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Mixes the profane with the profound
on April 10, 2004
I saw this when it first came on in 1977 when I was 13. Surprising how much I remember these skits. Overall, while it's unique, it's certainly a mixed bag. Like the Smothers brothers, it's quite daring and not surprising that it had trouble with the censors.
"The Richard Pryor Special?" is clearly the best of the lot. Basically, it's Pryor trying to get to his show and meeting strange characters with varied skit ideas along the way. Some really good stuff like the young children's choir (with future soap star Kristoff St. John) and the drunk lover performance with Maya Angelou.
A lot of the ideas that Pryor brings to the fore are unique, but some are just plain strange, such as the "Pet head" with Charles Fleischer (later Roger Rabbit) and "Black Death", a bizzare goth-rocker who kills all of his fans during a concert (this freaked me out and puzzled me in 1977 and still does today). Much of this humor is based on race relations and the subject gets sort of beaten in the ground after a while.
The edited skits makes one wonder why Pryor filmed such profanity-filled routines knowing that they had no chance of airing (there is a particularly foul moment when Pryor curses heavily during the Audience Q&A when there are clearly children visible in the audience). As he has admitted, Pryor had a bad cocaine habit in those days and it shows in some of these monologues.
However, it's also interesting to see the cast of soon-to-be's such as a very young and glamourous pre-"Night Court" Masrha Warfield, Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, John Witherspoon, Paul Mooney, and Tim Reid. So overall, you can see in this the direction Black comedy was to take from the 1980s into recent times.
It would be nice if "A Time For Laughter," the 1967 special that featured a young Pryor with Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, Pigmeat Markham, and Godfrey Cambridge, would also make it to DVD as that was equally as ground-breaking.