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Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin’ (1971) – DVD Review

Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin DVD


Written and Performed by Richard Pryor
Directed by Robert Blum

Released by: MPI Home Video.
Rating: NR; not for tender ears.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: No; full-frame only.

My Advice: Avoid It.

Richard Pryor was one of the first stand-up comics I ever remember listening to. This was an accident, due to the fact that my father had a copy of Was It Something I Said? amongst his album collection when I was a young lad. Now, granted, when he found out I was listening to it, he informed me it was a little early to be listening to Pryor’s schtick (which I have to agree with looking back, although damn, it was still funny as anything)–and instead turned me on to Brother David Gardner for my laugh fix. Still, between his routines and his hilarious bits in films, there are few people these days who aren’t working that I miss more than Pryor.

[ad#longpost]That’s what makes this program all the more tragic–simply because it’s not funny. Pryor on stage is completely and utterly lost, constantly referring to how nervous he is on camera and rambling incoherently from one subject to another. It’s a litany of bits with Pryor discussing fellatio, passing gas upon orgasm, the clap, among other unsavory topics. Now, before you react to what I’m saying–understand I’m well aware that these topics and others like them are frequent targets on-stage for Pryor. The trouble is that Pryor’s strength–taking the shocking and making it not only shocking but funny–is completely missing here.

When Pryor finally does hit his stride–towards the end of the film, which is merifcully short at forty-six minutes–and does a bit consisting a dialogue between a “Wino Preacher” and “Willie the Junkie”, it aims for funny but swerves at the last minute. Digressing into long stretches of pointless banter and Pryor sobbing into his hands, it’s more pitiable than watchable. One wonders what Pryor was on during the taping of this thing, since his performance is obviously suffering.

There’s no features to the disc, so you’re left with what this seems to be: namely, the dregs out of Pryor’s performance library. Not helping matters is the fact that the chapter listing on both the disc and the liner notes are off by two. “Helping the Economy,” for example, is listed as number four, but is actually six. Militant Pryor completists will want to pick this up but just fans of stand-up or just general fans of Pryor like myself should avoid.

Buy it from Amazon. If you must.

Originally published on Version 3 of the site, ported to WordPress (Ver. 4) on 12/24/2005.

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