Richard Pryor (1964, 1979)
John and I spent our nineteenth summer slipping into the Cineplex on weekdays. Monday was a favourite ‘cause we both had heavy weekend duties which alternated between our living pharmacy acts and the low-rent hires we took to pay for what had not yet become habits.
Mondays we liked to crawl into the Eaton Centre Cineplex where the theatres were so small we felt we were back in our basement freezone, and the staff was about as chronic and regular as we were so no one dropped a notice about our shuffling between theatres six and seven and twelve and fourteen. In general we tried to push off before the show closed so we wouldn’t draw unwanted attentions, and besides we were too young to be interested in endings, we only wanted to watch the beginnings of things.
Until Richard Pryor. I can’t remember what movie it was, though it was hardly that, I think they stuck a camera up into his face and let him ramble for an hour and we were glued. We let the three other passengers up and out and sat right there waiting for the next turn to come round.
Even when Richard Pryor’s face is smooth and untouched he looks like he can chew off a bit of wall and spit it into new storm troopered life. There is anger written all over him, the kind that would like to do bad things to good people and instead of being afraid we are crying with laughter from every unexpected place.
He is not doing a shtick, that’s one thing. He is talking about his life, the one he is actually living, and about his relationship, the very closest and most personal and hurtful thing of all, and there, where it matters most, he is acting like an asshole, showing himself not as some shining love machine, but instead as a dangerously manic alcoholic who probably shouldn’t even be allowed outside his own house. And he is making all that shit funny, he is finding some way to make an approach to it, and turning it all around the way the old Cubists did, so that I can hear it from every side at the same time, though the truth is when most angry people start to talk I can’t hear a thing. All I can hear is the high frequency sounds of all that bad feeling.
But Pryor turns his anger into something soft and easy so it goes down, so I can listen up close. And behind every angry spit and outrage there is this sentiment, lurking and waiting: I am a black man, and I have been fucked around for being black. You hurt me but I’m not giving in, I’m standing up and giving it all back. And sometimes his beautiful black princess takes the brunt or one of his co-workers or god forbid a boss.
Can anyone be a boss of a mountain? But he is up there on a black power, civil rights, equality now stand, no question, and he is angry it hasn’t happened yet, so angry he’s willing to make it funny so that I can choke it down with all the other white food I don’t even notice I’m busy throwing up over everything.
- Mike Hoolboom