I Am Richard Pryor (2019) Movie Script

Good evening,
ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Richard Pryor.
The picture
that a lot of people still have
is of this man
who is self-destructive,
who is enormously angry.
I'm angry.
- I'm angry...
- Are you still?
Yes, I'm very angry.
I'm angry because I'm talented.
There's nobody I've ever met
in the business of comedy
who's any more brilliant
than me,
and I will never get
the recognition for what I do
- in my lifetime...
- Why not?
Because of this
one bad seed in America.
It works for...
it works for economic reasons.
It's called "racism."
Racism keeps a lot
of talented human beings
"Richard Pryor:
Live in Concert," great show.
Great show.
Thank you!
He has
become the comedian
he was always meant to be.
He reaches his apex.
What you taking
my picture for?
Who are you going
to show it to?
You're gonna say, "I got
a picture of Richard Pryor!"
"Who gives a fuck?"
He was the jewel,
and definitely,
definitely here
to change lives,
because he changed mine.
I love when white dudes
get mad and cuss, right?
Because you all some funny
motherfuckers when you cuss.
Right, they'll be saying
shit like,
"Yeah, come on, peckerhead."
I feel like Richard
kicked the door open,
and figured out a way
to talk about
what is going on right now
in our world,
and make it funny
but informative.
I just found out some time ago
that sometimes,
women don't have orgasms,
and that fucked me up.
He had more humility,
and more humanity,
and more bravery
and more just raw...
The word is "raw" alone.
Pryor... is just pure.
It so moves an audience
to find a performer
who shares their
vulnerability with you,
and Richard had that
immediacy of contact.
" Live in Concert"
is a remarkable achievement.
Richard Pryor wasn't always
this brazen
or as original
or as imaginative,
and there was a whole time
before "Live in Concert,"
that's the Richard Pryor
without a mustache,
that is a very different comic.
For the first time
on television,
Richard Pryor.
In the '60s,
most everybody was doing
white bread comedy,
meaning comedy that would be
presentable for television.
America was a happy place,
and everybody was determined
to keep it light.
The American family...
You know,
we look at the '60s
like in the rear view,
and it all seems
completely normal now,
but, I mean, it was just
such a seismic break
with America as anybody knew it.
Like, watching
Black people protest
for the right to sit down
at lunch counters,
and people are setting
firehoses and dogs on them,
and the military's coming in
to escort little Black girls
into a schoolhouse,
and, you know, I mean,
all that kind of stuff,
Black culture
as we know it now,
and as hard as it may be
to believe,
was almost invisible.
Just Black people being on TV
was startling.
I could not
look the way I look
and have been a comedian then.
That would have been, like,
"No, you can sing and dance,"
and that's about it.
You've got to be in the box,
in this box.
You can't really
go outside the box,
because then
you'll be opening up
these white people's minds
to what's really going on
in the world.
If you look at
Richard's first performance
on national TV,
he talks about basically
growing up in a tenement
with this interracial
group of people,
and it's like he's growing up
in a New York apartment building
that's very colorful, lively.
My mother's Puerto Rican
and my father's Negro,
and we lived in a real big
Jewish tenement building...
...in an Italian neighborhood.
Every time I go outside,
the kids say,
"Get him! He's all of them!"
And it's
a complete invention,
because he can't talk
about how he grew up
in a set of brothels
run by his grandmother.
If he were to do that,
it would have been death,
you know?
It wouldn't have been comedy
as America construed it
at that time.
In the early years,
Richard did a lot of fabrication
on a lot of his comedy,
because his own history
was so checkered
and so unpleasant.
He wasn't proud of it.
I were...
I was born in Peoria, Illinois.
What's that?
That's a city, nigger.
When Richard
is born in 1940,
Peoria is the most
unchecked Sin City in America.
You have gambling,
you have prostitution,
you have corruption,
you know, all these things
totally unchecked.
It's just part of
the everyday fabric of life.
Peoria was segregated
from top to bottom.
Richard finds that he's
actually on the front lines
of part of the desegregation
of Peoria.
He starts off
at more Black schools.
By the time he gets to fourth,
fifth, sixth grade,
suddenly he's like
the one Black face.
I was a kid
until I was about eight.
Then I became Negro.
The teacher used to tell me,
"You are Negro.
Now say it. 'Ne-gro.'"
You've learned
your lesson well.
You get an A."
He went
to school with white kids,
and came home
across the tracks
to the place
where white men came
to get with Black sex workers,
one of whom included his mom.
You're talking about
as far off the entitled,
privileged path of Hollywood
as we can imagine.
These are not mainstream
White America's family.
This is the America
of the discarded,
the disposable,
you know, the denigrated.
I was a child.
There was, like, about
10 houses on this block,
Washington Street,
and that was in the days
when the women used to peck
on the window with quarters,
for customers.
They'd be talking
through the window.
Nobody can hear them
out on the streets.
And I grew up seeing my mother
go in a room with a man.
Now, I used to peek
through keyholes
to watch people make love.
Not "love."
That's the truth.
He was a kid who grew up
on the streets of Peoria.
His mother was a whore.
His dad was a pimp.
Come on.
Guys beat the shit
out of him.
What did that do?
It eliminated
all the bullshit.
Richard had a view of life
that was always based on truth.
You distort the truth,
you made fun of the truth,
you bend the truth,
you twist the truth,
you run over the truth,
but there has to be truth in it.
I think to understand
Richard's personality,
you have to start with
his grandmother, Marie,
who he called "Mama"
his whole life,
because she really did
raise him,
and she was his rock,
but she was a very jagged rock.
In some ways, she had to be
a brutal person,
because she was the law
in the set of brothels she ran.
In her bra, she would keep
a straight razor.
But the brothel was really
a family business.
Buck, his father,
was the enforcer,
and then you had Gertrude,
his mother, a prostitute.
He had to go to court
to choose between
the grandmother and the mother.
With whom is he
going to live?
And of course, the grandmother
is staring at him
while he's on the stand,
you know,
"You'd better say me,"
and he'd been coached before,
and he chose his grandmother.
In order to keep himself safe,
he had to break
his mother's heart.
I mean, that's
quite a choice to make.
He had
a deep relationship
for his grandmother, you know?
She was like his master.
She had total control
over his brain,
over his emotions,
over his mind, how he felt,
you know...
she was a savior to him,
to some degree.
The family,
as complicated and as painful
as it all was,
was also
the repository
of all this wonderful humor
and characters
that Richard took from.
So poor Richard
turned out to be...
kind of a genius
to do all that, you know,
turn your pain into comedy.
Richard is coming up
in the 1960s as a Black comic
at a time when there was really
no public understanding
of Black comedy
in the mainstream.
...Let me see,
where was I at? Oh yeah.
The real comedy
was taking place
on what was known
as the Chitlin Circuit,
this segregated circuit
of Black comedy clubs,
performance venues
across the nation.
He's not performing
for a white audience.
He's performing
for other Black people.
doesn't spend that long
on the Chitlin circuit.
He sees Bill Cosby
has made it.
He's a Black comedian
who's somehow making it
in mainstream America,
and he says,
you know, "I figure,
I gotta be that guy."
And the next thing you know,
he's hightailing it to New York.
I met Richie
for the first time
when we were working together
at the Improvisational.
Richie and I,
being the most unknown,
were given the worst slot,
which started usually
1:30 or 2:00 in the morning,
and it turned out to be
a great training ground
for Richie,
because we had to perform
for several drunken people,
and a few hookers
and a couple of cab drivers,
and it was, like,
hard to get laughs, you know?
And I'd come from
this background
which was more political,
and Richie had come straight
from his very painful
which I knew nothing about
at that time,
and I said, "Well, I want
to try to understand it.
Talk to me about it,"
and he was very,
very unwilling
to go there with me.
his whole thing was
at that time Bill Cosby,
because Bill Cosby
was the most successful
Black comedian in America,
even though
not considered Black.
He was not a 'hood guy,
so Richard, even though
being from the 'hood,
un-'hooded himself.
Let's say hello
to Bill Cosby!
I'd, uh, I'd just like
to take time out here
and talk about athletes
in television commercials.
I watch a lot of advertising
on television.
