Monday, June 23, 2008

Richard Pryor: Live in Concert

A blend of profanity, pure Watt Stax blackness, and keen observation, Rich Pryor is a demi-god of American comedy. Leaving him out of any discussion of 70's comedy is criminal. While his films have not always been criterion worthy (feel free to remove The Toy, from your Netflix queue) his standup concert films are held in high regard by critics and fans alike. 

Live in Concert is his first, and many would agree, his finest. Pryor was at the top of his game, his drug addiction not yet crippling his energy and agility as a performer. Indeed, this was the period in which his addictions were fueling some of his greatest work.

The issue of race was always on Pryor's lips and he is remembered for his racial charged routines as well as his use of profanity and gritty street slang. But Pryor transcends color boundaries for a number of reasons. I watched this concert film when I was around 16 or so and while I could not relate to issues of 70's blackness, I was amazed at Pryor's ability to jump in and out of characters. He was as talented physically as he was verbally and his agility as a performer shines in this film... and he happens to be hilarious. 

Pryor wasn't simply a comedian who broke boundaries of taste. He was a highly skilled actor with unlimited range. He had empathy, an earthy quality. Lily Tomlin describes Pryors skills in this New Yorker article, from the early 70's. While he is remembered for his personal antics (antics is a nice way of saying, "lighting yourself on fire) he should be remembered from this concert film. Playing monkees, heart attacks, cars, God and any manner of person or thing Pryor is amazing. It's one of the greatest comedy films of the 70's, and certainly the greatest standup concert film of all-time. Now there's something to put in your Netflix queue. 


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