Judge Ryan Keefer likes mud bones, Leon Spinks, and everything else from 1978.
Crude. Foul. Real. In a word, that's Richard Pryor Live in Concert.
If comedy were a highway, Richard Pryor would be the road and each toll plaza along the way. Any comic over 30 gives Pryor his proper due when it comes to the impact that he made on their lives and comedy as a whole. Rock to Chappelle, Wayans to Schimmel, it's hard not to see the impact that Pryor had on comics, comedy, and larger topics in America. Now, far be it for me as a proud, slightly overgrown man of Polish descent to shed new wisdom on the magic of the man who gave us Mudbone. Any attempt would be insulting to you and embarrassing to myself, but why not give it a try, right?
After some years as a fairly successful mainstream performer, in the early '70s Pryor reviewed his look on life and society from the counterculture. He was more revolutionary than people were used to seeing, in large part because he was introducing white America to the prejudices that black America had been used to for years, and giving it a sense of familiarity to the whites while providing for some cannon fodder for blacks. But the bigger impact that Pryor's comedy had on America was that his frankness was something that was surprising to many people. He didn't hesitate to poke fun at his demons (in this Live in Concert special early on, he talks about shooting his wife's car with a Magnum and the subsequent scare of having Los Angeles cops visit his house). This, in addition to Pryor's discussions about his marriages and drug use, broke down a wall that made his audiences identify lot more with him than other comics could even dream of achieving. While George Carlin combined stories about life's ironies mixed with some stories from his childhood, Pryor's stories were almost always based on things that happened to him, however accurate they may have been. Pryor was a flawed guy, and those flaws made him the crazy neighbor down the road for black folks, while peckerwoods like me enjoyed him because he was the crazy minority guy that was great for a laugh, but at the end of the day, you went home happy because you had your brush with fun and adventure without getting thrown in jail as a result.
Live in Concert was Pryor's first extended stand-up special and by this point, he had already established a fine filmography of dramatic and comedic films that included Car Wash, Lady Sings the Blues, and Silver Streak. In a special whose opening act was singer Patti LaBelle (?) and taped in front of a mix of Long Beach, California's best and brightest, Pryor starts off on fire and stays there. Aside from discussions about his wife, he also talks about his beginnings involving his grandmother (who guilted him off of cocaine temporarily) and his father (who supposedly died while making love to a woman half his age). He discusses growing up and boxing, and talks about events at the time, namely the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks title bouts before moving on to relationships, and what makes women and men tick.
All of us have seen his Sunset Strip and Here and Now concert films, both of which are understandably better and more well-rounded than this, but Live in Concert exhibits a Richard Pryor that still apparently went for the home run, even with a semi-successful Hollywood career under his feet. Whether you've heard the police abuse bit on your iPod for the third time, or if you've heard about how good an amateur boxer he was growing up, and you transcribed the bits to recreate them for your family remembers, Richard Pryor's work in 1979 is as good then as it is now, and easily trumps 90 percent of what any other comic is doing these days. His status and talent are cemented in history as one of the great comic minds of his (or any other) generation.
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