Commercials are really funny.
it's wonderful.
It's cool.
And it's smooth."
That's a lie.
"Miss Jones, what do you think
of our Washday detergent?"
"I like it, I love it,
I use it all the time.
I brush my teeth with it,
I wash my hair with it.
Send a check."
in front of Whitey,
in that time, in that society,
we want a clean Black man.
We want a Black man to show
"Everything's perfect.
I have a family.
Look, I'm better than
the rest of the Black people."
Do you know what it feels like
for a Black comic
to walk out on the stage
and not see his people
in the audience?
The check is good,
but goddamn.
That fucking ride
from that venue home is tough.
You know...
I'm pretty sure
that's how he felt
as a Black man.
By the mid-'60s,
he's really
starting to make it
on mainstream
American talk shows
like Merv Griffin,
variety shows.
I seen
Frank Sinatra.
You've seen him?
Close up as anything.
He was thrilled
about seeing me too.
What did he
say to you?
You know, nothing.
What is he gonna say?
I was looking like an idiot.
He is succeeding
in the strategy
of being a kind of
a Cosby clone.
He's doing these shows
for things like
Kraft Summer Music Hall
that are very white bread.
He's very contained.
He's very constrained.
Ladies and gentlemen,
you've met our two comedians,
George Carlin
and Richard Pryor.
First of all, there's
the neat, precise laugher.
You've seen him?
It's like...
Kind of strange.
Richard, what's your
favorite kind of laughter?
Well, I got a laugh.
I don't know
if it's my favorite,
but it's one I hear
above everyone else.
It's sort of a witch's laugh.
It kind of scares you,
you know?
He started out
as a one-liner type comedian.
That's super easy,
but, like, what's the point
of getting on stage
and talking
to a bunch of people,
and enjoying it,
but not giving them anything
to go home and think about?
Nothing to chew on,
you know what I'm saying?
Like, give 'em
some food for thought.
Richard existed in a place
that was transcendent,
and it was like
gills on a fish.
He was able to breathe and...
As soon as he's off-stage,
he really didn't know
how to operate in the world.
Drugs allowed him to be
something other than himself
with a memory,
a memory of that childhood.
I mean, Richard should have
been in therapy,
but he wasn't.
He found drugs.
I called him up excited
because he had never done acid,
and it's important it was
on the seventh floor.
I'm sitting there
having my acid trip,
and he's sitting over here
having his,
and I look over,
and I see he's trying
to jump out of the window,
and I had been having
this wonderful experience,
but I'm now realizing that
I can't let go of his foot,
and he said
he saw something horrible,
he doesn't want
to tell me what it is,
but he felt he had to kill it,
and that, I must admit,
is when I recognized
that our backgrounds
were so profoundly different,
and had left
such serious scars on him
that it affected the capacity
to continue the friendship
in the same kind of way.
He starts really
leading a double life.
You know, on the one hand,
he's continuing to work
for places like
the Kraft Summer Music Hall,
Ed Sullivan,
for mainstream white America.
On the other hand,
he's also feeling
the storms of change,
of the civil rights movement
and Black power.
He's performing at Black clubs,
places like the Troubadour,
or playing Redd Foxx's club,
and he feels the need
to be more militant.
One thing that's been
really underacknowledged
in terms of
the dramatic shift...
...in Black culture
that happened in the late '60s
really is the assassination
of Martin Luther King.
His death
was looked at as something
that you could collectively
hang on all of white America,
and that pushed a lot of folks
who'd been on the fence
into just becoming bolder,
more audacious, more ambitious,
more kind of demanding
of America.
Richard felt like
American TV
wanted to censor people
and wanted people
not to represent
the world as it was,
and, in fact,
one of his greatest sketches
from the time
is about, you know,
what does it mean
to be both somebody who's doing
menial work for white people,
and on the other hand,
have these kind of superpowers
that you know
you really want to tap into.
It's a bird!
It's a plane!
No, it's the liner man!
A hero, a Black hero.
I always wanted to go to movies
and see a Black hero.
I figured out maybe someday
on television,
they'll have it, man.
Like, you'll see on television,
and he'll come out, "Whoosh!
"Look! Up in the sky!
It's a crow!"
"It's a bat!"
"No! It's Supernigger!"
He tells a reporter
from Ebony, he says,
"Be clean, they always
tell you to be clean.
They want you to be something
that doesn't exist at all,"
and these are two halves
of his life
that are very hard to reconcile,
and this creates
a war in his psyche,
and this kind of double life,
but this double life
is not really sustainable,
and it implodes
in spectacular ways
when he's asked to be
one of the headliners
at a gig at the Aladdin Hotel
in Las Vegas.
Richard told me about it.
It's a nice gig,
you're in Vegas, it's fabulous.
You got the big suite,
you got the $100-a-day
meal money,
but there was
no Black people in the crowd,
and he said,
"I just couldn't get in front
of those white faces anymore."
They say Richard Pryor
walked off the stage.
"Why the fuck
I gotta entertain them?"
You know?
"This ain't the people
at the brothel.
This ain't the motherfuckers
in the street.
This ain't the people
at the liquor store," you know?
Like, "I'm cheating them
and myself,
because I've let
somebody influence me
that really
ain't no better than me.
Bill Cosby's clean.
Families love him.
And this is the way
that I'm supposed to go?
I can't go that way.
That's not authentic."
And I think that's
how Richard Pryor felt.
I think he felt guilty
because of where he came from.
He was like, "Fuck it.
This is not who I am.
I'm not speaking my truth,"
and just kind of at that time,
possibly throwing
a lucrative career away.
I don't think
people understand.
When you do the Sullivan show,
that's just
such a prestigious thing,
and he was out of
the Ed Sullivan running
because of Vegas.
That's a really
bad situation to be in.
He had no money,
no nothing, zero.
He decided
to walk away from the game,
and he drove up to the Bay area
and basically went on hiatus.
Richard travels
up to Berkeley,
and because of campus unrest
and unrest in the city,
Ronald Reagan
as governor of California
declared martial law.
For weeks in Berkeley,
it was occupied
by the National Guard,
so people who were there
in Berkeley
felt like the state
was trying to crush them.
Richard has
the amazingly good fortune
to meet up with a group
of Black intellectuals,
and this is what takes him
into some very
experimental places.
Cecil Brown
used to have this,
what do you call it?
A salon.
You would meet
all kinds of characters.
Angela Davis and Huey Newton
were all hanging out.
We were like a cultural,
intellectual wing.
We were inspired
by the Nation of Islam,
and Martin Luther King,
and Malcolm X.
On the west coast,
things were happening,
we had the Black Panthers,
so that's the atmosphere
that Pryor came into
when he left Las Vegas.
You have a guy
like Richard Pryor
in the Bay area.
I mean, he hung out
with Huey P. Newton,
the leader of
the Black Panther party.
He was on the scene.
I saw Richard Pryor.
He was very tame.
He did a performance
that was not really memorable.
It didn't have any bite.
We didn't go for that
Las Vegas stuff.
He couldn't get away
with that stuff in Berkeley.
They said, "You're just doing,
like, an act.
You're not doing you.
You gotta do what is you."
And they got him
into his grandmother.
They got him into the wino guy
and everything like that,
and he talked it out on tapes.
That's when things changed.
It's, uh,
really hard to be funny
when, you know,
what went down at Attica.
You know,
it really upsets me.
I wrote something about it
I'd like to read to you.
"Murder the dogs,
the mad,
frothing-at-the-mouth dogs,
with expensive capped teeth
and fat bellies
full of babies starving.
No, don't wait until they die,
kill them now,
because if you let them live
and die a natural death,
you'll be bitten
and left to die in agony,
and the mad dog pack
will then sniff out and search
for your children to eat,
eat whole,
flesh, bones, and soul."
He was searching
for a direction.
He was searching for a stance,
politically and culturally,
and he went back and forth.
was conscious of being
both used
or exploited politically.
