Richard Pryor- A Funny Motherf…..ker

Comedy as Hope


“Of course conventional demolition work didn’t pay nearly as good as nuclear annihilation, but Fletcher rightly calculated that there wouldn’t be much use for money in a world that no longer existed.”

The street act is all cocktail. It is a mixologist mash-up with monologist. The lone wolf soloist jerking the innocent and unsuspecting into the loyal oppositions world view.

There are two dominant elements that appear again and again. One element is visual, busking makes use of what the audience sees.
The other element is what the audience hears. The majority of busking shows are kinetic and comic.

We part company in many ways with standup comedy. We may slip our social criticism into the shows, we may flirt with the seditious, we may appear to be mainstream renegades but by most reckonings we are practical voices for the common man. 

The comic may be vulgar, obscene, and explicitly sexual. People buying a ticket to their shows know what they are getting into. Stumbling into an impromptu street show set on the sidewalks of the city center is another venue altogether.

Still we work our edges and by that I mean we don’t just have well polished punchlines we have cognitive boundaries of what is regarded as social and political good taste. That is an edge we may flirt with but at great financial peril pay dearly if crossed.

Scott Saul’s new book, Becoming Richard Pryor describes how Pryor in his early days of the 1970’s is casting about for the means of bringing comedy and social criticism together. The excitement of Pryor’s act wasn’t merely the punchline it was the outrageous edginess of the content.

Lenny Bruce and George Carlin each devoted their work to this exploration of cutting social commentary as comic standup.

But, look it isn’t the sex. It isn’t the smutty language. Those are mere proxies for what they were getting at. They pulled back the curtain on the world and they “outed” all the scams… that list is too long.

If you were doing stupid things they were going to say stupid things about you. If you listen to Saul’s interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air you’ll hear Pryor riffing on being pulled over by the police. What Pryor had to say in 1971 remains as relevant and on topic today as it was a half century ago.

The current moment in our history reeks with the profane. There is this palpable obscenity that torturers go unprosecuted, the summary executions on the street by police are given a pass, and that Wall Street not Main Street has paid for the best government money can buy.

Street theater when it burst back onto the world’s stage in the 6o’s and 70’s was countercultural and against the Vietnam war. Time has passed and we’ve been mainstreamed. Look at us. We are on cruise ships, shopping malls, county fairs and world expositions. We are for everybody (soothing middle of the road) but if I have this right everybody (except the elites of the world) has just about had it with bully billionaires and an amoral workers be damned capitalism.

So my busking brothers and sisters put that in your pipe and smoke it then next time you open your mouth on stage try to find the words to speak about the world you see. The world’s audiences need you now more than ever…

“It was common knowledge that the most qualified man in the county for blowing things up was Fletcher McCrea. Out of the blue, more than two decades ago, just like that he lost his stomach for enabling a worldwide thermonuclear Armageddon. Just wasn’t as much fun as he thought it would be.”

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