Tag Archive: richard pryor


Eddie at the Oscars

 

A week or so of rumors became official today when Eddie Murphy was named the host of next year’s Academy Awards telecast.  To one generation, Eddie is Donkey from Shrek and Norbit (sigh), but to my generation, Eddie was OUR stand up idol.  Richard Pryor was the pioneer, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle are multi-talented guys who probably prefer stand up, Kevin Hart is the present and future, but none of the above guys matched Eddie Murphy at his absolute apex. And they all probably idolize Eddie enough to agree with that statement.

I’ve heard more than once that Eddie wanted to get back into standup but once he became ‘Eddie Murphy’ it just wasn’t happening.  So whatever we end up getting next year, (and I don’t want to get my hopes up too high) we should probably just enjoy it.

 I’ve always been in the minority in my crew for having ‘Eddie Murphy Raw’ memorized instead of ‘Delirious’, but you couldn’t go wrong with Eddie at this stage of his career.  This is one of the cleaner bits from the two stand up movies:

The Cosby Show, by almost any measure, was the definitive 80s sitcom.  Based on the real life and stand up routine of Bill Cosby, the show revolved around the Huxtable family.  Patriarch Dr. Cliff Huxtable, his lawyer wife Clair, and their five kids.  A show that really doesn’t need much of an introduction, on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While comics like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx made their name by telling jokes aimed square at the racial differences between us, Cosby’s humor was built more around being a father, a husband, and the ups and downs of family.  I make this point again to say that while we all saw the superficial element, The Cosby Show rarely, if ever, addressed race in a direct way.  The culture was always there from beginning to end, but with the success of the show wasn’t necessarily because of, nor in spite of the family being black.  They just…were.

Legacy:  Where to begin?  Well, the direct ‘legacy’ of course was A Different World, which was impactful enough to earn its own place on this countdown.  On the business side, The Cosby Show turned Thursday nights into “Must See Television”  (not Friends or Seinfeld, The Cosby Show came first.)  Speaking of Jerry Seinfeld, him and many, many other stand up comedians owe him a debt of gratitude for establishing the ‘stand up comedian turning his act into a sitcom’ genre.  There are literally too many to name at this point, but The Cosby Show proved how successful that could be.  Am I missing anything?  Oh yes, in terms of why it stands where it stands on this countdown, for the vast number of black (and white) kids who had never seen a black doctor OR a black lawyer in their lives, The Cosby Show planted the idea in their heads that yes, it’s possible to have a black family like this.  Can not be underestimated.

Craft:  Nobody was ‘looking’ for a show like this, to have the impact it had, when it came out.  Even in reruns and syndication, The Cosby Show holds up extremely well.  I personally will always have a soft spot for the scene where Cliff educates Theo about finances using Monopoly money, but you can look through every season and find all kinds of (clean) and funny segments.  If casting is 80 percent of the battle, then Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Tempest Bledsoe, and Keisha Knight-Pulliam deserve all the credit in the world.

Crossover:  The undisputed number one show in the ratings for a good five or six years (until The Simpsons came along).  Winner of Emmys, Golden Globes, Image Awards.  Cliff Huxtable still wins polls as the best TV dad ever.  Not best black TV dad, best Dad.  Nuff said.

Apollo:  Come on now…

And on that note, I’m off to find me a woman and start my own Huxtable family.  The most important Black TV show of all time next month.

richard_pryor_live_on_sunset_strip

Richard Pryor is universally recognized as the black comedian who set the stage for the onslaught of African-American stand ups who followed him in the 80s, 90s, and present day.  An argument can be made that there are funnier stand up films by some of the comedians that came after him, but Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip set the standard for almost every black comic stand up film that came after it.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While he certainly wasn’t the ‘first’ (Redd Foxx also comes to mind as someone who made a dent in the mainstream), Richard Pryor is held in such high praise by comedians and entertainers alike that it’s hard to imagine someone hitting that level of reverence today, working mostly as a standup.    You don’t need to have an eagle eye to spot a young Jesse Jackson in the crowd during this show, so um, Rich was at the heart of the community to say the least…

Legacy:  Wow.  Where to begin?  On a superficial level, it’s probably not a coincidence that in his first big stand up film Delirious, Eddie Murphy rocks a bright red leather suit that mimics that bright red suit Rich wore in this film.  The way Rich prowls the stage when he delivers his jokes, it’s easy to see Chris Rock mimicing his movements.  Rich’s confession that he’ll stop using the N-word to tear down his people has echoes of the reason Chappelle said he quit his own mega popular show.  Rich’s comedic telling of his nearly life ending episode is definitely reminiscent of Martin talking about his notorious mental breakdown in his own stand up film.  And how about the whole going back to Africa bit that Jamie all but stole word for word for his best standup special from back in the day (though I’ll be the first to admit that bit is still hilarious)?  Safe to say, every black comedian worth his salt watched this film more than once…

Craft:  I make no claims to be a comedian, but watching this film you really appreciate how many different types of comedy Richard Pryor did really, really well.  There’s the straight silliness/the storyteller (the animals in the jungle), the black comedian (the bit about brothers in the pen), and the self-deprecating (the whole bit about lighting himself on fire).  Even the comedians of my generation can usually only master one or two of these skill sets.  Richard Pryor really was the Man.

Crossover:  It wasn’t just black people who loved Richard Pryor of course.  Sequences like his story about working for the Mafia illustrate how Rich’s comedy went well, well past being just a black thing.  He was just one really, really funny motherf—–.