He didn't want to be that
in some ways,
and in the other,
he felt drawn to avail himself
of having the right image
with Black people,
who had tremendous
I saw in a very good sense
that despite his contacts
with these militant
Black people,
he was smart
in being self-protective
and not getting himself
past a certain point of danger,
and I asked him once,
which is a conversation
I never forgot,
why he was
skittish about this,
and he said
because he remembered
from his grandmother
the fear of jail,
and the fear of jail
was never away from him,
and I just recognized something
that I had no access to
in how astonishing
that statement was,
that the fear of jail
was something he carried
with him all his life,
no matter how successful
he became.
Now, let's pretend
like the lights are out,
and there ain't no cameras,
and none of that shit.
You dig?
Then I can get down.
Coming out of Berkeley,
he performs at the Improv
in New York.
He met audiences
who hadn't followed him
on his transformation.
They were expecting
the Richard Pryor
of Ed Sullivan, you know,
and instead, they got
the Richard Pryor of Berkeley.
I remember tricks used to
come through our neighborhood.
That's where I first met
white people.
They'd come down
through our neighborhood
to help the economy.
Nice white dudes, though.
Because I could have
been a bigot.
You know what I mean?
I could have been prejudiced.
I could have been prejudiced.
I could have been, man,
but I met nice white men.
Just come in and,
"Hello, little boy.
Is your mother home?
I'd like a blow job."
There's definitely
a certain amount of courage
you have to have.
"Yeah, my daddy's a pimp,
my mama's a whore.
My grandmama
runs a whorehouse."
America didn't want to hear
about that kind of stuff.
That wasn't
politically correct.
This ain't as funny
as we thought
it was going to be.
He jumped into
the deep end of his psyche.
Somebody had to be
the first one to do it,
and he was
one of the first people.
Once you tell the truth,
there's no going back,
and at the same time,
it takes its toll,
because you're sharing
those memories with people,
and can you really trust people
with that information?
They're laughing,
but also suddenly
you're a raw nerve.
All of us
have something to say,
but some are never heard.
Over seven years ago,
the people of Watts
stood together
and demanded to be heard.
On a Sunday
this past August
in the Los Angeles Coliseum,
over 100,000 Black people
came together
to commemorate that moment
in American history.
The Wattstax
was intended as a recognition
of the Watts riots from 1965.
There was an all-day concert
from the Stax label,
The Staple Singers,
Rufus Thomas,
the Bar-Kays,
headlined by Isaac Hayes.
Richard Pryor fits perfect
in the documentary
as a sort of additional
layer of commentary.
He's talking about it in a way
that is especially Black.
I mean, they accidentally
shoot more niggers out here
than any place in the world.
Every time I pick up a paper,
"Nigger accidentally
shot in the ass."
How do you accidentally
shoot a nigger
six times in the chest?
"Well, my gun fell
and just went crazy."
With Wattstax, suddenly
he's like the narrator
of the Black condition,
and he's going to take that
moving forward,
and that makes him
a perfect person
to desegregate Hollywood
in the years to come.
One of the most brilliant
comedy minds in existence,
and a man who many consider
the funniest man alive,
Mr. Richard Pryor.
When I first
started representing Richard,
I was told by many people
that "this is a troubled artist,
and you should
stay away from him,"
but everybody knew
he was a great comic,
and knew that he was
a very, very funny person,
and knew that he was destined,
if only he could behave,
for stardom.
Richard had this reputation
for being difficult,
for being aggressive.
There are all sorts of stories,
which I love,
of Richard putting hands
on various people in Hollywood.
He brought
a different kind of energy
to the Hollywood film set.
The Mack is my favorite
of that whole period of movies.
You know, there's all these
insane things
that happened
in the making of the movie
that were in some ways
more interesting
than the movie itself.
Pryor got upset with
the producer of the movie,
and decided that he was just
going to go take this cat out.
He talks about, like,
putting a pool ball
or something in a sock,
and he goes to this guy's room,
and he opens the door,
and the guy's got a loaded .45
sitting on his desk
like he was expecting him.
I mean, it was just insane.
The thing about Richard Pryor
is like a lot of performers
from his era,
he was never just one thing.
You see Richard in movies
like Lady Sings the Blues
playing Piano Man.
It's very clear
that Richard Pryor
is an amazing talent.
Now, Richard,
it seems that you're really
kind of stretching out
in terms of
expressing yourself.
That is true.
I am stretching out.
I am in a movie
currently at the theatres
in your neighborhood...
" Lady Sings the Blues ."
Richard was not
a trained actor.
You know, he didn't
go to Juilliard.
You know, I think
he worked off of...
impulse and reality,
so when he showed up
on movie sets,
his characters
were incredibly authentic
because they were probably
pieces of his life.
We were working
at his house
when Berry Gordy called him
to tell him
he'd seen a screening
of Lady Sings the Blues,
and there was Oscar talk
for Richard,
and I could see
how pleased he was,
how excited he was that...
that he was liked,
or appreciated in some way.
From Television City
in Hollywood, Lily Tomlin!
I had an offer
to do a special at CBS,
and I wanted Richard
more than anybody
to be on the show.
When I first met Richard,
he took me
to a porno movie with him,
and I said, "Okay,
I'll pay my own way,"
and, uh... we did that.
He was testing me.
Jane Wagner, my partner,
who was one of the producers
of the show,
she had written a piece
for Pryor specifically,
so we knew we had
a big centerpiece for him to do.
Lily Tomlin,
with her partner, Jane Wagner,
creates this incredible playlet,
you know, 10 minutes long,
that has more emotional subtlety
and more range
than so many long works
of arthouse cinema.
...and I think if you're going
to eat the lobster whole...
Jane wrote
"Juke and Opal,"
the piece about
the woman with the diner
who is friends
with this junkie, Juke,
who's in a methadone program.
Give me a bowl of soup.
I oughta give you
a bowl of methadone,
that's what I oughta do.
That's what I'm strung out
on now, that methadone.
He comes in, and he's cold.
He just so embodies it.
He's so good,
and then he starts eating
the potato soup,
and he says,
"I ain't caught a potato yet."
That's homemade
potato soup.
It needs salt.
No, it needs some potatoes.
Where is the potatoes?
Thank you very much.
Then the two kids come in
who are, like, canvassing
the neighborhood,
and they start
intruding themselves
in a kind of
condescending way.
You want me to be
out there on the street?
You really shouldn't
give him the money.
You know what
he's gonna do with it.
He's gonna go out of here
and just...
I know what he's
going to do with it.
He's going to go
out of here
and get me 10 pounds
of potatoes.
I like them little
red new potatoes
for my potato soup.
Hey, man, that's wrong.
You know, you're wrong, man.
I mean, I ain't a bad cat
or nothing, man,
because you hurt me.
I wasn't interfering
in your life.
He's taking people
who are in
the throes of addiction,
but cannot be reduced to that.
They are not one-dimensional.
They have all this
emotional capacity
and sensitivity.
It packs such
an incredible portrait
of interracial intimacy,
affection, ambivalence,
into that 10 minutes
of TV drama.
All right.
Here... here's your 10 back.
I ain't gonna buy
no more potatoes.
Well, while
we were filming this special,
I'd always heard
the executives were watching
everything upstairs,
and sure enough,
the whole stage...
shooting stopped,
and everybody had disappeared.
The executives
came down and told us,
you know, they didn't want
to see this on the show,
because it was about race
and all that stuff,
but by that time,
I had learned
to film one thing
to trade for another,
and I traded it
for Juke and Opal.
It was good.
I mean, the suits were upset.
Thank you all so much
for tuning in
to this wholesome
and uplifting show.
I want to thank my guests,
Richard Pryor...
Papa. Papa...
Bill Gerber...
Judy Kahan...
As an African-American,
sometimes in this society,
in this country,
you have to play
both sides of the fence.
At the time when Richard Pryor
was doing what he was doing,
he was like a sore thumb,
you know.
He looked very,
very strange and odd
doing what he was doing,
because he was breaking
new barriers.
At this point,
he had failed
as a Hollywood actor,
not critically,
because he had done
wonderful performances,
but he wasn't getting calls,
and so it was because
he had to earn a living
that he was like,
"I guess I've got to go back
to that stand-up stage."
You know, like, when
the Martians landed and shit,
white folks got scared.
They're all,
"Golly, I'll tell ya,
just a big old helicopter thing
came down and landed,
the people got out, had that fu
all over their bodies...
