Richard Pryor, Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences
Huge fan of Pryor, and had been meaning to read this for years. Finally picked it up after reading this Dave Chappelle profile in The Believer:
Another book you should buy if you can spare twenty bucks is Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences, Richard Pryor’s autobiography. In it, he tells of a dinner party thrown in his honor by Bobby Darin. Pryor is seated across from Groucho Marx, who told him “that he’d seen me on The Merv Griffin Show a few weeks earlier, when I’d guested with Jerry Lewis.”
It hadn’t been one of my better moments—Jerry and I had gotten laughs by spitting on each other, and Groucho, it turned out, had a few things to say about that.
“Young man, you’re a comic?” he asked.
“Yes,” I nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“So how do you want to end up? Have you thought about that? Do you want a career you’re proud of? Or do you want to end up a spitting wad like Jerry Lewis?”
The man was right… I could feel the stirrings of an identity crisis. It was coming on like the beginning of an acid trip. Groucho’s comments spoke to me. “Wake up, Richard. Yes, you are an ignorant jerk, pimping your talent like a cheap whore. But you don’t have to stay that way. You have a brain. Use it.”
The next sentence? “The thing was, I didn’t have to.”
Unfortunately, it’s a terrible book. Not terrible in that it’s poorly written or structured or bad, but in the fact that everything that happens inside its pages is terrible. Pryor was a really tortured man—he grew up around pimps and whores, was sexually abused at a young age, snorted and smoked insane amounts of cocaine1, and chased “pussy” his whole life like a maniac (he often uses the word “bitch” to refer to many of his half dozen wives).2
And yet, in his own terms, he was one funny motherfucker. The very best of him is in his comedy, and I highly recommend That Nigger’s Crazy (YouTube) for an introduction to his work. (Most of his stuff is out of print, though you can get it in a box set.)3