|Index||7 reviews in total|
In 1977,the powers that be on the Bureau of Standards and Practices at
NBC decided to create a weekly variety show centered around a comedian
who was on the brink of becoming not only the hottest stand-up comedian
in the country,but one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Richard Pryor
was at the peak of his astounding fame and fortune in 1977,as anyone
who has seen his classic hosting episode of Saturday Night Live can
attest. NBC was the network of Saturday Night Live,so bringing one of
the most controversial comedians on the planet home on television sets
throughout the country seemed like a natural recipe for his outrageous
success. Despite the reviews the episode became a cult classic and made
Richard Pryor one of the hottest acts in America. But it didn't happen
that way. That same year network executives at NBC gave Pryor the green
light to host his very own weekly variety show. "The Richard Pryor
Show" was short-lived and very controversial and it was a far cry from
the cookie cutter,goofy,"bad comedy skits with songs" type of variety
show that dominated the airwaves during the entire decade of the
1970's. "The Richard Pryor Show" aired on NBC-TV from September 13,
1977 until October 4,1977,and was produced by Burt Sugarman
Productions. Richard Pryor had creative control of this series as well
as serving as executive producer,and head of production along with
Producer Rocco Urbisci.
Pryor's program was basically a true variety show that featured an unpredictable mix of satire,social commentary,conceptual comedy,improvisation,slapstick,and the occasion dramatic bit along with some of the controversial content. The show lasted for four episodes and from recently watching some of them on DVD,I can see why this did not last long. Most of the skits are simply not funny. Some of skits are brilliant,but as far as the rest of it goes,the humor seems forced along with the sketches go on forever. Some sketches were indeed hilariously funny,but the rest of it falls flat. Reason? From the start,the show faced controversy about its time slot and subject matter. Pryor's contract stated that the show was suppose to air at 9:00 p.m.,but it aired at 8:00 p.m. Many people wondered why NBC would put one of America's most controversial and profanity-laced artist's show in the middle of "family hour" on Tuesday nights. Many more wondered why the network slotted the show opposite the most popular shows of the day(they put the show opposite ABC's powerhouse winners "Happy Days",and "Laverne and Shirley"),all but assuring its failure. Many people also wondered why didn't network executives at NBC put the show at a later slot like during the 10:00 p.m. hour where it would be toward adult audiences? It could have saved it from the cancellation axe. The other reason? Pryor's battle with network censors and low ratings cause this short-lived variety show to be canceled after four episodes. The other reasons were based on network intervention,indifference,incompetence during the development stage.
Despite the differences,what you get here is a brilliant piece of work by Pryor and his crew of talents supporting actors who would go on to bigger and better things in their careers which included Robin Williams (who shot to incredible fame after this series),Sandra Bernhard,along with Tim Reid(WKRP in Cincinnati and Frank's Place),Marsha Warfield (Night Court),John Witherspoon(The Wayans Brothers,and of the Friday movies),Paul Mooney(who was also one of the writers for this series and would write most of the comedian humor for Pryor as well before going into production duties for another short-lived Pryor show "Pryor's Place'),Edie McClurg,not to mention Mike Evans(aka Lionel of The Jeffersons fame as well as one of the original writers and producer for the series Good Times)just to name a few.
Pryor pushed the limits for comedy in this series by taking it one step further and going beyond the boundaries where few entertainers could not even get away with in 1977,but in today's standards anything goes. It shattered glasses and broke barriers at a time when television comedy was still at a crossroads which took comedy at another level. This was WAY before Eddie Murphy,Chris Rock,Dave Chappelle,Martin Lawrence,Steve Harvey,Robert Townshend or even to an extent The Wayans Brothers and Jamie Foxx. Richard Pryor paved the way for them all.
When the series was canceled on October 4, 1977, NBC executives were quick to find a replacement show "Grandpa Goes To Washington",which was within itself a short-lived family show that lasted no more than six episodes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The kind of deliciously subversive art we see here can only be spawned
from oppression. That's true especially of comedy. This is the work of
some highly intelligent and creative folks, of course especially Pryor
himself, who provides that most important ingredient.
A few months ago I watched "Live and Smokin'" which was a stand-up performance by Pryor from a few years earlier than this. It was taped in a time before his huge success and featured him in a relatively small club. He was obviously high. As he trotted out one joke after another, a picture emerged of a gentle and intelligent soul who has seen and lived through every social hardship imaginable. The tone was vulgar (as always), but extremely thoughtful. It's an overtly pain-filled performance that will change you if you see it. The audience reaction was awkward, at best.
So, having learned about him, I came to this. It's an entirely different ball game having to satisfy so many others' visions (director, producers, network et. al) but it's still Pryor's painful life experiences that seep through all the cracks.
He had come a long way between the two products, from merely letting his pain spill over to cleverly constructing a series of cultural statements out of it. It in fact comes off as a desperate attempt to save an American black culture that he saw as dying, or more accurately, being swallowed up. Featured are actual performances in swing dance, jazz and African (communal!) dance, and soul. The comedy bits are actually outnumbered by said performances and some "serious" short films. All this in the face of more popular black culture of the time. Blacksploitation aside.
Pryor also evidently had a soft spot for the similarly oppressed gay culture, presumably from his upbringing in a whorehouse, where he surely became acquainted with all forms of burdened life. He here gave a platform for performers straight from the gay clubs. Why don't similarly beaten-down minorities relate to each other like this more often? Odd.
The best comedy is that which causes two reactions. First the laughter. Then when the laughter dies down, the reflexion and examination of why it was so funny. Most often you will realize that you were made to laugh at something that is not funny at all. In fact the opposite. The legacy of intelligent comedians who do this include Bruce, Carlin and more recently Rock. But Pryor outshines them all. He knows more about pain.
