Richard Pryor Robert Duncan - Essay

Robert Duncan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] problem with reviewing comedy records is eventually the problem with comedy records themselves. Just how many times can you hear the same punchline and laugh? After the second or third time around, you're just remembering past pleasure, and beyond that these records tend to become a rather grim experience.

But the ephemerality of comedy is something the "new" comedians are trying to eliminate by rendering their material more—if you'll pardon the expression—relevant. The new comedians—this category usually includes Pryor, Carlin, Lily Tomlin, and in his worst moments Robert Klein—are working towards something along the line of spoken literature heavily dosed with—again, pardon my sixties—social commentary. Unfortunately the new comedians are not the new literati and their social commentary quickly becomes predictable. And since they took the jokes away the whole thing is turning into an out-and-out drag.

Richard Pryor is an extraordinarily funny guy. But his social viewpoint is just becoming all that much more familiar with [his album Is It Something I Said?], and so the twists and endings (punchlines?) to his bits are that much more predictable. But still it is Pryor. Right, so "Eulogy" was very funny the first two times around, and "Just Us" (Justice, get it?) holds up into the third or fourth spins. The major opus here, "Mudbone," is a cut of about 15 minutes length wisely divided between sides one and two, is a captivating piece of hyperbolic black folklore (folk literature) and a great bit of acting that one would love to see but it's not really very funny. "Our Text For Today" is a surprising low point for Pryor. It's supposed to be funny that this preacher takes the lyrics from Stevie Wonder's "Livin' For The City" as his Sunday text. But has Richard really been subjected to one of those "new" preachers yet, those guys who try to make church "relevant"? Perhaps he's misjudged their impact. Because those cats is deadly dull.

Robert Duncan, in his review of "Is It Something I Said?" in Creem (© copyright 1975 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 7, No. 6, November, 1975, p. 84.