Time To Remember The Funniest Man Of All Time!
Richard Pryor was a brilliant standup comic, actor and personality. He was also volatile – biographies of Pryor tell many of these stories – and he had a tragic personal life as well…but I want to focus on his amazing talent.
Pryor was as controversial and taboo-breaking as fellow comic George Carlin in the early 70’s – he spoke to a white audience about the black experience of the time. His body of work includes concert movies and albums like “Richard Pryor: Live & Smokin'” (1971), and “…Is It Something I Said?” (1975) – his comedy albums and standup concert movies are groundbreaking and hilarious – Pryor won an Emmy Award in 1973, and he also won five Grammy Awards (1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, and 1982).
More Pryor Accolades!
In 1974, he also won two American Academy of Humor awards and the Writers Guild of America Award. The first ever Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was presented to him in 1998. Pryor is listed at Number 1 on Comedy Central’s list of all-time greatest stand-up comedians.
There are many different aspects to his career: I want to focus on a couple of specific moments: Pryor breaking into film via the blaxploitation classic “The Mack”; his dramatic work in the cult movie “Blue Collar”; and a short snippet of his classic standup work – plus his most notorious SNL moment.
Let’s begin with his breakout role in what is considered one of the 70’s greatest “blaxploitation” films…
Here is the trailer:
“Blaxploitation” is a somewhat overlooked style of film making from the early 70’s – an ethnic sub-culture of exploitation film, focused on the black community. Among the many examples are the classic films “Shaft”, “Cleopatra Jones” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song”.
Meet Blaxploitation Legend Max Julien.
Max Julien was a working Actor who wrote one of blaxploitation’s great female characters, “Cleopatra Jones” – a classic bit of genre movie making from 1973.
Julien also came up with “The Mack”, an iconic character – also from 1973 – that introduced Richard Pryor to movies…
The MACK! – 1973.
Julien plays Goldie, who returns from five years at the state pen and winds up king of the pimping game. Trouble comes in the form of two corrupt white cops and a crime lord who wants him to return to the small time. Pryor stole the film with his performance as a street-wise hustler with a sharp tongue.
According to Max Julien on the DVD commentary, Richard Pryor and producer Harvey Bernhard had a heated argument during filming. Later that night, Pryor was going to Bernhard’s hotel room to attack him with a sock filled with ball bearings until Julien calmed Pryor down.
The stories of Pryor’s violent behavior would only become more common in the future, as you will see…
After breaking out big via his acting on TV and film, his Saturday Night Live appearances, record releases and standup comedy, Pryor became one of the most popular performers of the 70’s…
Richard Pryor was in 3 different films on 1978: he starred in “The Wiz”, alongside Michael Jackson and Diana Ross…
He also starred in Neil Simon’s ensemble comedy “California Suite” – and he flexed his acting muscles in a gritty drama that showcased his dramatic ability…
Zeke Brown: Reasonable, Man, flick my Bic!
Richard Pryor burns through the screen in this dramatic film directed by “Taxi Driver” Writer Paul Schrader. Pryor’s career was so hot at this time that he was the ONLY Actor on the poster, even though “Blue Collar” also starred Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto…here is the trailer…
Pryor stars as Zeke Brown, a factory worker with an attitude, as you can tell by this dialogue. The movie was written and directed by Paul Schrader, who wrote the screenplay for “Taxi Driver”:
Clarence Hill, Union Steward: Y’know I can’t go to the Green Room with every little thing. I gotta wait for somethin’ big, or a buncha little things. Now we can’t let our power be dissipated by the, by the plant. . .
Zeke Brown: Plant my ass, man! That’s all you talk about, “the plant”! Everybody know what “the plant” is. “The plant” just short for plantation!
Three workers, Zeke, Jerry and Smokey, are working at a car plant and drinking their beers together. One night when they steal away from their wives to have some fun they get the idea to rob the local union’s bureau safe. First they think it is a flop, because they get only 600 dollars out of it, but then Zeke realizes that they also have gotten some ‘hot’ material. They decide to blackmail their union.
Schrader wrote incredible dialogue for Pryor, who showed he could deliver his lines without a hint of humor:
Zeke Brown: “And when I take over your muthafuckin’ job, know what I’m gonna do baby? Gonna get on my private jet and wing up to Palm Springs. Hang out with Eddie Knuckles, and hit a few golf balls with President Ford and Nixon and them muthafuckas.”
What A Volatile Shoot!
Here is some great trivia, courtesy of IMDB: the film “had one of the more tumultuous shoots that a director could experience, which nearly gave [writer/director Paul Schrader] a nervous breakdown and caused him to quit the film business [for a time] . . . The incident that nearly caused Schrader to have a mental breakdown was when [Richard Pryor] (likely in a drug-fueled rage) actually pulled a gun on him and told him there was no way he was ever going to do more than three takes for a scene!”.
It was a very tense shoot because the three lead actors, Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel argued constantly. There were fights, verbal abuse, walk-offs and Mexican stand-offs. According to Paul Schrader, Pryor punched Keitel and hit Kotto with a chair during filming.
According to IMDB, Veteran character Actor George Memmoli filed a $1-million lawsuit against Richard Pryor, claiming that Pryor hit him with a chair during filming and fractured his skull.
Stories of Pryor’s volatile temper continued to appear, but he was also the most popular comedian in Hollywood.
The Voice Of A Generation…
Jerry Seinfeld called Pryor “The Picasso of our profession”; Bob Newhart has called Pryor “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.” This legacy can be attributed, in part, to the unusual degree of intimacy Pryor brought to bear on his comedy. As Bill Cosby reportedly once said, “Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.”
Pryor hosted Saturday Night Live several times, doing incendiary monologues and controversial comedy sketches like this one…
One of the most amazing moments in Saturday Night Live history occurs when Richard Pryor sits down for a job interview with Chevy Chase…this is classic comedy:
Richard Pryor was the first comic to release a concert movie directly to movie theaters – something that has been done many times since – these recordings capture his mastery on stage… here is a bit of that classic standup – a master at work:
Showtime airs documentary ‘Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic’
And now Showtime has a new documentary that looks at this brilliant Comic – check out Showtime to see it!
Be sure to look for his classic films, standup performances and TV appearances on blu-ray…they are worth savoring over and over!
Categories: 70's Cinema, Academy Awards, Action Films, Awards, Blaxploitation!, Books / Media, Comedy Movies, documentary films, Exploitation films, Great Films, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Movies, Obscure Movies, Politics, Talent/Celebrities, TV Show, Uncategorized