Jesus Christ!"
Nothing can scare a nigger...
after 400 years of this shit.
I mean, right?
A Martian ain't got a chance.
A nigger would warn the Martian
"You better get your ass
away from around here."
"You done landed
on Mr. Gilmore's property."
He made this comedy album
that had the impact of, like,
a great hit record.
It felt as big as Thriller
at the time.
Like, if you were Black,
this was in your household.
That album right there?
That was the album.
That was my favorite album.
That was Richard Pryor,
and that album right there
gave a lot of brothers
in the inner city a voice.
would fight the police.
He's one of them crazy
"shoot me" niggers.
"Well, kill me!"
"Shoot me, motherfucker!
Hi-ya! Oh, shit..."
"Oh, goddamn."
I remember he was doing jokes
about white police officers,
and them killing us and stuff
a long time ago.
A long time ago.
If you watch YouTube,
they'll incorporate stuff
that Richard Pryor said onstage
in, like, you know,
"Stop the Violence" videos,
because this stuff
didn't just start yesterday.
It's been going on for years.
There ain't no way
to get an ambulance
in the ghetto, right?
Unless you call up.
"There's five niggers
killing the white woman!"
You think
America wanted to know
what a bunch of niggers
was doing in a room
with some fish sandwiches,
and niggers shooting craps,
and prostitutes and pimps,
and motherfuckers
selling radios, and...
that was a hidden world
that people didn't know about,
and Richard Pryor put it on wax
and made it beautiful.
The impact was huge.
A big turning point
in Richard's career
and for him as an artist
was winning the Grammy
for That Nigger's Crazy.
He was accepted,
and better still,
he was accepted in the crossover
audience as well.
I don't know how you feel
about the title of your album,
but I find it
difficult to say.
- You do?
- Yes, I do.
Most white people,
it's hard to say "crazy."
No. The title...
You tell them
the title of your album.
I can't say this.
The title of the album
is "That Nigger's Crazy."
I mean, don't that nigger
look crazy?
That is one crazy nigger.
But don't you get...
See, now, you can just
say that and...
if I said it,
wouldn't you get mad?
I'd punch you out.
Of course!
and the word "nigger."
Pryor and the most dangerous,
endearing, and hurtful word
in the English language
all at once,
depending on who's using it,
and to whom,
and with what intention.
See, niggers can say "nigger"
with different feelings,
like "Hey, nigger!
What's happening?"
"Hey, my nigger!"
But white people say,
"Hey, nigger."
"Come here, nigger,
I'm gonna tell you something."
"See that tree?
Go hang yourself on it."
Richard understood
the inherent controversy
of the word,
but he also knew
that that word had
a different meaning
when used amongst
and so he brings this all out
into the public
on an album that is
his first major album,
and I think the beginning
of a very new phase
in his career,
as he's soon to become
the most dominant cultural
and comedic voice
in the country.
I'd like to do
something for you.
I can't do anything
off of my album on television,
but I can do
something close to it.
Is that all right?
Black church
is a lot different
than when you go
to white church,
usually in white church,
they have strange music.
I mean, you go in there,
right, you hear,
Ooh, ooh, ooh...
And you don't know if Dracula
is gonna jump out on you
or not, you know?
Right, and Black preachers
know God personally, right?
When you go to church,
they go, "You know.."
I first met God
in 1929!"
down the street...
Pryor's transition
from being
a Chitlin Circuit comedian,
to being a minor film celebrity
in blaxploitation,
to then having
his own breakthrough
with " That Nigger's Crazy,"
into these opportunities
to be placed
inside of mainstream films,
I mean, all of this occurs,
you know, within a period
of three or four years.
It happens at
a dizzying kind of pace.
As I moved up
in the studio ranks,
the question was,
"What can we do
that nobody else is doing?"
And what appealed to me
enormously was comedy.
There was a saxophone player
who was headlining
a bad jazz club in Van Nuys.
Richard did 20 minutes,
opening act.
I went backstage
to talk to him.
He was doing heroin at the time,
so that wasn't a good sign.
I told him I wanted him
to come to Universal,
and he thought
that was a good idea,
and this was all backstage
at this place,
and that turned into
many pictures
over many years.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
He agreed to do
a one-day part for me
in Car Wash,
where he plays
this bootleg preacher
based on a real guy
named Reverend Ike.
Richard did the scene
with the Pointer Sisters,
and it was,
it was hilarious.
There's a good place
in this world for money.
Yes, siree,
and I know where it is.
It's right here in my pocket.
Gimme some!
He basically comes in the movie
and steals the scene,
and some might argue
steals the movie,
but at that time,
old, white Hollywood
was not ready
for young, Black Richard Pryor
in all his blackness.
When I delivered
Car Wash to the studio,
the distribution people said,
"How are we going to sell this?
It's a Black movie."
Thom Mount on the inside
of the studio thinking,
and the distribution thinking,
he's dealing with
all of these guys
who are, like, real racists.
I showed it
to the then-head
of distribution at Universal.
He got up,
and he started walking out,
and I followed him.
I said, "What's the matter?
Are you all right?"
He said, "I'm not going
to watch any of this.
We're not going to distribute
a nigger picture."
I was very young,
and my view of the world
was very different
than the 60-year-old guys
who were running Universal,
none of whom understood
what the hell I was doing.
I realized,
no matter what happened,
Car Wash was going to be
some kind of a hit.
One of Richard's
great breakthroughs in this time
as a Hollywood actor
is an experience
that he actually didn't value
that much at the time,
which is his role
starring with Gene Wilder
in Silver Streak.
He starts off
with a very small part,
but again, they find that
he's so good at improvisation
that suddenly
there's a new life
injected into the film.
In the context
of these films,
he didn't have a problem
tucking it all in,
and not being
the dynamic Richard Pryor
we knew from stand-up,
but being this other guy,
to be the Black buddy
inside of a buddy movie.
He and Hollywood,
for most of his film career,
are doing this dance
where they're
trying each other out.
They're giving him
just enough room,
and he's giving them
just enough of his attitude
and his edge
to still maintain
a certain amount of integrity.
I had watched
Richard's work
in other films
where he was always playing
the second banana,
and the producer
came to me and said,
you know, "What do you
want to do next?"
And I said, "Well, there's
so much Black talent out here
that doesn't have a vehicle
to display that talent,
so I'd like to develop
something for Richard Pryor."
He went and searched
for a project,
which became Which Way Is Up?
Which Way Is Up?
may be the greatest vehicle
for him as a comic actor,
and that's because
it's taking these elements
of his stage comedy,
the fact that
he can throw himself
into so many different
fascinating characters,
and saying,
"Let's do that onscreen."
The characters that we were
creating to oppose Richard,
we decided that he would
play all three of those parts.
He was so brilliant
and so funny.
She's got a knife!
God damn, the bitch
done gone berserk!
Let go of that door, nigger!
With Michael Schultz,
he found his best
directorial translator,
somebody who was able
to kind of create a world
that Pryor could really
just be comfortable in.
I mean, I think about
those films
that they did together
as a specific body of work
in Pryor's canon.
Come on, nigger!
Damn! They trying
to knock him over the wall!
Get out of my way, nigger!
He decides to take this movie
called Greased Lightning,
playing a race car driver,
Wendell Scott,
and we were in a town
called Madison, Georgia,
but it had all of the mentality
of the real deep South,
and one of the things
about Richard
is that he always
had a commitment
to have as many Black
supporting actors
and crew people as possible,
so here was an almost
all-Black crew
that Richard had put together,
and the townspeople
were apoplectic.
They were trying to create
all kinds of havoc
to make the film people go away,
and the sheriff finally called
a town meeting,
and he said, "Look, y'all.
These niggers will be gone
in three weeks.
Do not mess with the money."
And calmed them down, you know,
to a degree.
All right, nigger.
During the filming
of Greased Lightning,
Richard records an album
which may stand
as his most fearless
achievement as a comedian,
and it shows how far
he was taking American comedy.
" Bicentennial Nigger ."
I mean, that's the funniest
thing in the world,
because the Bicentennial,
1776 to 1976,
was such a moment of patriotism
in American society,
but a lot of people were asking
how far have
African-Americans come
during this time?
