Why I love Richard Pryor

Eventually cancelled by TV execs, The Richard Pryor Show in the 1970’s was a showcase for skits, stand-up, a platform for new comedians such as Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhard – and was admittedly very hit and miss. This ‘Gun Shop’ skit is a little too long, but it demonstrates Pryor’s alternative approach to mainstream comedy – his particular brand powered by a lot of political and social commentary. Russ Abbot’s Mad House this ain’t.

If you haven’t seen much Pryor beyond his many (some ropey) big screen roles, I would recommend taking a look at the volume of his work available on Youtube. Pryor’s more serious sketches – sometimes convoluted and rambling – are also very moving. Often uncomfortable to watch, Pryor painted vivid pictures of the condition of man, racism, globalisation, capitalism, and current (1970’s & 80’s) America. And he was brutally self-pillorying about his own, myriad, faults – including violence towards the women in his life and his drug addictions. Pryor also reflected on hypocrisies and obsessions within African-American culture, playing on themes of ‘gangster’, ‘pimp’, and the afrocentric movement. In one skit he even portrays a (first) black US President in his inimitable style…

The Richard Pryor Show gave birth to later, more popular, and very referential skit shows such as the Wayan brothersIn Living Colour in the early 1990’s. In Living Colour also gave Jim Carrey his first small-screen freedom of expression (echoing Pryor’s show ‘introducing’ of Robin Williams). Although I don’t know how grateful we should all be for that.

He would have been the first to admit he was far, far from a perfect man, but I love Pryor’s body of comedic and dramatic work.

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