What's going on? My heroes keep dying lately. Richard Pryor, possibly the funniest American political comedian ever, died on Saturday.
In The Observer's obituary, I learned that Pryor was raised in a brothel. No wonder he was so messed up. Brothels in the mid-west of the US, mostly due to the kinds of people they attract, are one of the last places I would think a good place to bring up a child, not that I imagine his mother had much choice, given the racist nature of the US.
Born in the Midwestern state of Illinois and brought up in a brothel, he began, like many black comedians at the time, by trying to appeal to respectable audiences. All that changed after what he later called a stage 'epiphany' in 1967, before a posh hotel audience in Las Vegas. He looked into the crowd, paused, suddenly said into the microphone 'What the fuck am I doing here?' - and walked off stage.Pryor relentlessly hounded white America, even while making many of them laugh, turning what he perceived as their racist injustices into comedy skits. Apparently even he wasn't sure why he got away with it.
The comedian once marvelled that 'I live in racist America and I'm uneducated, yet a lot of people love me and like what I do and I can make a living from it. You can't do much better than that.'I always loved Pryor's comedy, even when I was too young to understand what he was talking about. As I grew up and came to understand the issues behind his stand-up I came to appreciate him even more.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, The Toy, Brewster's Millions, and Stir Crazy remain some of my favourite movies.
Thank you Richard Pryor.