Richard Pryor: Live in Concert

“If you had a choice,” asks Richard Pryor, “between gettin’ hit by a bus or dyin’ in some pussy, which line would you be in? I know which line I’d be in — I’d be in that long motherfucker, Jack.” Pryor had done other concert films (like 1982’s Live on Sunset Strip, which offered him post-suicide-attempt), but this is far and away his finest — Pryor firing on all cylinders, enacting quarrels between black and white, between dog and monkey, between his young self and his grandma (“Boy, go out and get me somethin’ to whup yo’ ass with”), between his mind and his own aggrieved heart (“You thinkin’ about dyin’ now, ain’t you?” the organ growls as it goes into cardiac arrest; “You didn’t think about it when you was eatin’ all that pork”). Pryor will occasionally lapse into a truism — “The hospital ain’t no place to get well” — and then chase it with “You can die in there and nobody give a fuck,” something so bleak and blunt it forges its own hilarity.

Many comedians — hell, any comedians worth the stage space they take up — cite this film as the Rosetta Stone of stand-up, the reason they’re in the business. I’d like to see a special-edition DVD with the Patti LaBelle performance the opening credits tell us we’re missing (“Sing it, motherfucker, yeah!” Pryor praises her, as only Pryor could), but the one that’s out there now is more than enough — a man, a microphone, and the surreal, magnificently human universe he creates with his voice and body. The direction is no more than point-and-shoot, but Pryor makes this a great film all by himself.

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