Apollo:  

An all time classic comes in next at #9.  But now that we’re in the top 10 that wasn’t much of a hint was it?  Guess you’ll have to come back later to check it out…

key_art_saturday_night_live

Probably the most controversial choice of the television side of the countdown, Saturday Night Live has ran for over 30 years and has more than earned its reputation as one of America’s top comedic showcases.  Created by Lorne Michaels, the show itself is not African-American by definition, but there is usually one black castmember every season.  And at least two of those castmembers…

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  The show itself is not African-American in the traditional sense.  But because of its primetime NBC timeslot, SNL‘s reach gives it a much larger audience when it does do something with a racial undertone.  The first (and debatably most notorious) of these sketches took place when Richard Pryor was the guest host in one of the show’s first seasons.  Doing a job interview sketch with Chevy Chase, a game of word association quickly devolved into…well, go look it up if you’ve never seen it.

Legacy:  While Garrett Morris preceded him, few would argue that there was ever a more perfect storm than the emergence of teenage Eddie Murphy with the post-Belushi/Aykroyd SNL.  Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub, and of course Buckwheat…no single castmember, black or white, has ever done as much with that spotlight as Eddie.  But there have been others…

Craft:  Those who have tried it well tell you comedy is extremely hard to pull off (go and try to make everyone in your office laugh at the same joke if you disagree on this point).  A major reason SNL endures over time is in its ability to find the right comic notes with the present generation.  There’s always going to be juvenile humor since the show caters to a younger audience, but every once in a while (i.e. Sarah Palin), the jokes will have some teeth.  One lost but not quite forgotten skit was ‘The OverActing Negro Ensemble’, where Sinbad, Tim Meadows, Ellen Cleghorne and Chris Rock basically took every scene chewing move that black actors and writers use and threw it into a 2 minute skit.  Probably went over most people’s heads, but if you got the joke it was hilarious.

Crossover:  Um, yes.  I would even argue part of the humor of ‘Dick in a Box’ and “Lazy Sunday” is in seeing (square) white guys doing ‘black’ music.

Apollo: 

http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=278716

The top 10 begins later this month…

bhcop

Originally written for Sylvester Stallone (who would take parts of the original idea to make Cobra), Beverly Hills Cop is universally agreed to be the film that made Eddie Murphy a movie star.  Don’t need much more for the intro, on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  In terms of African-American ‘movie stars’ (which I’ll define as people who you can put the name on the top of the marquee and people will show up regardless of the film), that list is still pretty short more than 20 years later.  Denzel.  Will.  I’d argue those may be the only two who can do anything and everybody will show up.  And both of those brothers came along after Eddie Murphy.  Easy to forget now.

Legacy:  Essentially, every one of his starring vehicles after this, as well as every movie starring Chris Rock or Martin Lawrence to name two.  And those are just headliners.  Let’s not forgot about the Mike Epps’ and Bernie Macs who also benefitted. (As a sidenote, I know ALL these guys were inspired by Richard Pryor, but I would argue Rich’s legacy will always be as a stand up comedian who did a few movies.  Eddie was a FANTASTIC stand up comedian who completely stopped doing it once he became a movie star.)

Craft:  All reports indicate that this was one of those films where the script was just kind of ‘there’, and a lot of the best scenes and jokes were improvised by Eddie and the cast.  So does that make it better or worse from a craft point of view?  I could see either side…

Crossover:  Oh yeah…that’s why it’s ranked so high.  The highest grossing film of the year (narrowly beating out Ghostbusters I believe, you fact-checkers are welcome to correct me if I’m wrong on that point.)  It seems silly now, but in the 80s there were ‘three black celebrities': Eddie, Michael, and Prince.  This film went a long way to putting Eddie in that company.

Apollo:  

The countdown continues later this month…

blazing_saddles

Lucas, Spielberg, and Scorsese all get their well-deserved credit, but doesn’t Mel Brooks deserve a little more love for pumping out his own classic films in the 70s/early 80s?  Chief among them is his parody of the Western genre, Blazing Saddles.  The story revolves around a black sheriff put in charge of a racist town in the Old West.  This isn’t just a ‘film geek’ pic, this is truly a great comedy…

Now on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While I joke with my partner about someday making a ‘slavery comedy’, Blazing Saddles is probably as close as anyone will get.  The main character is a black sheriff, and nearly every joke of the film revolves around that fact.

Legacy:  Already one of film’s great comedies, Mel Brooks wanted Richard Pryor to play the lead role of Bart.  The studio 86’ed it since Rich was already well into drugs, so Pryor got a writing credit.  Still one of Hollywood’s great ‘what ifs’ to me, but that’s neither here nor there.

Craft:  If you appreciate the art of parody and the art of telling a good (film) joke, you have to love this movie.  It’s often credited with being the first film to have a ‘fart joke’ in it, but when I think of craft in regards to this movie, I instantly think of Sheriff Bart’s first ride into Rock Ridge…

Drunk:  The sheriff’s a (church bell).

Pastor: What’d he say?

Mayor: The sheriff’s near!

Crossover: Big Time.  Because it’s a Mel Brooks film first and foremost, Blazing Saddles almost certainly has a bigger fanbase with the mainstream than it does with black audiences.  The film was nominated for three Oscars, but didn’t win any.

Apollo:  I repeat, it’s a Mel Brooks film.  While I’m partial to ‘Where the White Women At?’, Mongo punching out a horse, or the Hollywood backlot ending probably have much more ‘What the Hell?” credibility as far as this category goes.

A minor surprise next month as the countdown continues…

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