Richard Pryor (1940-2005) is often cited as one of the greatest Stand-Up Comedians. And just for once, they might actually be on to something there. His act influenced (and continues to influence) comedians varying from Eddie Murphy, to Bill Hicks to Eddie Izzard.
Starting out as a fairly non-controversial figure, he was influenced more by Bill Cosby than Lenny Bruce, and generally peddled his safe observational material to predominantly white audiences. It wasn't until his "epiphany" during a performance in Las Vegas in 1967 - where he exclaimed, "What the fuck am I doing here?" over the microphone before walking off the stage - that he would begin to develop his own increasingly confessional, profane and raw style of comedy.
Although he took pot-shots at a variety of targets, it's arguable that his most hilarious and cutting material concerned his own life. Whether it was shooting up his own car with a magnum, his cocaine addiction, his childhood or his health problems, Pryor would bare his private life in front of his audience in a way that even his most devoted followers would never be able to. (Seriously, can you even picture Eddie Murphy trying to laugh off that whole "Good Samaritan" incident in his stand-up?)
Despite his controversial status (one that meant he was replaced by Cleavon Little Jr. for the role of Bart in Blazing Saddles) Pryor found a degree of mainstream success, notably in his films with Gene Wilder. He retired from the public eye after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1986, but made occasional posts online and even made an appearance in Lost Highway.
He died in 2005 following a heart attack.
Examples in Stand Up Comedy
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Fuck censorship and his Mama."
- Creator Breakdown: Not only Pryor's excessive drug abuse, but also his freebasing accident that daughter Rain believed was really a suicide attempt.
- Gallows Humor: Pretty much his whole act after a while.
- Man On Fire: He lit himself on fire inadvertently when he was freebasing. He was reported to run a route described as "being a long distance in a car".
"When you're on fire and running down the street, people will get out of your way. Except for one old drunk, going, (pantomiming holding a cigarette) 'Hey, buddy? Can I get a light?'"
- Never Heard That One Before: He was aware of the jokes people were making about his Man On Fire incident He even points one of them out the first time he talked about it.
"'Do you know what this is?' (lights a match) 'It's Richard Pryor, running down the street.'"
- N-Word Privileges: He originally used it, even releasing albums called "That Nigger's Crazy" and "Bicentennial Nigger". Averted following a visit to Africa, where he resolved to stop using the word in his routine. (His love of the word "motherfucker", however, remained undiminished.)
- Out with a Bang: Apparently the way his father died.
- Refuge in Audacity: He took a Smith & Wesson-made Magnum handgun and shot a brand new Mercedes-Benz, destroying the engine.
- Sesame Street Cred: Doing the alphabet back in 1976 in this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJh_EUrEAZg
- Talking Animal: Usually dogs.
- What Could Have Been: Pryor was orginally slated to play Bart in Blazing Saddles.
- Brooks also wanted him to play "Josephus" in History of the World Part One but Pryor was injured from the freebasing incident before production. He was replaced by Gregory Hines.
- White Dude, Black Dude: The original. Accept no subsitutes.
- Wisdom from the Gutter: Subverted in the aforementioned "Wino & Junkie" bit.
"I'm gonna help you, boy. 'Cause I believe you got potential. You know what your problem is? You don't know how to deal with the white man! You got a white-man complex. I know how to deal with him. That's why I'm in the position I'm in today."
- Wrong Side of the Tracks: His mother was a prostitute, his father was her pimp, and he was raised in his grandmother's brothel. Need I say more?
Examples in Movies
- Angry Black Man: In Hear No Evil, See No Evil. Subverted in Stir Crazy.
- One-Scene Wonder: Lost Highway. Literally a "blink and you'll miss it" appearance, but considering it was filmed when Pryor was already being ravaged by Multiple Sclerosis it also served as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.