Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor, R.I.P..

Digby, over at his blog, has a passage in his requiem for Pryor that sums it up better than I ever could. He describes going to a Pryor show at age 18:

I looked around me in that theatre that night, in which I and my little friend Kathy were among a fair minority of whites, and I realized that we were all laughing uproariously together at this shocking, dirty, racially charged stuff. As someone who grew up in a racist household (and had always had a visceral reaction against it) it was an enormous, overwhelming relief. I understood Richard Pryor, the African Americans in the audience understood Richard Pryor and Richard Pryor and the African Americans understood me. He was right up front, saying it all clearly and without restraint. He wasn't being polite and pretending that race wasn't an issue. And it didn't matter. Nobody, not one person, in that audience was angry. In fact, not one person in that audience was anything but doubled over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter. He had our number, all of us, the whole flawed species.

That last sentence should be Richard Pryor's epitaph. It's a rare comic--hell, it's a damn near unheard of comic these days--who could wrench so many laughs out of so much human tragedy and stupidity.

My favorite Pryor routine is memorialized in his first concert movie, and it describes his first heart attack. He does a little one-man show in which he plays not only his own terrified self, but his own angry, talking heart with the attitude of a particularly vicious mugger. At one point the heart makes him get down on one knee and beg for mercy for eating so much pork. And it's hilarious. It takes real genius to make something that raw that funny.

R.I.P. Richard Pryor. Your legacy lives on.

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