15 Richard Pryor #longreads on his birthday

Today is Richard Pryor’s birthday and finding profiles/articles/interviews on him is surprisingly difficult, though there are a ton of videos. Here are the best of what I found.

The definitive Richard Pryor #longread is this 1999 profile by Hilton Als in the New Yorker. This is just a great article.

Before Richard Pryor, there were only three aspects of black maleness to be found on TV or in the movies: the suave, pimp-style blandness of Billy Dee Williams; the big-dicked, quiet machismo of the football hero Jim Brown; and the cable-knit homilies of Bill Cosby. Pryor was the first image we’d ever had of black male fear. Not the kind of Stepin Fetchit noggin-bumpin’-into-walls fear that turned Buckwheat white when he saw a ghost in the “Our Gang” comedies popular in the twenties, thirties, and forties—a character that Eddie Murphy resuscitated in a presumably ironic way in the eighties on “Saturday Night Live.” Pryor was filled with dread and panic—an existential fear, based on real things, like racism and lost love. (In a skit on “In Living Color,” the actor Damon Wayans played Pryor sitting in his kitchen and looking terrified, while a voiceover said, “Richard Pryor—afraid of absolutely everything.”)

“Hi. I’m Richard Pryor.” Pause. “Hope I’m funny.” That was how he introduced himself to audiences for years, but he never sounded entirely convinced that he cared about being funny. Instead, Pryor embodied the voice of injured humanity. A satirist of his own experience, he revealed what could be considered family secrets—secrets about his past, and about blacks in general, and about his relationship to the black and white worlds he did and did not belong to. In the black community, correctness, political or otherwise, remains part of the mortar that holds lives together. Pryor’s comedy was a high-wire act: how to stay funny to a black audience while satirizing the moral strictures that make black American life like no other.

1977 interview with Pryor.

“I’m not for integration and I’m not against it. What I am for is justice for everyone, just like it says in the Constitution. If you ask me about women’s lib, I say I don’t even know what that is. I say what about people’s lib? I’m for human lib, the liberation of all people, not just black people or female people or gay people. I also say that if there isn’t a response to what’s been happening to the people out there, there’s going to be a great explosion one of these days, and this will not be one of the nicest places to live.

Here’s a transcript of the classic “Interview” sketch from SNL with Chevy Chase.

Interviewer: [ quickly wraps the interview up ] Okay, Mr. Wilson, I think you’re qualified for this job. How about a starting salary of $5,000?
Mr. Wilson: Your momma!
Interviewer: [ fumbling ] Uh.. $7,500 a year?
Mr. Wilson: Your grandmomma!
Interviewer: [ desperate ] $15,000, Mr. Wilson. You’ll be the highest paid janitor in America. Just, don’t.. don’t hurt me, please..
Mr. Wilson: Okay.
Interviewer: [ relieved ] Okay.
Mr. Wilson: You want me to start now?
Interviewer: Oh, no, no.. that’s alright. I’ll clean all this up. Take a couple of weeks off, you look tired.

Margaret Cho on Pryor in 2003.

I saw your movies, the first one “Live at the Sunset Strip,” changed my life, my destiny. It was the first time I realized who I was, and what I would be. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up because I never saw anyone that made me want to grow up, and then there was you. You were telling your tales, making motherfuckers helpless with laughter in the aisles. Black people, white people, everyone, right at the time when we all had a hard time sitting together, we came to see you, because you were beyond race, you disarmed us, we couldn’t hang on to our guns because we were trying not to pee from laughing.

Pryor on Fresh Air.

1993 Entertainment Weekly interview.

I think about dying. I’ve come to realize we all die alone in one way or another. You can have a roomful of people when it’s your time to walk into the light, but you can bet your ass not one person will offer to go with ya. Sure, I have friends, plenty of friends, and they all come around wantin’ to borrow money. I’ve always been generous with my friends and family, with money, but selfish with the important stuff like love. I don’t know nothin’ about that — do any of us?

Roger Ebert’s Richard Pryor obituary from 2005.

Although the obituaries will make much of his nearly fatal accident and his long battle with multiple sclerosis, the most significant entry may be this one: In 1998, he won the first Mark Twain Prize for humor from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He said in his acceptance speech he had been able to use humor as Mark Twain did, “to lessen people’s hatred.”

