Dave Chappelle. Kevin Hart. Chris Rock. Bernie Mac. Eddie Murphy. All of these comedians wouldn’t be who they are if it wasn’t for Richard Pryor.
Richard Pryor (Dec 1 1940 – Dec 10 2005)
It was the way he would tell stories. He took risks. He opened up to the world about himself in a way that no-one had ever really done before. He was able to laugh at himself about some of the most difficult times of his life (Kevin Hart anyone??).
One of the defining moments of his life, was on June 9 1980, when he set himself on fire after freebasing cocaine. More than half of his body was covered in burns and he had to spend 6 weeks recovering at a Burn center. Most people would try and hide this incident; not only was he addicted to cocaine, but the act of setting yourself on fire in a bout of drug-induced psychosis is utterly ridiculous. Not only that, but he ran down the street until police were able to subdue him. And what did Richard Pryor have to say about the incident? Listen for yourself.
He perfected the art of story-telling in comedy, a method which departed from the traditional ‘one liners’ or a set which moves from topic to topic. He would change his voice to reflect different characters, and move. Before Pryor, most comedians stood still in front of a mike and told jokes. Pryor would move, lie on the ground, jump, or anything which helped him tell his stories more effectively (Eddie Murphy anyone??). His act was incredibly varied, from comments on race, funerals , Chinese people, animals, and love.
His career saw him win a Emmy, 5 Grammys, Writer Guild of America Award amongst others. He also starred in films such as Superman III, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy . He was married 9 times to seven different women, owned a pet monkey, and ran his own show called The Richard Pryor Show. It was cancelled after 4 episodes after he was unwilling to censor his material (Dave Chappelle anyone??). He unfortunately developed MS (multiple sclerosis – which he said stood for More S**t) and suffered a fatal heart attack in 2005 leaving behind 8 children. In conversations and polls about comedians, Pryor regularly ranks amongst the best of all time. A biopic of Pryor is currently being made starring Mike Epps as Pryor himself.