Album of the Day — July 15
Richard Pryor — That Nigger’s Crazy
Richard Pryor — That Nigger’s Crazy
That Nigger’s Crazy
Modern comedy can be broken down into three periods:
Vaudville — Born in France at the end of the 19th century, vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation. It became popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s.
Before Richard Pryor — this period includes the cleaner more straight-laced Pryor … up until he had what he calls his “epiphany”. Walking onto the stage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas in 1967, he looked at the sold-out crowd, and said over the microphone, “What the fuck am I doing here!?”, and walked off the stage.
After Richard Pryor — this is the period where Richard Pryor became Richard Pryor.
Now look, I didn’t name the album, so don’t get too cranky with me about its title. I may have chosen it, but only because it is a landmark piece of comedy. It is historical evidence as to why Richard Pryor is consistently ranked as one of the best stand-up comedians in history.
Let that marinate — Pryor is consistently ranked as the best stand-up comic in history.
— Jerry Seinfeld called Pryor “the Picasso of our profession.”
— Bob Newhart heralded Pryor as “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.”
— Dave Chappelle said of Pryor, “You know those evolution charts of man? He was the dude walking upright. Richard was the highest evolution of comedy.”
— Richard Pryor was the first recipient of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1998.
However, out of respect, I will now only refer to this album as “The Album”.
“The Album” was initially released in 1974 on the influential Stax Records in 1974, even winning a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album that year. However, the album’s long-term success was derailed by the sudden closing of Stax in 1974.
Pryor was able to retrieve the masters and immediately sold them to Warner Brothers subsidiary Reprise Records (then owned by Frank Sinatra) in 1975. “The Album” was released only three months after …Is It Something I Said?
It was an immediate hit, making its way to #1 on the Billboard R&B/Soul album chart — where it stayed for four weeks. I have mentioned elsewhere that there was a time when Billboard Magazine carried weight … but regardless of that historical nugget, for a comedy album to chart wasn’t unusual back then … what was unusual was for a comedy album to crack the top ten … and for it to reach number one and stay there was unprecedented.
To listen to Richard Pryor today one may think “Yea, so what?” — here’s what, no one was saying those things in 1973, when “The Album” was recorded … and they weren’t using the language … and they sure as hell weren’t making fun of it. Pryor shattered all kinds of boundaries and limits and created comedy from the reality of the awkward — his own, gender, race, society, class.
Richard Pryor brought in everything to his comedy and nothing was off-limits. The level of intimacy and honesty that he put into his work is beyond reproach and unparalleled. So, that’s what.
“The Album” is titled as such because he knew that’s what white people were already saying about him.
Without the doors that Richard Pryor busted through, there would be no Eddie Murphy … no Chris Rock … no Dave Chappelle … and countless others, regardless of race.
“Have Your Ass Home by 11:00” relates to any teenager who has ever had a curfew. The bit is focused centered around Pryor’s upbringing, but the joke transcends race. Your parents tell you to be home by 11 but nothing starts happening until 11:30.
“Black and White Lifestyles” is exactly what you think it’s about.
If you’ve never seen the movie The Exorcist then the bit “The Exorcist” may not work, but make no mistake, it’s one of the best bits on the “The Album”. Even in 1973, Cleveland was a punchline.
“Flying Saucers” is 1:13 of timeless comedy. The same is true of “Black Man/White Woman” … we haven’t come very far in 50 years.
As you listen to “The Album” you understand why he was also very effective as a writer. He wrote for shows like Sanford and Son and The Flip Wilson Show, winning an Emmy for writing on a 1973 Lily Tomlin special. Pryor also co-wrote one of Mel Brooks’s beloved movies, Blazing Saddles.
Michael Gallucci at AllMusic said: “Brings together his social/racial/political observations, homespun tales, and vulgar rants. The foundation of the era’s sharpest funnyman in his natural element.”
Robert Christgau even gave it an A, saying: “Whether a white Village Voice writer has the right to enjoy a black comic mocking the desperate inadequacies of black junkies, chickenshits, and comedy fans is a troublesome question. Meanwhile, I bust my gut. There hasn’t been a stand-up comedian funnier since you-know-who, and Pryor is funnier, if less solid.” [note: I don’t know who]
Richard Pryor would spend the next two decades hitting peaks and valley’s of success, both as a stand-up and as an actor. And we could argue stand-up rankings forever, or whether Lenny Bruce is the demarcation point, but always ranking in the top five is Richard Pryor … usually first.
Pryor was smart enough to turn his kind of crazy into comedy and he did it with such aplomb that as you listen you’ll be wiping tears of laughter away as you’re shaking your head either up and down … or left and right. I suspect that will depend on your race.
In the early ’70s, “The Album” is absolutely what people were saying about Richard Pryor.
Yea, he may be crazy … but he’s funny as fuck.