Richard Pryor, Comedy Pioneer

It’s Friday night in New York City. Should you go to a comedy club? Should you go to a movie? Luckily, Film Society has a solution, and you won’t have to deal with annoying, drunken hecklers. Tonight, we’re showing Richard Pryor: Live in Concert as part of our summer-long Midnight Movie series!

The title, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, is about the only thing we can comfortably share from his iconic special without resorting to excessive bleeping. In fact, it’s one of his most marquee-friendly titles. Released in 1979, Live in Concert features the greatest stand-up comedian of all time giving his views on his legal troubles, boxing, and, of course, white people. For a special that is over three decades old, it has barely aged at all. There are a couple dated references, but the humor is just as biting now as it was in the disco era. And it will look amazing in a newly restored 35mm print!

The comedy legend broke ground as the first stand-up to release a performance in theaters. As well-crafted as the jokes are, when you watch Pryor perform, you know you would not get the full experience listening on a record. Pryor’s amazing physicality, combined with his talent for voices, allow him to turn his one-man show into engaging stories filled with countless characters, building an entire world on stage. And on top of that, it’s @$%#ing hilarious!

Fans of Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, and really any other successful stand-up comedian should take note of the impact Richard Pryor had on the comedy landscape. The foul-mouthed funnyman mocked black and white people alike with his unapologetic humor. Instead of gasps, there was only laughter echoing back at him. By pointing out the differences in cultures, he drew the audience closer together. At the same time, Pryor was redefining what stand-up could be. It wasn’t just about getting a laugh and a paycheck; it was about using comedy to help people think differently. It was personal. It had social messages. It was high art.

Unfortunately, health issues forced Pryor into early retirement and he died of a heart attack in 2005 at the age of 65. Fortunately, Pryor was quite prolific in his short career, producing an impressive number of albums and films. Had things been different, though, perhaps Pryor would still be performing today. Honestly, a lot of comedians probably wouldn’t be performing if Pryor still was, because he does comedy right, and it’ll be a long time before there’s anyone else like him.  

See Richard Pryor: Live in Concert tonight as part of our summer-long Midnight Movie series! And check out the full lineup for other upcoming gems including Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce, David Lynch's Lost Highway and Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead!

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