Today, another president
has made the journey
to Philadelphia,
this time to mark the 200th
year of liberty in America.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the President
of the United States.
The celebration
of the United States
was a white celebration,
because Black people
had been marginal
throughout most,
if not all, of that time,
so Richard is
acknowledging the time,
but he's putting
a particular twist on it.
The title track
is this stick of dynamite
with a slow fuse.
What that track does
is it says, you know,
where did Black humor come from?
It came from
not people trying
to entertain people,
but it comes from
the slave ships.
It comes from the person
who's on the slave ship rowing,
and is crying and thinking,
"Yesterday, I was a king,"
and that gap between
what you have in your heart,
what you have in your soul,
your sense of worth as a person,
and how erased you've been
by America,
that gap creates
a space for humor.
And so he starts thinking about,
"Well, what has America wanted
from us as Black people?
It's wanted us
to present ourselves
as these minstrel figures
who consent
to our own servitude,
who consent to our own slavery,"
and the way it ends
is with this person
who's acting like
a kind of minstrel.
Then they split us all up.
Yassir, they took my mama
over that way,
took my wife that way,
took my kids, oh yeah.
Yuk, yuk, yuk!
I'm just so happy.
Yuk, yuk, yuk.
I don't know what to do.
I don't know
what to do
if I don't get
200 more years of this.
Yuk, yuk, yuk!
Lord have mercy.
That's something.
I don't know
where my old mama is now.
She up beyond there
in that big
white folks' in the sky.
Yuk, yuk, yuk.
Y'all probably
done forgot about it.
Yuk, yuk, yuk!
But I ain't gonna never
forget it.
He says,
"I ain't never gonna forget
what America has done to me,"
and he's kind of
ripping off the mask,
and saying,
"You think Black people
have consented to anything
that America has done to us?
The way you've ripped apart
our families?"
And he's saying,
"I'm going to hold you guys
to account."
Captain! Captain!
Hold it, hold it!
What is it? What is it?
Captain, the men,
they're dropping
like flies up there!
All right.
It's time for another one.
Another one, huh?
Where are you taking me?
You're going to NBC!
You're going to do
your own special!
Oh, no! No!
I started
hanging out at the Comedy Store.
That's how I got to meet
Letterman and Robin.
One night, I followed Richard
out into the parking lot,
and he turned to me and he said,
"What the fuck do you want?"
I said, "Will you do a...
a television special?"
He said, "Sell it."
He got in the car
and drove away.
That was it.
Network television
in the late 1970s
was very conservative.
Richard Pryor
was not conservative
by any stretch
of the imagination,
but even with those challenges,
there are still
some great skits.
Richard Pryor playing
the nation's first
Black president
speaks to the fact
that in 1977,
the idea of a Black president
was still a joke.
- Mr. President, Mr. President.
- Yes?
Mr. President,
now, your predecessor,
you know, President Carter?
Now, his mother was
a nurse before...
What is your
question about, sir?
My question? I'm leading up
to my question.
The question
is about your mother...
Whoa! Hey!
When NBC offered
Pryor this variety show,
he wanted young,
interesting talent,
and Paul Mooney
was really responsible
for putting together
that ensemble.
From the first day
that America recognized him
as a stand-up comic,
the critics knew
we had something unique.
Who else would have the nerve
to do Bill Cosby's
entire routine?
Paul Mooney,
he's kind of like an alter-ego.
He's like an id for Pryor,
you know, and I think
for his part,
you know, Pryor was a kind of
mouthpiece for Mooney.
Paul was a great
conceptual guy.
Wonderful in concept,
and a great eye for talent.
Look at the cast.
Sandra Bernhard,
Robin Williams,
Jimmy Martinez,
Tim Reid,
all wonderful actors
all in their own right.
Mr. Mojo, I got a bad arm!
I can't move it!
He got a bad arm!
And he can't move it!
Let Mojo heal it!
My baptism into showbiz
was The Richard Pryor Show.
I thought that's how
all shows were done.
No, that's not how it's done.
You got to do
what you want to do
and got away with what
you want to do,
because that guy
had your back.
It was
a great crash course
in being around genius,
but also being around
somebody who was...
...so sensitive
and so in tune
with what made them happy
and what made them unhappy
that the whole project imploded
within two months.
Any time there was a censor,
or any sort of, like, editing,
he was just freaking out.
I am an NBC spokesman,
and I will be happy to tell you
what Mr. Pryor is saying.
"Gosh, I'm just
pleased as punch
to be continuing on
as part of the NBC family.
They truly understand me."
Listen, he wasn't stupid.
He knew when he went
on primetime television,
his movie pay doubled,
his exposure doubled,
his whole thing to America
who didn't know him.
Everybody knew
who Richard Pryor was.
When he said "sell it"
in the parking lot,
he was way ahead of me.
He's just thankful
somebody asked him.
"If this little fucker
can get me on TV,
I'm going to do it."
A lot of people
said it was canceled,
and the show wasn't canceled.
You know, we only did
four shows,
and that was our intent,
because it's really...
it's hard work
trying to do something
and people telling you
you can't.
Do you really think
that some of the guys
that you've dealt with at NBC,
that some of these guys
really want to promote racism?
Or is it subconscious?
I just think
it's part of capitalism,
is to promote racism...
you know, right?
It seems that the only time
you get in a position of power
is if you're like the people
that are in power,
to me.
I mean, that's the way it goes.
I mean, people that
get to become executives
become like the people
that were already executives.
In the '70s,
he's arguably
the most important
cultural figure of the decade.
His albums,
his appearances in film,
his persona,
all of these things are,
uh, outstanding.
The summer of '77,
I pull into Lucy's driveway,
dusty with a cowboy hat on,
and I said,
"Well, I'm back in town.
I need a gig. I'm broke.
I need some work."
She said, "Well,
you can be my assistant.
I'm decorating
Richard's house."
The first day I met him
was August 22, 1977.
Gee, I remember that date.
Every morning, I'd go to work,
I'd sit
at the dining room table,
and he'd come out with a new...
a new woman every morning,
and I would sit with him,
and we'd have these long talks.
When he wasn't high on drugs
and full of that
macho bravado,
he was a really kind man.
And I wasn't aware
of his work.
I was aware that he was
this mad genius
she'd described him as...
but when I met him,
all I saw was
this really vulnerable man
with whom
I immediately connected.
By 1977, in some ways,
Richard Pryor's career
couldn't be any better,
you know, he's starring
in major Hollywood films,
he has his own TV show.
On the other hand,
he's completely falling apart
under the weight
of his obligations,
and you see him both
exhibit his fearlessness
as an artist and performer,
and also implode utterly
at the Hollywood Bowl.
The deal
at the Hollywood Bowl, I said,
"Look, I'm going to ask Richard
if you want him to be here,
but," I said, "You're going
to get Richard."
He just has to shake things up.
He just had to.
And he came out on stage,
and it was a largely
gay audience.
I came here for human rights.
He was told this was
a benefit for human rights,
and that was the organizers
of the concert
being euphemistic.
If this is about gay rights,
he wants to basically say,
you know, we should talk
about gay sex.
We should talk about
the right for people
to do whatever they want
with whatever parts
of their anatomy.
And he gets very explicit.
I have sucked a dick.
Almost from the get-go,
he said, "I've sucked a dick."
You know?
And, man, they're cheering
"Yay, yay," and all that stuff,
and then it just went...
Then he just
threw it in their face.
It's the first time in my life
I ever realized
that faggots are prejudiced,
because I don't see
no niggers out here.
And he ends up with,
"Kiss my rich Black ass."
You know, and he exits...
And everybody
went a little nuts.
And when the niggers
was burning down Watts,
you motherfuckers was doing
what you wanted to do
on Hollywood Boulevard,
didn't give a shit about it.
Then kiss my happy
rich Black ass.
Richard's polymorphous
experience as a child
spilled over particularly
when he was high,
when his guard was down,
and I think that was
a very difficult night.
I'm not surprised by any of it,
nor am I horrified
by any of it.
Richard was never
politically correct.
I don't think
everybody knows everything
about somebody's inner workings
and how they're feeling.