When you look again at his three great performance films, you realize that was exactly what he did: It was when he was live in front of an audience that the full range of his gifts was seen most clearly. Drugs muddled some of the early stages of his career, and his disease finally silenced him, but in the early 1980s, after he was clean and sober and before he fell ill, there was a flowering of genius. In 2004, Comedy Central placed him first on its list of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time.

Conversation with the NY Times in 1993.

Comedians remember Pryor.

The N-word and Richard Pryor.”

People Magazine 1980: “Richard Pryor’s Tragic Accident Spotlights a Dangerous Drug Craze: Freebasing

NPR obit for Pryor.

NYTimes obit.

Interview with Paul Mooney, one of Pryor’s writers.

The story of your first meeting, before you became friends, is hilarious.
I was living in a cheap apartment on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. A bunch of people would come and stay there with us, because nobody had any money, and we let them all sleep on the floor and in the bathtub or wherever. I was having a party, and a friend of my sister’s, who was dancing at the Whiskey a Go-Go, had dated Richard and brought him to the apartment. This was during that whole era of [1969 comedy] Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice when everybody was sleeping with everybody. So Richard came in and said, “Let’s all get into bed and have an orgy.” And I threw him out.

Richard Pryor asked questions by comics.

15 Richard Pryor #longreads on his birthday

This better be good

Spike will air an Eddie Murphy tribute on November 14th featuring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Tracy Morgan, Arsenio Hall, Brett Ratner, Charlie Murphy, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Martin Lawrence called “Eddie Murphy: One Night Only.” I really hope it’s good.

The special, produced with Don Mischer Productions, will include short films, musical performances and sketch comedy — as well as an appearance by Murphy. It will chart his rise from a 15-year-old standup to a star of “Saturday Night Live” and such films as “Raw,” “Coming to America,” and the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise.

This better be good

Patrice O’Neal profile

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has a great profile in NY Mag of the comic Patrice O’Neal who passed away last year. It was hard to find a representative paragraph, so this will do. Just read it.

O’Neal’s work fought back not by running from the stereotypes but by refashioning them and trying them on, to see what fit—and what didn’t—and he coaxed his audiences to do the same. Could women really deny that they wore sexy clothing at work to turn men on? Didn’t all men have “rape-y” thoughts? O’Neal was determined that his comedy be something scary and exciting that he and the audience were creating together—they wouldn’t be able to pretend they hadn’t been a part of it afterward.

Patrice O’Neal profile

On Louis

Around the time Louis C.K. started selling his latest comedy special direct to fans as a download from his website, I figured I’d write something about it. I’ve always loved new models for people selling stuff. The last couple years are full of examples of entertainers, writers, media peeps, musicians, etc, creating their own platforms and distribution channels. Usually this results in a closer connection with fans, more advocacy for their work, and a lack of getting fucked with by established platforms and channels like record labels. So obviously this experiment by Louis would get a note here. And then day after day there were new links/points I wanted to include and it became a bigger thing and then I got sick and well, whatever. Here’s your Louis post. (Louis’s website doesn’t have permalinks on the news updates, so this is a bit tricky, but there are only 2 updates, so it’s not that tricky.

So the experiment worked. In about 12 days, Louis C.K. – Live at the Beacon Theater, has sold 200,000 copies and Louis has a million dollars. One of the compelling things about this whole thing is the transparency with which Louis is going about it. He feels a responsibility to the 200K people who gave him $5 to explain where the money is going: $250K is going toward the cost of the special, $250K is going to his staff as a bonus, and $280K is going to various charities. He’s keeping $220K for himself. As people keep buying and he makes another million, he’ll give more of it away.

David Carr talks to Louis a couple days after the launch.

O.K., so NBC is this huge company and they have all these studios and these satellites to beam stuff out, but on the Web, both NBC.com and LouisCK.com have the same amount of bandwidth. We are equals and there are things you can do with that. This has been a fun little experiment.

Louis cried like a little bitch on Fresh Air.

Here’s Louis on Nightline last night talking about being out of jokes and Tracy Morgan.

Hi I’m Louis C.K. and this is a thing : IAmA.

Interviews or profiles in/on: New York Times, The New Yorker (excerpt), Rolling Stone (excerpt), Playboy, The A.V. Club, Esquire, New York Post, New York Magazine, Time, GQ.

