Richard Pryor Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Pryor 1940–

Black American comedian and actor.

Pryor is recognized as one of the most original comedians of this era. His great achievement, in the opinion of many critics, is to point to the sometimes hilarious means by which mankind attempts merely to live. His is a comedy of the human condition, shaped by a broad and humane vision of the world.

Although Pryor's portrayals of tough-talking, hard-living blacks receive the most publicity, his characters are generally a mixed group and his satires are aimed at blacks and whites with equal intensity. Critics maintain that Pryor's characters have a stirring universality. Rich and poor, black and white, the young and the very old are portrayed deftly through a combination of visual and verbal techniques. Some observers attribute Pryor's evenhandedness to a sensibility which sees a mystical continuity and order beneath the surface of diverse lives.

Although his albums That Nigger's Crazy, Is It Something I Said?, and Bicentennial Nigger all won Grammy awards, Pryor was not considered "acceptable entertainment" by many audiences until the late 1970s, when the language and subject matter of his routines became more commonplace in the work of other performers. Pryor's films continue to receive "restricted" ratings, but he is now extremely popular with both black and white audiences. Having nearly burned to death in an accident in June, 1980, Pryor returned in 1982 in the film Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip. This work, like his film Richard Pryor Live in Concert, is often described as one of Pryor's most compelling and effective efforts.