down a man before 40 will keep you cracking up.

Maya Rudolph

In NBC’s Up All Night, Maya Rudolph plays talk show host Ava, Oprah’s funnier alter ego. Whenever Maya’s on screen playing the ultimate out-of-touch diva, we can’t take our eyes off of her.

Speaking of funny, check out this clip of Alanis Morisette and Maya Rudolph as a hip-hop duo doing their best Salt-N-Pepa impressions and performing the explicit version of their song Back it Up (Beep Beep). Hilarious!


Parks and Recreation is a funny show with a star-studded comedic cast that includes Quincy Jones’ daughter Rashida Jones. But nobody has more swag than Donna Meagle played by stand-up comedian and writer Retta.

Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle doesn’t do comedic roles often, but we think his smoldering dry humor is almost better than his dramatic acting. Don  makes House of Lies worth watching as he plays Marty Kaan, a cutthroat management consultant who will do anything (and anyone) to get the job done. Donis Leonard Jr. also shines playing Roscoe Kaan, Cheadle’s young son struggling with a serious identity crisis.

Want to see more funny Don Cheadle? Check out his hilarious Captain Planet short film.

Gina Torres

Gina Torres has been shining on the small and silver screen since she was on One Life to Live. Since then she’s been in The Matrix, 24, Alias and Huge just to name a few. Now she’s stealing scenes in Suits as Jessica Pearson, the HBIC of a team of high-powered attorneys who do dirt and win cases.

Taye Diggs

Taye Diggs made Private Practice‘s six-season run. And now that the show is ending, we are going to miss watching Taye play Dr. Sam Bennett for two reasons and only one of them is his acting. Damn that man is fine.

Lamorne Morris

New Girl was a surprise Fox hit that no one thought would get picked up. That’s why Damon Wayans Jr. originally starred in the pilot but opted for Happy Endings instead. Lamorne Morris picked up where Jr. left off and became the funniest cast member on the show.  He makes the show worth watching even if Zooey Deschanel gets on your nerves.

Amber Riley

Amber Riley plays diva extraordinaire Mercedes Jones on Fox’s Glee. Your girl can sang. And she keeps it real enough to represent young sister’s everywhere. She steals the show on Glee with star power and pipes and we see big things in her future now that she’s parted ways with the series.

Sonja Sohn

We’ve loved Sonja Sohn ever since she starred in Slam alongside Saul Williams. Since then she’s blown up with big roles in Cold Case, The Wire and Body of Proof.

Now she’s joined Burn Notice for their sixth season. Sohn started out on Burn Notice as a guest star as Agent Olivia Riley. But she busted out those acting chops we know and love and they picked her up full time. Get it girl.

Shemar Moore

We could put Shemar Moore on this list just for being hot, but the brother also has talent. On Criminal Minds, Shemar Moore plays Derek Morgan who is everybody’s favorite character on the show. And unlike some of the other token characters on the list, Shemar doesn’t act like he’s allergic to lending his acting talent to black movies.

Kerry Washington

We love, love, love Kerry Washington in Scandal. You’re supposed to steal the show when you’re the star but not everybody pulls it off like Ms. Washington playing Olivia Pope. Columbus Short isn’t too bad as Harrison Wright either.

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