Before Dave Chapelle walked off The Chapelle Show, Richard Pryor walked offstage in Vegas because he grew weary of doing “white bread comedy.” Pryor’s comedy and his delivery would never be the same. I knew I was drawn to the world of comedy the first time I heard Richard Pryor tell a joke. From the days my brother and I would sneak into the basement with the flashlight and listen to “That Niggas Crazy” to watching Pryor make fun of himself in his Live From Sunset Strip concert, I knew I was witnessing comedy royalty. A legend that we would never see the likes of again in my lifetime.
Apparently, the Paramount Network agrees. Produced by them and Jennifer Lee Pryor, I Am Richard Pryor is a really raw, no sugar-coated view of Pryor’s life through his comedy and the eyes of his peers keeping it real about the comic legend. Peers and friends like Mike Epps, Tiffany Haddish, Sandra Bernhard, Howie Mandel, Jimmie Walker, Lily Tomlin and more. Chronicling everything his humble beginnings of Peoria, Illinois in his Grandmother’s brothel to his diagnosis and death from Multiple Sclerosis, this documentary reveal things you may not have been privy prior to this moment.
What types of things? Things like Richard Pryor literally was the first black movie star black people had seen since Sidney Poitier (who actually directed Pryor and Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy). His successful film career garnered Oscar buzz as “Piano Man’ in Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross, multiple hit buddy films with Gene Wilder (Stir Crazy, Silver Streak) and using his humor to break down the history of slaves with his 1976 album ‘Bicentennial Nigger.’ As well as, through his short-lived NBC show that was cancelled to a disconnect with the network over content. Richard Pryor’s comedy literally saved his life until that moment it all began to go off the rails when hit lit himself on fire freebasing.
I Am Richard is an emotional rollercoaster portrait of one of our comic geniuses through the eyes, heart and recollection of the person who knew and loved him the best – Jennifer Lee Pryor. As chaotic as his life was, it’s ironic that the last image of the film is Jennifer scattering his ashes in the one place that brought Richard peace – Hana, Hawaii as we hear him in his own voice say as Mudbone “in other world – the nigga dead.”
I Am Richard Pryor had is World Premiere at SXSW last night and screens one more time on March 13th. It will air again on the Paramount Network on March 15th.