National Broadcasting Company (Original Airing)
Directed by John Moffitt
Produced by Burt Sugarman
Written by Richard Pryor, Robert Altman, Sandra Bernhard, Vic Dunlop, Paul Mooney, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield and Robin Williams
Most people would know the brilliant Richard Pryor from his movie work and mainly hit Netflix to relive his amazing talent in that medium but if you ask them about his TV work you would probably get a look of bafflement. Richard Pryor did a TV special for NBC and on the strength of that was then was given a contract for ten shows. Production was shut down after only four episodes were aired. Fortunately we live in an age where nothing that has been televised is lost and THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW is available on DVD and while it’s nowhere near his legendary concert films, which is what you really want to see to get the raw Richard Pryor, his brief TV career is well worth a look at.
First of all, THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW is the only place you’re going to see Richard Pryor in comedy sketches with Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield, Johnny Yune, John Belushi, John Witherspoon (the voice of Grandpa on “The Boondocks”) and the legendary Paul Mooney who is probably the funniest man on the planet. Marsha Warfield is especially a standout and looking quite sexy in a couple of very funny sketches including one where she and Richard Pryor are in a restaurant and getting turned on by the ferocity in which they attack their food.
The sketch that is the major standout is the one where Richard Pryor is a bartender in the “Star Wars” bar of Mos Eisley. Here he has to service all the major alien characters that we know and love from those movies. And he acts just as we expect Richard Pryor to act in such a circumstance. The best part is when Richard brings Greedo and the alien who looks like The Devil their drinks. When you watch this scene you have to really look at Pryor’s face since he says absolutely nothing for two minutes and the aliens are gabbling at him in their own languages. The live studio audience is cracking up and it’s obvious it’s not canned laughter. The reactions are honest and it all comes from Pryor’s expressions. It’s a brilliant example of how funny Richard Pryor could be when he said absolutely nothing and only worked with his facial and body expressions.
Another classic sketch is the one where Pryor is President Of The United States and he’s a press conference that starts off with the press (Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Time Reid, Paul Mooney among others) asking him questions about such lofty matters as The Neutron Bomb, Space Travel and The FBI’s persecution of Huey Newton and quickly degenerating into questions about why does The President like dating white woman and who his momma sleeps with.
My personal favorite of the comedy sketches are the ones where Pryor plays Mojo, a crazed backwater spiritual healer who doesn’t really heal…when a paralyzed woman comes to him and says she can’t walk, the dreadlocked Mojo screams; “Of course you cain’t walk! You in dat damn wheelchair!” He kicks her out of the chair into the dirt and hollas: “Let Mojo handle IT!” And there’s an improv piece where Richard Pryor, Sandra Bernhard, Robin Williams, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield and Johnny Yune all play out-of-workers trying to get their unemployment checks from Paul Mooney that has to be seen to be believed.
Think that’s all? There’s also a sketch where Richard Pryor plays the only black person on a lifeboat after The Titanic sinks that doesn’t end the way you think and another where Pryor plays a wino in London who has an unfortunately hilarious run-in with a certain doctor named Jekyll which leads to…well, you can guess the rest. And some of the other sketches show another side of Richard Pryor such as the one where he plays a man who walks into a gun shop, eager to buy a gun…until the guns start to talk to him and tell them their histories of death. It’s effective and it shows a different side of Richard Pryor. The man was a naturally gifted actor and this sketch is a nice little showcase for his talent as he reacts to the stories of death these guns are telling him. And there’s another sketch where he plays a homeless man who puts on a pathetically earnest show for the neighborhood kids that says more about human nature than I’m comfortable with.
But I’ve saved the best for last: The DVD has Richard Pryor doing his legendary and totally uncensored version of what I call “The Miss Rudolph Story” but which is officially known as “Little Tiny Feet”. It’s the story that Pryor does as his Mudbone character and he relates how he takes a friend of his who has been cursed with these…really, really BIG feet by a jilted girlfriend to the voodoo lady Miss Rudolph to get him cured. What happens after Mudbone gets his friend to Miss Rudolph is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard and I’m not going to spoil it for you here. Suffice it to say that I’ve heard the story perhaps 50 times in my life and the way Richard Pryor/Mudbone tells it, I laugh every time I hear it as though it were it the first time. The DVD set also has a Celebrity Roast that his co-stars/collaborators on the show throw for Pryor and it has the version that was aired on NBC and the version they did for ‘themselves’, if you know what I mean.
So should you see THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW? That’s entirely up to you. It all depends on how much you liked the man and his humor. Personally, I think his genius lay in that he was and still is the best storyteller I have ever heard. And the funniest.
God Bless You, Richard Pryor. And thank you.