Richard Pryor was one of the most influential comedians of the 20th century. He broke down barriers and changed how people thought about comedy. He was a trailblazer who opened doors for many other black comedians to follow in his footsteps.
Richard Pryor’s impact on pop culture can be seen in many ways. The following are just a few examples:
His groundbreaking comedy albums helped change how comedy albums were marketed. Pryor’s first album, “Are You Serious???” was released in 1978, but he didn’t win any grammy for it. He won five Grammys for his other albums, including That Nigger’s Crazy, …Is It Something I Said?, and Bicentennial Nigger.
In 1975, Richard Pryor became one of the first African American comics to make an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson when he appeared as a guest on February 27th, 1975. This appearance led to many other TV appearances for Pryor, including “The Merv Griffin Show” on CBS and “The Mike Douglas Show” on NBC.
Pryor’s stand-up routines often included jokes about racism because he felt it was important that people knew what life was like for African Americans living in America during this time period.
Richard Pryor’s Early Life
Richard Pryor, a comedian, known as “the King of Black Comedy,” was born in Peoria, Illinois, on December 1st, 1940. His childhood was full of upheaval. He reportedly grew up in a low-income family with an unstable mother who worked as a prostitute. His father was a bartender and served in the military during the Second World War. When he was 3 years old, his parents married. But their marriage didn’t last long.
Pryor was under the care of his grandmother for much of his youth. They both used to live in the brothel she ran. He was a victim of sexual child abuse. To run away from all the miseries, he found peace in going to the movies.
Pryor was a class clown in high school. His talent for performing landed him the lead role of Rumpelstiltskin in a community center production of the play, directed by Juliette Whittaker, who believed in his ability and encouraged him over the years.
After being expelled from school at age 14, Pryor went on to work a series of low-paying jobs. In 1958, Pryor enlisted in the army. He was discharged two years later after fighting with another soldier.
Richard Pryor’s Comedy
In 1960, Pryor married Patricia Price. The couple had one child together before divorcing in 1981. Pryor, who had been married in the past, became determined to pursue a career as an entertainer after his marriage ended. He earned his living by working as a stand-up comic in East St. Louis and Pittsburgh African American clubs.
Richard Pryor’s comedy focused on his life growing up in Peoria and his experiences with racism and poverty. In many ways, he broke down stereotypes associated with Black men by showing them as they really were funny, intelligent, and human beings just like everyone else.
His comedy helped promote acceptance of African Americans among white audiences who may otherwise have been prejudiced against them due to their skin color or perceived lack of intelligence (a stereotype called “stupidity”).
Richard moved to New York City in 1963. In 1964, he made his television debut on the variety show On Broadway Tonight. He guest-starred on The Merv Griffin Show in 1965 and on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966. In the early 1960s, he modeled his act after Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory, two African American comedians he admired the most.
In 1967 and 1968, Pryor landed a few small parts on the big screen. His first self-titled comedy album came out around this time, too.
Pryor remarried in 1967 to actress Shelley Bonus. They had one child together, a daughter named Elizabeth, before divorcing in 1969.
In 1968, Pryor performed at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, serving as the opening act for Bobby Darin. This was an interesting turning point in Pryor’s career, as he began to lose interest in traditional stand-up comedy.
Pryor, who felt constrained and limited by his material, walked off stage in the middle of a performance. He then retreated to Berkeley, California, where he met Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton.
Richard Pryor Movies
Pryor had a successful career as a writer and actor, working with Mel Brooks on the screenplay for the 1974 western parody Blazing Saddles and attracting a lot of attention for his own work.
Despite its X-rated content, his third comedy album sold extremely well and won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1974. In 1975, he followed up with another hit comedy album and repeated the feat in 1976.
Pryor broke racial barriers and attracted a wide audience with his character-driven humor, which mocked the white establishment and explored racial issues.
He imagines a horror film in which the family being terrorized by a demon is black rather than white.
In the late 1970s, Pryor’s film career began to take off. He co-starred in Silver Streak (1976), a box office hit that also starred Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh.
In the hit film Greased Lightning (1977), Pryor played Wendell Scott, the first African American to hold a National Championship in stock car racing. He co-starred with Beau Bridges and Pam Grier.
Pryor was romantically involved with Grier off-screen before he married his third wife, Deborah McGuire, in 1977. They divorced in 1979.
1. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)
Richard Pryor, the comedian and writer whose profane brand of social commentary made him a legend and an influence on generations of comics is celebrated in a live performance taped in California in the 1970s. Using his experience as an actor and his razor-sharp comic timing, Richard Pryor delivers monologues on race, sex, and other topics. This documentary also includes music by Patti LaBelle.
2. Lily (1973)
Lily is an American comedy variety show television special aired by CBS Television. It was written by a writing crew of 15, who all received Emmy Awards for their efforts on this show.
3. Blue Collar (1978)
Detroit autoworkers Zeke Brown, Jerry Bartowski, and Smokey James planned to rob their own union but were initially disappointed with the small haul. But when the three amateur thieves discover that they have made off with something potentially much more valuable than money—the union’s ledger, filled with bogus figures and links to organized crime—they quickly realize they are in over their heads.
Richard Pryor’s Activism
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Richard Pryor was one of America’s prolific, influential, and important comedians. His work as a stand-up actor and writer made him a household name and helped pave the way for future generations of black comedians like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. Pryor’s voice was unique: he spoke candidly about sex, drugs, and race relations with an honesty rarely seen in Hollywood at the time.
Pryor was also one of the first celebrities to use his fame as a platform for activism. In 1978, he famously testified before Congress about proposed cuts to social programs that would affect people living with HIV/AIDS. He also used his celebrity status to speak out against police brutality during protests in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict in 1992.
Death and Legacy
Pryor died of a heart attack on December 10th, 2005, at a Los Angeles area hospital. He was one of a kind who amused and moved his audience with his performances, which also served as a catalyst for African American comedians like Murphy and Chris Rock.