Richard Pryor Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Richard Pryor Live in Concert] is simply a filmed record of a solo show that Pryor did in Long Beach, California, not long ago. Several cameras were set up, and the show went on, that's all. Aside from the steamy language, it's like watching a live TV broadcast….

The life in the thing is Pryor's. I've seen him in a number of films—[Paul Schrader's] Blue Collar, [John Badham's] Bingo Long and others—in which he has been very funny and, sometimes, quite moving; his stand-up comic self was only a rumor. Not anymore. In the first 15 minutes or so, I thought this was a new Lenny Bruce, with a blistering tongue, a nastily knowing jab, an anger working itself out through savage but good jokes. For Bruce, the world was divided into people and gentiles: for Pryor, it's people and whites. And he scorches through those opening minutes with a blowtorch humor that compels laughs from those getting vindication and those harboring guilts.

After that opening, the monologue slips into merely (merely!) funny shtick, continuingly raunchy but designed only for yoks. Which it gets. In the course of the act Pryor does, possibly for the first time in history, a hilarious bit on having a heart attack (which, I gather, he has had); a pantomime on why blacks walking through woods don't get bitten by snakes but whites do; sharp mimicry of Wasps, John Wayne, and—believe it or not—a deer drinking, a Doberman pinscher and a salacious monkey. If the act doesn't sustain what it promises at the start—a real social blast—it's still a fast hour and 20 minutes. (p. 24)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Alive and Otherwise" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1979 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 180, No. 18, May 5, 1979, pp. 24-5.∗