I mean, that man
was abused as a child.
He was going through all kind
of craziness as a child.
But then also,
you've got to remember,
he told everybody he did drugs,
and sometimes you do drugs,
and drugs, they make you
not give a fuck about nothing,
and you just be like,
"This what Imma do!"
You have no control of that.
You know, there was
shame surrounding his childhood,
but he was also very open
about his sexuality.
I mean, it was the '70s.
You'd fuck a radiator
and send it flowers
in the morning.
It was...
I mean, we were all doing...
Threesomes? Yeah.
I mean, I was doing threesomes
with Warren Beatty,
and, you know,
Richard was like,
"Can we have
a threesome, please?"
I said, "Richard,
you're not supposed to do it
when you're in love.
This is just
recreational only."
No! He demanded it.
"No, we have to have
Come on, you did 'em
with Warren,
and, you know,
all these other people.
You have to do it with me."
So the three of us are in bed,
and we're doing our thing...
...I don't know
what the fuck happened.
I guess it got too good,
and he went crazy,
batshit crazy,
going through the house,
smashing up the house,
took a chair
to a brand-new Tiffany lamp.
I mean, he went...
he went nuts.
He got so jealous
of this woman in bed with us.
So I said, "See, Richard?
I told you,
you're not supposed to do it
when you're in love."
That was just,
you know, '70s shit.
never had a girlfriend
and never had a wife.
He really didn't.
I mean, I hate to say it,
but he never had that,
because they were
very disposable for him.
Because it was
too much pressure,
too many chicks.
Wilt Chamberlain says
he had 25,000 women.
Richard's in that category.
It just went because he was
Richard Pryor.
Richard had a seriously
complicated relationship
with women.
I think he loved women.
He was a womanizer, certainly.
But I think he was terrified
of abandonment,
and I believe that came
from where he came from,
that duality
with the grandmother,
the abandonment
from his own mother...
He had a really hard time
that he could be loved.
I can't tell whether
you really like women,
or you really hate women,
or that whether women
really hurt you at some time,
which perhaps gives you
a rather ambivalent feeling
towards them.
I think, uh... women...
if they don't hurt you,
they don't love you.
I mean, love hurts.
It's very painful.
Richard begins 1978,
New Year's Eve,
by shooting up the car
of his recent wife,
Deborah McGuire,
and this is
a criminal incident,
and so he is mandated
by the judge in that case
to submit
to psychological counseling.
The charges stem
from an incident yesterday
when Pryor reportedly
argued with his wife
and two houseguests.
He allegedly
rammed his Mercedes
into the guests' car
when they tried to leave,
then fired 10 shots
into the car.
The road
that Richard traveled
was a fast and furious road.
I mean, one week
in Richard's life
is like 25 years
to somebody living in Indiana.
I mean, he just was...
such a clip, you know,
such a fast pace.
We started dating in 1978.
He didn't want a fuckin' nurse.
He wanted a ride-or-die bitch,
you know.
He did.
And he wanted company
on this journey,
somebody who could hang.
I could hang.
It's exciting,
you know,
being in show business.
It's exciting, you know.
I like going home,
because I can show off
when I go home,
but some brothers
break my face.
"Nigger, you ain't shit.
You wasn't shit
when you was here."
"I seen you do that shit.
That's the same shit
you was doing
around the pool room, nigger.
It ain't nothing.
Let me have a dollar."
Richard wanted
to go back to Peoria
to touch base at home.
The first time
I met the grandmother,
she didn't shake my hand.
It was a fist,
and I was taken aback.
She said, "I got salt in it.
It's helping my arthritis."
Some old friends showed up.
Of course, there was
cocaine and alcohol,
and lots of food.
It gets later and later,
and everyone's more high,
and all of a sudden,
Richard goes into a meltdown.
He stands up.
He's, "You never loved me!
You never loved me!
You've used me always!
You used me
against my mother!
You used me!"
He's crying hysterically.
The grandmother looks like
she's about to have
a heart attack.
I wake up in the morning,
and Richard's not next to me.
"Where's Richard?"
"He's busy."
"He's busy?"
I walk up the stairs,
and there are bedrooms
on the top level,
and I open the door,
and Richard's
with another woman.
They had set him up with...
a woman.
I guess that was
the panacea for the pain
and the explosion he had.
They were going to fix him
with a dalliance
right in the house,
under my nose.
A whorehouse.
he's going to therapy.
He's reliving his life.
He's also going
to the Comedy Store
and woodshedding a new act
in which he's reflecting on
what made him Richard Pryor,
on growing up
with his grandmother,
the kind of discipline
that he got from her,
and the relationship he had
with his father,
and out of this
comes his arguably
crowning achievement,
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
As luck would have it,
when I showed up
at the Comedy Store,
Richard Pryor was working on
one of his seminal
concert movies,
and I had never seen somebody
really work on material.
My philosophy is
that most people don't have
a sense of humor.
Most people don't.
The ability to laugh at a joke
is not a sense of humor.
A sense of humor
is to sense humor,
to feel that there's humor
where other people wouldn't.
He'd start out
just talking,
and it would be nothing,
like, for an hour.
You'd go, "Oh, you know,
what's all this about?"
Then he'd come up with, like,
maybe a minute or two
that night.
Then by the end of the week,
he'd have, like, five minutes.
Then at the end of next week,
he'd have, like, 15 minutes.
Then the end of the third week,
he'd have, like, 45 minutes.
So in three weeks,
he'd develop, like,
a 45-minute act, solid.
But starting
from ground zero.
One reason
Live in Concert
is an incredible achievement
is that Richard
was putting himself
as a character
at the center of his work.
He's giving a portrait
of who he is,
how he's been shaped,
and for that reason,
you could argue it's, like,
one of the great autobiographies
in American culture,
is Richard Pryor:
Live in Concert.
Can you turn the lights up
just for a moment?
Thank you.
I'd like to
introduce you to someone.
Ladies and gentleman,
Huey P. Newton.
Stand up, Huey.
The thing
that's most powerful
about keeping the truth
in your comedy
is people resonate
with the truth.
People can identify it
You can feel that
in your soul.
And being a comedian,
what you're doing
is you're trying to tickle
people's spirits.
I'd like to die
like my father died.
Right, my father died fucking.
He did.
My father was 57
when he died, right?
And the woman was 18.
My father came and went
at the same time.
So how does a middle-class,
white Jewish kid
relate to the life of somebody
who grew up
raised by his grandmother
in a cathouse,
who's been drug-addled,
been through
so many relationships?
How do I relate
and laugh at this?
And that's the brilliance
of Richard.
The brilliance of Richard
is he made us all realize
that we're humans.
My grandmother
could do that shit real good.
"Help me, Jesus Lord!
Help me, help me!
Take me! Take me!"
That's how she made me
stop snorting cocaine.
I had the nerve
to pull out some cocaine
at the dining room table.
She had never
seen me do any, right?
And she looked at me
a long time.
She's like, "Boy?
What's that you're
putting up your nose?"
I said, "Cocaine, Mama."
"Jesus God!
Take me now, Lord!
Take me now!
God, save my life!
Take me, take me, take me!
Lord, help me, Jesus Christ..."
You get into
that crossover world.
These people are paying
to laugh at your pain,
and it made him angry...
because that shit
was really hurting him,
and everyone's like,
"Oh, we love you.
You're great."
And he's like, "What?
You know how painful
that shit was
I had to go through
to make you laugh?
And you want to give me
some fucking money for it?"
they're filming some shit.
I wanted to tell y'all.
I mean, like you didn't know.
Y'all ain't gonna get paid
shit, either.
So don't be asking me
for a motherfucking thing
when the show's over.
You could tell
Richard Pryor loved his craft.
That's what made him strong.
Talent saved his life.
You know?
If he had not have found that,
he would have been still
back in Peoria
standing with the winos.
Them the motherfuckers
that didn't find they talent.
So imagine you standing there
with them,
you find your talent,
you go off, become famous, rich,
everybody loves you,
don't know your past,
can't feel what you feel,
and you know, everybody's,
"Oh, we love you!"
And you turn around,
and them winos is back here
saying, "Richard!
Remember us, nigger?
Oh, you think
you're better than us?"
