Though he'd been quite ill and out of the spotlight for the last decade, it's really difficult to imagine a world without Richard. When all the tributes and testimonials are given in the next little while, the words "genius" and "pioneer" will used to describe what he's given the world of comedy-and for a change, they won't be mere exaggerations. One only has to take at the career of this, one of the finest stand-up comics this country has ever produced, to know the truth. He has been the inspiration of an entire generation of comedy and they will testify to that fact, I can guarantee.
Fortunately, Richard's comedy will live on since so much of it has been recorded in one form or another. Some of my own personal favorites are:
Richard Pryor:Live in Concert
Before HBO, before Comedy Central, this, the first of his concert films, was a rather crudely videotaped affair and shown without an MPAA rating back in 1975. In its day, it was the equivalent of an adult party record come to life. Pryor's rants about race and sex are as bold today as they were then. The highlight is the re-enactment of his heart attack, an incredible performance that resonates to this very day. Also outstanding is a piece about a monkey that floors me even now.
Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip
Almost as good is this slickly produced follow-up, soon after he set himself on fire while under the influence of coke. He boldly, brilliantly and hilariously worked through his pain to remain a survivor from his own worst enemy-himself.
Which Way is Up?
Richard's film career is pretty much hit and miss. He had terrific supporting roles in Lady Sings the Blues. Silver Streak and Car Wash. This film, an adaptation of Lina Wertmuller's The Seduction of Mimi and directed by Michael Schultz, was his first starring role. While it hasn't aged well, much of it still holds up and Pryor, playing three different roles, proved he could carry a film all his lonesome.
Paul Schrader's directorial debut was my favorite film from that year and remains Pryor's best dramatic performance.
Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling
Richard's only directorial effort, a semi-autobiographical affair that is all over the map and actually, for a film about the life of a comic, is not very funny. Still it has its strong moments. Standing out is a sequence when Dancer's ghost watches the recreation of his own self-immolation. Semi-autobiographical my ass.
Also check out the Saturday Night Live he hosted (and virtually took over) that predated his own ill-fated NBC series (recently released on DVD) as well as any of his comedy records and the concert film Wattstax that he contributed fill-in bits between musical acts.
There are riches to be had, because after all, that was his name.
So long, Rich.
You were one funny motherfucker.