Richard Pryor Michael H. Seitz - Essay

Michael H. Seitz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Richard Pryor] is at his best in the recently released "concert" film, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip. Although the witless pop comedies he's held together single-handedly through the past decade [(Arthur Hiller's Silver Streak, Michael Schultz's Greased Lightning, Herbert Ross's California Suite, Sidney Poitier's Stir Crazy)] draw upon his talents in a parsimonious way, he seems to me unquestionably the most gifted and inventive comic working today….

Pryor's work in Live on the Sunset Strip represents a fusion of his unrestrained abilities as a writer …, stand-up comic, and actor of increasing range and versaility—and it is both unexpectedly moving and wildly funny. (p. 52)

The funny stuff, almost seamlessly stitched together in this performance, runs a thematic range from sex to money, success, lawyers, marriage, prisons, courage, racism, the search for roots, Africa, caged and uncaged animals, cultural relativism, and Pryor's recent, notorious self-immolating "accident." What the movie-goer sees and hears has doubtless been well rehearsed, but there is a commanding sense of improvisation, and one is held on edge by a feeling that this shameless, hyperimaginative wild man might say or do absolutely anything. Pryor goes in for smoker language in a big way, but while the dirty talk adds flavor to the act, his comedy is far from dependent on it. He grounds his work on human feelings, often the most intimate sort, and social and psychological perceptions, and I know of no one better at turning such material into comedy. (pp. 52-3)

Michael H. Seitz, "A Few Laughs," in The Progressive (reprinted by permission from The Progressive, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53703; copyright © 1982 by The Progressive, Inc.), Vol. 46, No. 6, June, 1982, pp. 52-3.∗