In one of his more famous bits, Richard Pryor portrayed his own heart during a heart attack. The memory of this bit -- which you can hear at the beginning of this interview (9:37, Real Audio) from National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" and on this NPR remembrance (6:57, Real Audio) -- somehow made the news of his death on Saturday, from a heart attack, a little easier to take. "Richard Pryor is an alchemist who can turn the darkest pain into the deepest comedy," Robin Williams once said. He "doesn't go for the jugular -- he goes straight for the aorta." He was a comedian who could make heartbreak funny, literally.
In this short stand-up clip (2:17, MP3) from Fissure.org, you can hear Eddie Murphy, who called Pryor "truly one of the great artists of our time," admit that as a young comic all he wanted was to be just like Richard Pryor. Murphy then launches into a dead-on Pryor, right down to the muffled laughs between jokes.
"To fully appreciate the power of Richard Pryor as a stand-up comedian," said David Letterman, "you had to follow him at the Comedy Store. I did once, and I'm lucky to be alive." But you can at least partially appreciate Pryor's power from these clips made available on his official Web site, which as of Monday still bore the tag line "Welcome to the Official Website of the funniest man alive" and shows Pryor with a speech bubble that reads "I ain't dead yet M*ther F@ck%r."
In this "Super Nigger" clip (3:15, MP3) from 1968, Pryor imagines a black superhero "with X-ray vision that enables him to see through everything except whitey." In "Exorcist" (1:53, MP3) from 1974 he imagines how the movie would have been different if the main characters had been black. In "Monkeys" (4:04, MP3) from 1978, he discusses the life and death of his horny pet monkey. In "Ali" (4:11, MP3), also from 1978, he appreciates the boxer's genius and wonders why white folks don't like to acknowledge it. And finally, in "Southern Hospitality" (1:37, MP3) from 1983, he ad-libs on the scariness of hearing a white person shout "Yee-haw!" "Y'all remember y'all's ancestors use to hang for kicks?" he asks.
"Instead of adapting to the white perspective, he forced white audiences to follow him into his own experience," Hilton Als wrote of Pryor in the New Yorker in 1999. "Pryor didn't manipulate his audiences' white guilt or their black moral outrage. If he played the race card, it was only to show how funny he looked when he tried to shuffle the deck."
May he rest in peace.
-- Ira Boudway