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…

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