11 December 2005


Richard Pryor
1940 - 2005
American poet

In the event that you've only been exposed to him in the form of his stupid later films, mark the day by finding one of his old standup routines on CD or DVD and go see him invent contemporary stand-up comedy.

There's a whole generation of comics now who learned his trick of digging into the dark places of pain, anguish, race, sex, violence to win laughter from an audience. Most of them are using that trick for cheap laughs, while Pryor earned those laughs the hard way. You paid for them, listening to him. And he paid, himself --- he paid dearly. And was ten times funnier than almost everybody in the business in the process.

While we're here: As I was trawling for a quote for this post, I stumbled across an amazing story about him working with Lily Tomlin. It says this about his work:

Instead of adapting to the white perspective, he forced white audiences to follow him into his own experience. Pryor didn't manipulate his audiences' white guilt or their black moral outrage. If he played the race card, it was only to show how funny he looked when he tried to shuffle the deck.

And then it says a whole lot more. Check it out.

Update: Digby says some fine things about Pryor.

He was right up front, saying it all clearly and without restraint. He wasn't being polite and pretending that race wasn't an issue. And it didn't matter. Nobody, not one person, in that audience was angry. In fact, not one person in that audience was anything but doubled over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter. He had our number, all of us, the whole flawed species.

Also long, also worth a read.

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