Louis is hosting the

Radio and TV Congressional Correspondent’s Dinner, which I just linked to before realizing it’s not the White House Correspondent’s dinner. Test drive?

Here’s a quick rundown of previous specials.

Frank Chimero says Louis is funny because he talks about shame.

All the greats had their focus: Richard Pryor and Chris Rock had race, George Carlin had absurdity, and I think Louis has hit on some sort of subterranean undercurrent of emotion that I didn’t realize might be swelling until I listened more closely: shame.

If you haven’t seen Everything’s Amazing & Nobody’s Happy, watch it here:

On Louis

Chris Rock on Eddie Murphy

And then Chris Rock on Eddie Murphy.

When he wants it, nobody’s funnier than him. No one’s even close to him. I just went through a little exercise where I watched a bunch of old movies, like from the ’80s. The only ones that held up were the Murphy movies. A Murphy movie is like a Sidney Poitier comedy — he’s that intensely good… He revolutionized acting. He’s literally black Brando. Before Eddie Murphy, there were two schools of acting for a black actor: Either you played it LIKE THIS or youplayeditlahkdis. He was the first black guy in a movie to talk like I am talking to you right now. Just like we’re talking right now. That did not exist for black actors before him. Good Times is a good show for that: It was either John Amos or Jimmie Walker; that’s what black acting was.

Via Jonah Keri

Chris Rock on Eddie Murphy

Bill Simmons’ List of Comedy MVPs Since 1975

In a recent mailbag, Bill Simmons had occasion to name comedy MVPs for every year since 1975. The criteria:

You have to nail at least one of these questions to qualify for that given year: Were you in the hottest comedy of the year or, even better, in the middle of a run of hot comedies? Were you carrying SNL? Did you have an iconic stand-up special, cable TV show, late-night show or comedy series? Did you routinely crush any late-night appearance or SNL hosting gig? Did you have a huge approval rating with little to no backlash? Do we associate that year with you to some degree? I need resonance beyond just cult affection, which unfortunately rules out the great Bill Hicks (who has a strong case for 1990).

It’s a pretty good list. Eddie Murphy’s 3 year run from 82-84 is set up as the run all comedians should aspire to, which I agree with. There are some lean years, as well, which leads to a few underwhelming selections like Billy Crystal in 1990 and Gary Shandling in 1997. Without having other names to suggest, I think I have the most problems with the last 8 years or so. I love Larry David, but it’s hard for me to see him on the list twice when his show hasn’t really gotten beyond cult status. Ricky Gervais probably deserves a spot somewhere, and maybe the Lonely Island guys for Lazy Sunday. Also notably absent Stephen Colbert (2006 or 2007) and Conan O’Brien. This list, though, is at least a good place to start the argument. There is only one woman on the list, and a winner for 2010 has not yet been declared. Has there been a breakout comedy for this year, yet? My bet is on Steve Carell, Zach Galifianiakis, Jonah Hill or Russel Brand could be a dark horse, as well as anyone staring in a comedy coming out between now and December. Actually, you know who wins for 2010? Betty White.

Here is the list:
1975: Richard Pryor
1976: Chevy Chase
1977-78: John Belushi
1979: Robin Williams, Steve Martin (tie)
1980: Rodney Dangerfield
1981: Bill Murray
1982-84: Eddie Murphy (1984 Honorable Mention to Sam Kinison)
1985-86: David Letterman
1987: Jay Leno, Howard Stern (tie)
1988: Eddie Murphy
1989: Dana Carvey
1990: Billy Crystal
1991: Jerry Seinfeld
1992: Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Myers (tie)
1993: Mike Myers
1994: Jim Carrey
1995: Chris Farley
1996: Chris Rock
1997: Garry Shandling
1998: Adam Sandler
1999: Mike Myers, Chris Rock (tie)
2000: Will Ferrell
2001: Matt Stone and Trey Parker (tie)
2002: Larry David
2003: Dave Chappelle
2004: Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart (tie)
2005: Steve Carell
2006: Sacha Baron Cohen
2007: Larry David
2008: Tina Fey
2009: Zach Galifianiakis
2010: ????????

Bill Simmons’ List of Comedy MVPs Since 1975