"I don't think I'm better."
"Yes, you do."
I'm gonna go beat myself up.
Would that make you
feel better?"
Because that's usually
what makes motherfuckers
feel better.
People have a tendency of...
of being a better friend to you
when you fucked up.
The concert film comes out.
I mean, he really now
crosses over.
Bam! He's huge.
All kinds of things
are going on.
Offers are coming in.
People are coming to the house
all the time to meet with him,
Scripts, directors,
writers, offers.
Everything's happening.
Everything's happening,
everything's happening.
When the grandmother dies,
Everything kicks into
another gear.
If you heard him
talk about his grandmother,
I mean, it was
in a God-like manner.
I mean, he loved, loved,
loved his grandmother.
When his grandmother died,
he was out of it.
This is the person
who he loved most deeply,
the person who shaped him most.
She was his rock, his anchor,
and then she's gone.
And he says, you know,
when she dies,
"Everything I've got is gone."
One day, he's at the house,
and I knew something
was wrong immediately.
Like, what the fuck
is going on?
I smelled something.
I smelled fire.
I go back into the bedroom,
and he's standing there,
and the mattress is on fire.
He was freebasing already.
That had started,
and fire was there.
I mean, this was a precursor
to what was going to happen.
When he discovered that pipe,
which he used to call
"the devil's glass dick,"
all hell broke loose then.
I moved out
because, uh...
the drug had moved in.
I freebased about
eight months straight.
My bitch left me,
I went crazy.
But I fell in love
with this pipe.
This pipe controlled
my very being.
This motherfucker say,
"Don't answer the phone."
"We have smoking to do."
They're paying me
$2 million to do this movie.
Do you believe it?
My grandmother didn't make that
all her life,
and she was a better woman
than you are a man.
Do you want
to talk about this movie?
Yeah, sure.
What do you want to know
about this movie?
"Stir Crazy..."
It sucks!
Gene Wilder said that...
Gene Wilder ain't shit.
He's a faggot.
No, come on.
You don't mean that.
Gene Wilder attracts pussy.
Gene Wilder attracts pussy,
and some pretty white boys.
Richard Pryor around this time
emerges as a movie star.
He is in many ways
the first Black movie star
since Sidney Poitier,
which is kind of ironic,
because Poitier is the director
of Stir Crazy.
Richard could be
incredibly reliable
as an actor on a set,
but by the time we get to
a film like Stir Crazy,
you know, he's deep in this hole
of his drug addiction.
Richard Pryor is a criminal.
I come from criminal people.
I will be a criminal.
I didn't get caught yesterday
buying seven pounds of cocaine
in front of eight policemen.
The feds were on the set
because he was purchasing
from Hell's Angels,
and he had no clarity.
I mean, it...
he was gone on the drug.
I don't think people realize
how many drugs,
how many cigarettes,
how many drinks he had.
He'd say,
"See this bowl of coke?
This is more than you'll make
in the next two years."
He said that all the time.
I ain't no good.
I ain't trying to be no good.
I don't care what y'all think,
because y'all always told me
my mother was illegal,
my father was illegal.
Fuck you.
It was also
a period of time
where it felt as if
there were a void
that Martin Luther King's death
had created,
Malcolm X's death,
all these leaders who had died.
It was almost as if people
wanted to elevate him
to a stature
that he didn't want the job.
He didn't want to speak
for all Black people.
He was speaking for himself.
Let me be intelligent
like Malcolm X.
The Black man,
the reason the revolution
has come down is because...
I don't know nothing.
He moves into
this space
where Muhammad Ali
had been before him,
or Malcolm X.
He kind of took on this role
unintentionally, you know,
of being a kind of spokesperson,
you know,
for the Black community,
and it was...
you know, it was dicey.
I threw seven 17 times,
and my number's up,
but I kept the money.
There was
a combustion happening,
and I could see it happening.
All of it had conspired
to create a psyche in Richard
that was...
it was too much.
He couldn't take it.
All I want to do
is leave Tucson alive.
It had accelerated to a point
where I really felt
the grandmother, Mama,
was pulling him
into the grave with her.
It's okay, see?
Yeah, we're okay.
Works okay?
I'm tip top.
Harry, for God's sake!
You're going
to get us in trouble!
Harry, it's all right.
I can't take it.
I can't take it!
Wait a minute!
Wait a minute, Harry...
Come here.
Here, Harry!
Take your pill, take your pill.
There we are.
Three seconds, you'll see,
and it's over.
One thousand one,
one thousand two,
one thousand three.
had walked off the set
and said, "Fuck you.
I'm not finishing this."
Hannah Weinstein called me
and said,
"Can you do something?"
I went out to the house,
and I said, "Richard,
we're going to be fine.
This is all going to pass.
You're going to get
off these drugs.
We're going to have
a good life.
We're going to have babies.
We're going to have
a wonderful life.
We're going to be okay."
I wanted to prove to Richard
that I was going to love him
no matter what,
and this love
would fix everybody.
It would fix me,
it would fix him...
but it was a mound of cocaine
like that
on this antique child's desk.
Aunt Dee was there
at the time,
and another bodyguard,
and these hangers-on
from Peoria.
I said, "He's going
to do something.
He's going to hurt himself."
"Get out of here."
They just... you know,
they dismissed me.
They didn't believe me.
I drove back to Beverly Hills.
I called the house, and I said,
"I want to talk to Richard,"
and the next thing I know,
the phone drops,
and I hear screaming.
Richard had run
through the kitchen on fire.
He had lit himself on fire.
June 9th, 1980.
He ran out of the house,
into the street,
running down the street...
...Also, EMTs
will be arriving shortly...
found writer and comedian
Richard Pryor wandering dazed
and badly burned over
the upper half of his body
near his Los Angeles-area home
last night.
When he first arrived
at the Sherman Oaks Hospital,
officials gave him only
one chance in three to survive.
He was either
going to live or die.
No one knew at that moment,
but what he didn't need,
alive or dead,
was a massive drug bust
and other federal charges
on top of this.
The motion picture studio...
In those days,
before studios were overtaken
by giant
international corporations,
they were still run
like independent nations
floating on the sea
of Los Angeles,
and each studio
had a security system.
We always knew
about what was happening
with our key stars
before the newspapers,
and frequently before the cops.
I got Larry to organize
our security department,
and they rolled out to the house
and shut it off.
They took $880,000 in cash
out of the house
that was laying around
on tables.
They took out a couple of
garbage bags' worth of drugs,
a massive amount of coke,
some freebase paraphernalia,
and a dozen guns.
Once we had cleaned
the premises,
we let the police in.
Police and firemen
finally scaling a fence
to check the house
for evidence
of a butane cigarette lighter
which might have exploded.
They didn't find it.
His body functions
have stabilized.
By the very fact that he has
done well his first night,
the doctors and the staff
at Sherman Oaks Burn Center
are encouraged.
While he was
in the hospital,
he wouldn't see me.
I stopped going.
The night before he got out,
he called me
and said, "Come see me."
He was a different man.
I walked in, he was different.
He was just so changed.
It was as if the fire had...
taken something out of him.
I didn't recognize him.
Physically changed.
I was... I was devastated.
The changes
are so immense for me.
It's like June 9th will be
my birthday, you know.
Because sometimes I feel like
there's a person, Richard Pryor,
and he does
all this comedy and stuff,
and then there's me,
and I wonder what I have to do
with Richard.
You know, I live in his house
and I drive his car,
and I spend his money...
you know,
but it ain't me.
It's not me.
I started
seeing someone else.
I'm trying to move on
with my life,
and we didn't see each other
until January 1981,
and he asked me
to come to Hawaii.
I met him at the airport,
and he proposed.
He got high on grass,
and got very paranoid,
and I helped calm him down,
and he said, "You've been
so good to me.
I'm really...
I want you to marry me."
And I'm like, "Oh, my God,"
and a week later,
we were married.
The first time I went to Hana,
I understood who Richard was,
because it's a quiet place.
It's an elegant place.
It's one of the most beautiful
places I've ever seen.
I believe Richard found
his true peace there,
and it was such a dichotomy
to see this predatory creature
stalking the stage,
doing this hard-driving comedy,
and then you'd see him in Hana
become who Richard really was,
I believe,
which was this quiet,
elegant, serene soul.
