The Virgil Films March 26, 2019 DVD release of the 2019 documentary "I Am Richard Pryor" provides the latest proof that this distributor is the Rodney Dangerfield of film companies in that it don't get no respect, A review of the similar (and equally good) Virgil documentary "I Am Paul Walker" and a post on the highly entertaining "Outatime,” which documents the restoration of the "The Back to the Future" DeLorean, illustrate the awesomeness of the pop-culture documentary section of the broad Virgil catalog.
The following YouTube clip of a "Pryor" trailer provides a strong sense of the candidness of the titular comedian and of the numerous talking heads who participate in the film, The entire documentary providing the unvarnished truth is refreshing.
Opening scenes in "Pryor" of an early stand-up performance of Pryor for a white audience establish the contrasts in the life of this man that make his life so interesting. A recent assertion of a sexual history with Marlon Brando shows that our subject still can make headlines. (Yes, I have made several jokes along the lines of Brando making Pryor an offer that he cannot refuse the past few days; the ones involving the anatomy of a horse are inappropriate for this forum.)
The aforementioned stand-up routine revolves around Pryor discussing growing up in a black family living in a Jewish building in an Italian neighborhood. Folks who are familiar with the Pryor film "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" (which "Pryor" discusses) knows that the truth is that Pryor grew up in the Peoria brothel that his grandmother owned and in which his mother was one of the working girls; his father was a pimp. A Pryor joke in which he discusses his early interaction with white men consisting of greeting customers of his mother shows that truth is funnier than fiction,
The larger theme is the need of Pryor to lighten up his material to appeal to white audiences of the '60s. "Pryor" properly points out that even those of us who are not particularly woke in 2019 both cannot relate to the real childhood of Pryor and do not want to hear the awful truth.
Comedy legend Lily Tomlin discusses her own personal and professional relationships with Pryor. Her story of accepting a '70s-era invitation by Pryor to go to a porn theater is one of the most amusing moments in the film and verifies that Tomlin is one of the coolest people ever.
Tomlin also is featured in a memorable clip of a skit that she and Pryor perform during a network special that she hosts. This is an edgy production in which Tomlin plays a diner owner and Pryor portrays a junkie/friend who is a regular and trusted customer. A poignant conclusion is one of many examples of the integrity of Pryor.
Tomlin additionally triggers a childhood memory of a controversy involving Pryor. He is appearing at a gay-rights benefit at the behest of Tomlin when he essentially tells the audience that they have it much easier than black people. He then essentially moons them and tells them to kiss his rich black ass.
A clip of a Pryor appearance on "The Dinah Shore Show" better illustrates the two worlds of Pryor, Folks familiar with Shore know that her image is as wholesome as they come. We see Pryor play with her regarding her discomfort with the word "nigger" and have the treat of Shore going along with the joke. The better message regarding this is the importance of understanding the context in which that word is used.
On-again-off-again wife Jennifer-Lee Pryor takes the lead regarding the dirty secrets and the not-so-secret scandals of Pryor. This includes his strong and varied sex life and better-known heavy drug use. The latter obviously includes his lighting himself on fire while freebasing; seeing Pryor tell a hilarious joke about that during a stand-up routine makes that witticism even more funny,
As mentioned throughout, the complex blend of Pryor shifting back-and-forth between playing it straight (no pun) intended to first pursue and then maintain stardom and remaining true to himself by allowing his real voice to be heard makes his story one well worth telling; Writer/director Jesse James Miller does this so well to the extent that he leaves the audience wanting much more.
The even larger truth is that most of the best comedy is born from pain. A popular theory is that every gay man has a "mother." Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld, and Ray Romano are three of many examples of the same being true of successful comedians,