Friday, May 24, 2013

Richard Pryor Unrestrained

By David Luhrssen
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  Richard Pryor was funny on CD, of course, but to fully experience the humor, you needed to see him in action. A new package called “No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert,” is a lavish set in a hard cover with an extensive, illustrated booklet along with seven CDs and two DVDs.

The audio discs comprise a best-of collection culled from eight LPs released from 1968 through 1983 (including such provocative titles as That Nigger’s Crazy and Bicentennial Nigger) plus unreleased material. The hilarity is infectious, but then, seeing is really believing.

The DVDs include the three concert films from the peak years of his popularity: Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1979), Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) and Richard Pryor Here and Now (1983). The appreciative audiences began laughing in anticipation at the first sight of the comedian—and they weren’t disappointed once his act was underway. Pryor’s face registered mock seriousness and ironic earnestness as he told… not jokes, but funny stories and searing anecdotes about race and sex, sex and race, lawyers and marriage and romance—and sex and race.

He infused the N-word with defiant swagger and opened the way to its deployment in rap. “He focused on the parts of himself that were most wounded, the most destructive of himself and others… and not only did he refuse to blink, he lingered,” writes Scott Saul, author of a forthcoming biography on Pryor, in the booklet notes. Elsewhere in the package’s essays we learn of Pryor’s roots in the black consciousness movement of early ‘70s Berkeley, with the Black Panthers and the speeches of Malcolm X as inspiration. But Pryor would reach a larger, wider, whiter audience by employing uncompromising humor rather than sharp rhetoric.

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