Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic

Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

An early contributor in Marina Zenovich's breezy, made-for-television documentary describes Richard Pryor as "the two most beautiful words in the world of comedy". It's an observation that sets the tone for what is a largely straight forward run through the groundbreaking comedian's career, with the emphasis firmly on the upbeat despite documenting Pryor's addictions and slide into illness.

Zenovich tackles the comedian's career chronologically, from his early, more traditional, forays into stand-up through his reinvention of himself as a hippy to his rise and fall in Hollywood. All the facets of Pryor are shown - his impetuousness, his contradictions, his ability to win over people in person and en masse, and his strength for self-sabotage - but they feel more like a taster class, inviting further study, than a full-blooded profile. This is likely a consequence of the large amount of ground being covered, with talk of the comic's childhood in a brothel, early work and rise on the stand-up circuit and screen, nestling alongside a plethora of archival footage and a slew of more personal observations about what he was like offstage. Zenovich proved she's not scared of tackling a controversial subject with her documentaries Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired and Odd Man Out but somehow the controversy around Pryor seems more muted, perhaps because he is no longer around to add his own perspective.

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Those offering their take on the man include Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Mel Brooks - the latter pointing out that much of Pryor's contribution to the scripting of Blazing Saddles, was primarily not for the central black character of Cleavdon Little - whom Pryor was blocked from playing by Warner Bros - but the white characters, including Mongo's inimitable observation: "Mongo only pawn in game of life." Pryor was never anyone's pawn but his own and it's interesting to note he brokered control of his own production company with the intention of establishing a black media empire, although Zenovich, sadly, doesn't have time to broaden this out into societal debate.

The comic may have been smart but it didn't stop him succumbing to addictions and they are documented here, along with consideration of what led to the fateful night in 1980 when he set fire to himself in what he later declared to be a suicide attempt. "He knew words were powerful," says Jesse Jackson and Zenovich makes good use of Pryor's own voice, drawing extensively on his stand-up archive and interviews. While much of this will be familiar to fans, early TV performances and rare footage of him, including a show that almost causing a riot at a gay rights event in 1977, and the sight of him drying up in front of an audience at the Hollywood Palladium, offer some fresh perspective (he went back to the Palladium the next night and produced the slice of comedy perfection that is Live On The Sunset Strip).

Zenovich knits the footage together with the talking heads contributions to try to build a sense of the man behind the punchlines, even if she is less successful at documenting his ongoing impact on comedy. This may be a jet-ski ride over Pryor's life rather than a deep-sea dive but it offers a firm celebration that's likely to encourage those who have watched it to seek out more material from the man himself - and that can never be a bad thing.

Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2013
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Profile of the stand-up comedian.

Director: Marina Zenovich

Writer: Peter Morgan

Year: 2013

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US

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