Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

Kiko's House would be remiss in the extreme to not backtrack and note the death last Saturday of Richard Pryor at age 65. (I try to adhere to an obit-a-day rule, which seems kind of silly as I write these words. In any event, Democratic maverick Eugene McCarthy got his due on Sunday, but not comic maverick Pryor.)

Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post op-ed columnist, explains Pryor's genius much better than I ever could:

Comedians, critics and scholars are almost unanimous in citing Pryor . . . as the creator of modern stand-up comedy. He was the genius who saw and realized possibilities that others couldn't even imagine -- just as Picasso somehow had seen that an Avignon demoiselle's face would reveal a new kind of truth and beauty if he gave it the nose of an African mask. Comedian Damon Wayans best described Pryor's amazing technical skill in a tribute on Pryor's Web site: "There are many different kinds of comedians . . . the observational humorist, the impressionist, the character creator, the physical comedian, the self-deprecator, and the dirty-joke teller. What made Richard Pryor so brilliant is he was able to incorporate all these styles at once."

Pryor wasn't the first African American comedian who made it big in the television era -- Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson and Godfrey Cambridge preceded him. But those great comics produced mainstream art, unthreatening to white audiences, while Pryor's stunning cultural impact came from his decision to present his comedy unfiltered. What came out of Pryor's mouth was black and raw.

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