No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert (Shout! Factory, NR)

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No-Pryor-Restraint 75It’s a fitting tribute to one of the true masters of comedy.

 

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It’s a truism that great comedy is born from great pain, and I like to imagine what it would be like if all the top comedians of past and present got together and held a no-holds-barred soliloquy cage match on the theme of “my life was tougher than yours.” I’m pretty sure that after Buster Keaton got done talking about being discarded by Hollywood, Lenny Bruce about being hounded by the police, and Jim Carrey about dropping out of high school to help support his family, Richard Pryor would shut them all down with a simple description of his childhood, a story so awful you would reject it as melodramatic if you saw it in a movie.

Pryor was born in Peoria to a teenaged prostitute mother (whom he once observed servicing the mayor of Peoria and who later abandoned him), was raised in a brothel owned by his grandmother, raped by a neighbor at the age of six and later molested during catechism by a priest—and I really don’t need to go on, because that’s enough pain for about a dozen lifetimes right there. Fortunately, Pryor discovered at an early age that he had a gift for performance, and he was able to channel his pain into becoming one of the most influential comedians of his generation.

Don’t take my word for it—Mel Brooks said Pryor was the funniest comedian of all time, Jerry Seinfeld called him “The Picasso of our profession,” Keenen Ivory Wayans called him “the blueprint for the progressive thinking of black comedians,” and Bill Cosby said Pryor “drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.”

Pryor was noted for his sharp takes on subjects as big as racism, and as personal as his near-death from a freebasing accident (or suicide attempt, depending on who you believe). His delivery was fluid, his phrasing musical, and underneath it all was a strong undercurrent of anger that never left him. Pryor offended some people, but it was all part of the deal as far as he was concerned—he didn’t tell jokes, he used comedy to tell the truth.

No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert, recently released by Shout! Factory, is an elegant box set containing some of Pryor’s best work on two DVDs and seven CDs, accompanied by a 60-page illustrated book that will catch you up on Pryor’s career if he’s new to you, or take you on a trip down memory lane if you’re already a fan. Three complete concert films are included—Richard Pryor—Live in Concert, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip, and Richard Pryor…Here and Now—as well as selections from his comedy albums and about two hours of previously unreleased material. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the true masters of comedy. | Sarah Boslaugh

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