And I just think all his pain
washed away there, you know?
And all his self-doubt,
about his family
and where he came from.
I think it was just something
that he could grab hold of
that would allow him
just for a little while
leave all that sadness
behind, you know?
The fire was a suicide attempt.
He needed to still
ground himself.
But of course, those
loud voices of commerciality
when they shouldn't have.
Everyone's telling him,
"This is when you've got to do
another concert film."
We ended up going back
to Los Angeles.
It was too soon.
The craziness started,
the late nights,
and cocaine all night, and...
And shooting Live on Sunset
turned out to be... a problem.
Calm down.
Because I feel
the tension from y'all.
Y'all want me to do so well.
I want to do so well for you.
But let's relax and enjoy...
...whatever the fuck happens.
While it was going on,
it was a damn nightmare.
He walked off stage
the first night.
The second night, he did well,
but they had to do re-shoots,
which nobody really knows.
They go, "Oh, it was so great.
He was...
He did a great comeback."
Meh, it was not
the great comeback
that everybody thought it was.
I remember the first time
I did freebase,
I burnt my bed up.
The bed's on fire?
The Sunset Strip, in my mind,
is really the last
strong piece of material he did.
It's like, what's that?
Richard Pryor
running down the street.
Live on the Sunset Strip,
you sort of see him
in this mode
where he's transitioning
from the edgy Richard Pryor
to the more user-friendly.
I've been wrong.
I've got to re-group my shit.
I mean, I said,
I ain't gonna never call
another Black man a nigger.
He makes
this pronouncement
that he's not going to use
the word "nigger" again.
When he said it,
people were like, "Whoa."
Richard Pryor
without the word "nigger"
is kind of like Muhammad Ali
without boxing gloves.
What Richard did with
that small bit of language
I think still resonates
with us to this day,
when people talk
about "the N word."
I don't think Richard Pryor
was ever as funny again.
After that,
he will appear
in all these mediocre movies,
bullshit like The Toy,
or Brewster's Millions
or what have you.
The Sunset Strip is really
the beginning of his transition
into work that's not nearly
as challenging
or as compelling.
I mean, the thing is
Richard Pryor in the '80s
is able to make a lot of money.
Remember, he began
on the fringes of American life,
in this no-name brothel,
and first he starts
in these fringe productions,
but then he's going to become
a big Hollywood star.
The guy who grew up in a brothel
suddenly is
one of the major names
in '80s Hollywood.
We took a honeymoon
after we shot Live on Sunset,
and we chartered a boat
in the Caribbean.
Well, trouble started
right away.
You know, marriage
doesn't fix anything...
and he hit me...
for the last time.
I said, "You're not
going to hit me anymore.
We're done."
I got off the boat
shortly thereafter,
flew back to L.A.,
hired a divorce attorney.
It was so crazy.
Oh, my God.
It was crazy.
It never stopped.
After I did the Pryor show,
a few years went by.
I'm literally on the toilet,
and my phone rings.
"Rocco. It's Rich."
I went, "What's up, man?"
He said, "I want you to write
a movie with me,
about my life.
Where are you?"
I said, "I'm on the toilet."
"So after you're done
taking a shit,
come over to Columbia."
I said,
"What do you want to do, man?
You really want to do this?"
"I wanted you to know
what I experienced
as a kid in Peoria,
and how my grandmother
was so influential to me."
And I went, "Wow.
I don't know...
I don't know, Rich.
I mean, I don't know
if I'm capable of doing this."
We decide to go back to Peoria
and shoot in the brothel,
in the house
that he was raised in.
He walked right into
the dragon's den,
and said, "Here I am."
"I ain't afraid."
I'll knock the cowboy...
Jo Jo Dancer,
he's not only showing you
that his mother
was a sex worker,
he's letting you
experience the fact
that he was taunted for that,
you know,
and, like, got beat up,
so there was a lot of pain,
and just childhood trauma.
When we shot the scene
where little Jo Jo
sees his mom,
I remember hiding in the back
watching him,
directing the scene,
and I remember
the look on his face.
It was kind of surreal
that he was doing this.
You know, when I was younger and
I watched Jo Jo Dancer,
I did not understand it,
then I watched it again
when I got older,
and I was like, "Oh, yeah,"
because the underbelly
is, like, so dark, you know,
and how dramatic he was
but funny at the same time
was so beautiful.
He could
joke about it in his act,
but it took him maybe
20 years into a career
before he actually felt like,
"Okay, this is what it was,"
you know.
"Deal with it."
He just needed to have
that kind of moment of truth
with himself
and with his audience.
I was seeing him on and off
for that whole decade.
Richard didn't ever
let go of any women.
He would recycle us all.
But in 1989,
I worked with him on
See No Evil, Hear No Evil,
and I remember one day,
I said to him,
"Why are you walking
like an old man?"
And he said, "I have
something to tell you."
And he told me he was
diagnosed with M.S.
He was drinking water glasses
full of vodka,
and taking pills,
and all sorts of hangers-on
were around,
and I said, "Richard..."
He said, "I need help.
I need you to help me."
I decided to come back
into his life.
I couldn't say no.
I had a tremendous...
not only still loved him,
but had a profound
sense of loyalty.
Jennifer had
come back into his life.
She was doing a spectacular job
of keeping him alive.
It was not easy.
That he had lived that long
was a small miracle,
given the drug abuse,
and the people
he was hanging out with,
and the silliness.
This guy
meant so much to me,
and that's when
he was already sick,
and he did a tour
from a wheelchair,
when his instrument was voice,
and he couldn't talk,
but always
being true to himself
and true to the artist
that he was,
then he started
talking about that.
The last time I saw Richard,
he could hardly speak,
and he had a smile,
and a wistful kind of
painful wisdom
behind his eyes,
but we just kind of...
grabbed hands,
and, um, looked at each other,
you know?
The last time I saw Pryor,
we sat and watched
two blessed hours
of clips of his,
and it was so wonderful,
and, uh...
and then, and it's double-edged,
because here he's sitting
in front of me
unable to move, and...
The way of life is too much.
I still have his ashes.
He was cremated,
and his wish was
to spread them in Hana,
and I haven't done that yet...
Where he was most at peace,
where he was happiest,
where he loved being, you know,
that's where he should rest.
So we have to do that.
Richard Pryor
has had a huge effect
on today's comedy.
He basically kicked
the freedom of speech door
wide open,
and I think that's what
Richard Pryor
was trying to say
the whole time.
Like, what your experience
in life is
is what makes you.
What your soul is
is what makes you,
not your skin,
and just because
my skin is like this
don't mean you should shoot me.
Whores, pimps,
drugs, poverty, racism.
He took all that dark shit
and made it light.
Pryor was
a nice, safe comedian,
and then one day he got up
and goes, "You know what?
This is bullshit.
I have some stuff to say."
It was a new consciousness
with a lot of white kids
that they got from him
of how horribly difficult
life had been
for millions of Black people,
because he brought that
into his comedy
in a way
that was palatable to them
and truthful
to Black audiences,
so I think that's
an astonishing accomplishment.
I would say
90% of Black comics
are trying to be Richard,
but they are no Richard Pryor.
There will only be one
Richard Pryor.
That's it.
Accept Richard for what he is,
listen to the albums,
watch the videos,
enjoy it like you would
a fine wine,
but do your own style.
It was...
the brilliance
was making his world
relatable to everyone.
There will never be
anybody close.
There will never
be anybody like.
There will never be anybody
as important as Richard Pryor.
We're looking at
an oblivious...
Don't know what the fuck
is going, just...
that's how you know
he was a gift to us from God,
because he made it
through that flame.
You make it through that flame
so that you are able
to talk to us
and tell us about it?
A jewel.
I think Richard
would want to be remembered
for making people laugh, sure,
but on a bigger scale,
for telling the truth,
and how important that is.
I think that is
the bigger message for Richard,
and that Richard would want
to be remembered for.
We are...
gathered here today...
on this sorrowful occasion
to say goodbye
to the dearly departed.
In other words,
the nigger dead.
Can I get an amen?