Richard Pryor Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip] has a sprinkling of high spots—the animal imitations, a scene with the Mafia—but the direct confrontation of Pryor and audience encourages sentimentalities in him, both of heart-tug and profanity. Also, it puts a double load on him, of performing and being the whole show as well. I don't mean that he improvises everything in these shows; he uses some of his standard bits. But the selections, the relative lengths of bits, the pacing, all make demands on him that he has to keep in mind while he's also performing, with no help from anyone else.

Many cultures have developed genius clowns who do much more than make their audiences laugh, they remind and chide and reassure and rive—Karl Valentin in Brecht's Bavaria, for instance, Dario Fo in terrorized Italy today. In his own style, vastly empowered by film, Pryor is becoming our culture's prime clown and actor…. Partly because he is black and uses his blackness as he does, largely through his powerful talents, he is making his films into some of the best political art we now have, whatever the scripts may literally be. (pp. 22-3)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Pryor Engagement" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1982 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 186, No. 18, May 5, 1982, p. 22-3.∗