Bustin’ Loose with Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor and American Flag. © Henry Diltz/CORBIS. June, 1968.
American funnyman Richard Pryor would have been 70 years old on December 1st. Like every other middle-class white American kid growing up in the early 80s, my first exposure to the man’s genius came in the form of watered down mainstream movies like Bustin’ Loose, Brewster’s Millions, and The Toy.
But stand-up was his true medium. The one arena where his brand of comedy, bravado, and persona could meet toe-to-toe in the ring and deliver a knock-out blow against class division and racism in America. As evident in this 1975 appearance on Saturday Night Live (edited):
Grandmother raised me, you know, used to send me to church and stuff so I’d be good. But I liked to hang with the winos. I did. ‘Cause winos know Jesus personally. Very religious, you know. Every wino, you ask ‘em, “Where’s Jesus?” [imitates a screaming wino] “JESUS! HE LIVE OVER IN THE PROJECTS!” And I’d stand around watchin’ ‘em direct traffic early Sunday morning. Winos are great at directin’ traffic, you know.
[As the wino, whistles] “HEY, FOOL! YOU BETTER SLOW THAT CAR DOWN! DON’T COME DRIVING DOWN THROUGH HERE LIKE YOU CRAZY! THIS A NEIGHBOURHOOD – THIS AIN’T NO RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT! You could have killed that sign, anything! [mimes pulling a bottle from his back pocket, has trouble unscrewing the top] Damn! [drinks] Whoooo! Buddy, buddy! Jesus on my mind!
[Sees something and points] “Now, look at him, look at that boy over there, standin’ in the middle of the street. Boy’s a stone junkie. Look at him. Used to be a genius. Now he can’t remember who he is. Hey, Junior! GET OUT OF THE STREET, BOY! NIGGER, YOU AIN’T NO STOP SIGN! GET OFF THE STREET! JUNIOR!”
[Imitates the junkie, mouth open, head thrown back, face to the sky] “What’s happenin’?! Hey! What’s happenin’?! I know somethin’ happenin’ ’cause everything movin’. HEY, OLD DUDE! Pops! You got anything? I feel bad enough to drink some milk.”
[As the wino] “Yeah, I got somethin’ for ya, boy! Come on off that street. Come here. Nasty, stinkin’ devil, you. Whyn’t you get a job, boy, go to work?”
[As the junkie] “Get a job? Go to work? I worked five years in a row when I was in the joint. And I can work my tail off, man, pressin’ licence plates. That’s right. But where niggers gonna get a job out here pressin’ licence plates? Huh? I went to the unemployment bureau … Damn, baby. [Falls asleep on his feet, abruptly wakes up, confused] Was I through? I walked to the unemployment bureau, walked downtown – clean, you know what I mean? Walked up to the lady sittin’ in there with a ol’ tiara on her head, typin’ tip-tip-tip-tip-tip. I said, ‘HEY!’ She said: ‘Ooh ooh!’ I said, ‘Hey! What’s happenin’?’ She looked at my paper: ‘You got a criminal record!’ I said, ‘I know that! I’m a criminal! Tell me somethin’ I don’t know.’
“I went home, y’know. Mama called me a dog. Ma dear, she did. Daddy say he don’t wanna see me in the vicinity. Just ’cause I stole his television. Wasn’t nothin’ on it. Can you help me out, old dude? Please? I’m sick, man. Help me make it through the night.”
[As the wino] “I’m gonna help you, boy. ‘Cause I believe you got potential. You know what your problem is? You don’t know how to deal with the white man! You got a white-man complex. I know how to deal with him. That’s why I’m in the position I’m in today.” [Drinks from bottle, makes a face, screws the top back on, and pockets it].
Richard Pryor in LA. © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis. Between 1960 and 1965.
Comedian Richard Pryor flexes his muscles in front of an American flag in a photo session. Pryor is satirizing America’s perceptions of itself and African-Americans. Richard Pryor in the sixties and seventies was one of the most preeminent comedians and perceptive commentators on America, the African-American community, and racial relations. © Henry Diltz/CORBIS. June, 1968.
Comedian Richard Pryor. © Henry Diltz/CORBIS. June, 1968.
Richard Pryor in the 1960′s. © Jim Demetropoulos/Retna Ltd./Corbis. January 01, 1960.
Funnyman Richard Pryor in LA. © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis. February 01, 1973.
Richard Pryor with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” © Bettmann/CORBIS. October 10, 1986.