Saturday, April 30, 2011

Honoring an Influence: Richard Pryor 1940-2005

Originally Posted on December 11, 2005

On Saturday, December 10, 2005, the world lost a great voice and influence in comedy. He certainly influenced me in a lot of ways. Before we get into the reasons why Richard Pryor influenced me as a younger writer, let me have you peek into his world a bit. This happens to be one of my favorite routines of his.

"You ever heard?  The (bleep) had the biggest dicks in the world and they were trying to find a place where they could have their contest, see.  And they wasn't no freaks; they didn't want everybody looking.  So they were walking around, looking for a secret place.  So they were walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and the (bleep) sees that water and it makes him want to piss, see.  One said, 'Man, I got to take a leak.'  He pulled his thing out and was pissing.  Other (bleep) pulled his out and took a piss.  And one (bleep) says, 'Goddamn, this water cold.'  Other (bleep) says, 'Yeah, and it's deep, too.'"

Only my father would have this in his head while watching The Deep and laughed his ass off halfway through the movie.

It is because my father had an 8-track of his “greatest hits,” that I became enthralled with Richard Pryor. Admittedly, his humor stunted my growth and gave me an insight about the fast life of the 1970’s. He held nothing back. It was part-confessional, part-militant, part-misogynistic and all so beautiful in the way he presented the world.

You see, in our politically correct world, I can't say the word Richard threw in everyone's face. He did it to liberate, uplift and make people laugh with it. He made it beautiful. The way Pryor took that word and owned it gave a whole generation of African-Americans the license to embrace the word. Whether you agree with it or not, today’s use (and modern variation) of the word was born from Pryor’s embracing the “language of the oppressor” and using it to give it a sense of beauty.

He also made other phrases even lovelier. No one can say “motherfucker” like Richard Pryor did. We can, but he put meaning and heart to it.

Richard Pryor is a huge influence on me as a writer, a storyteller and a performer. It showed in the poems for The Boy From Reseda in the soul and vocabulary of these pieces. His use of language, even in the days of network censors and colder sensibilities, is something I am blessed in learning from Richard Pryor. He took the stage and never apologized for what happened afterwards. A whole generation of comedians, writers and philosophers, which I am grateful to be a part of, were influenced by the humor, language and delivery of Richard Pryor.

Richard Pryor is dead. His legacy, it ain't dead yet, motherfucker!

Rest in Peace, Rich.

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