This show would never be allowed on a major network today.
Added: The last skit on the last disc (3) is absolutely priceless. It features Pryor being confronted by leaders of the black community. They demand that he use his show as a platform for their cause, pump him up into a mad frenzy and they all storm toward the stage, ushering him to his performance. Pryor then staggers on stage and performs a perfectly mousy version of "There's No Business Like Show Business." This one moment alone was worth the whole 6 hours.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You have to remember 1977 to rate this show correctly. In 1977 the
Variety show was dead on arrival almost all of the time, regardless who
was doing it. In 1974, Flip Wilson had been canceled. Sonny & Cher had
been canceled together and apart.
When I discovered this, I was pleasantly surprised. Is this the last show after Red Skelton to do Pantomime? I believe it was. Was this the last one to do good sketch comedy? The creativity on this show, creepy at parts, is at a very high level. Pryor as one of the shows writers kept the writing here at a very high level. Often it is too intelligent for the audience. The scary part is today's dumbed down audience is way behind this material.
Pryors Comedy Blackouts at the end of some episodes are great. This has Robin Williams before he was Mork, and Marsha Warfield before Night Court. NBC not only missed here, but could have developed a sitcom for Pyor that might have worked.
The Star Wars bar skit is incredible. The Improv sequence on this pre- dates Whose Line Is It Anyways? Did the creator of that see this skit? Robin Williams is very funny here though a bit constrained by Pryors material though in the Pryor Roast skit he is very funny and adds to this show no matter where he gets put it.
Now that Pryor and Williams have left this world, this short lived series is one of the few examples of them working together some. I wish there could have been more.
I rate this highly because, for the wrong place at the wrong time, this one has the it factor. Fun is how it was intended and variety is what it delivers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was a young tyke when this show came on the air. The local NBC
affiliate preempted it from the 8:00 time slot until 11:00 p.m. Because
it was so rare for African Americans to be on television, the phone
rang late at night telling my Mom it was on. Even though it was a
school night, Mom dragged me out of bed to watch the show.
After Richard said the first word "ass" Mom gasped and ordered me back to bed. I only got a couple steps before she recanted and allowed me to complete the show. We were sad that it went off the airwaves after such a short run, but it was the talk of my classroom for a few weeks.
In retrospect, the controversy seems non-existent. I felt the same way seeing an episode of the old CBS Smothers Brothers show. I also remember Mom telling me to turn that show off because of its content, yet today it seems tame enough for Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel.
I agree with the other reviewers that Pryor paved the way for a lot of great shows, including the Wayans and Jamie Foxx. He will be missed.
Before Chris Rock. Before Eddie Murphy. There was only one man who took
comedy to its limits, RICHARD PRYOR. Pryor was at the top of his game
when NBC offered him his own variety series back in 1977. Low ratings
and Pryor's battle with the network's censors caused the show to shut
down after a run of just 4 episodes. What is left is a brilliant piece
of work by Pryor and his crew, which included Robin Williams, Tim
Reid(WKRP), Marsha Warfield(Night Court), John Witherspoon(Friday)among
Richard Pryor really pushed the limits with this show. In his skits, just when you thought the skit was over or he couldn't go any further with his material, Pryor always took it one step further. Whether he was playing the President or dumping on NBC(over the censors), Pryor wasn't just funny, but SHOCKINGLY FUNNY. Now, please keep in mind that this was 1977 and there was more of a barrier of what you can say and do on television(as for today, anything goes).
Shows like CHAPPELLE'S SHOW I think owe a lot to The Richard Pryor Show. It broke all barriers.
Without Richard Pryor, there would be no Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, Martin Lawrence, Steve Harvey, Wayans Bros. (the list goes on and on). Richard paved the way for them all, as you all will see. The Richard Pryor Show is being released on DVD/VHS in March 2004. I'd suggest you pick it up and get ready to fall out of your chair...LAUGHING.
About 30 years ago, the powers that be at NBC decided to create a show centered around a comedian who was on the brink of becoming the hottest stand-up comedian (and later, movie comedian) in the country. Richard Pryor was hot in 1977, as anyone who has seen his classic hosting episode on Saturday Night Live can attest. NBC was the network of Saturday Night Live, so bringing Pryor home on television sets throughout the country seemed like a natural recipe for outrageous success. It didn't happen that way. The show lasted for four episodes. Watching the episodes on the DVD in 2006, I can see why it didn't last long. Most of the skits are simply not funny. The humor seems forced, and the sketches go on forever. Luckily, Pryor appears in most of them, but in some cases poor decisions were made and allowed the other less-talented cast members hog the spotlight (just watch the "I Gotta Be Me" segment in the first episode for proof). Of the other cast members, only Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhard realized any fame (in the case of Williams, incredible fame of course). The show was created for Pryor, but it seems that it wasn't created BY Pryor. And that stands to reason. You could not have watered down Pryor for network TV. One of the DVDs has an audience Q&A extra that was never aired. It's easy to see why it didn't air. Pryor unleashes the vulgarity that would be his trademarknever mind the 6 and 8 year old kids in the audience! The best skits are the provocative ones, which were more message-themed than funny. One of them involves Pryor as a heavy metal guitarist, dressed like George Clinton, who wows his audience with Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend guitar-work, and is backed by his Kiss-meets-Black-Sabbath band; it is a genius skit that makes a statement on the '70s rock music scene. Pryor ends up killing his audience a'la Sid Vicious, and the segment ends. No laugh track. No mugging by Pryor. The skit is actually creepy. As is another skit that has Pryor in a gun shop, "listening" to the guns "haunted" by their previous owners. It is an effective gun control statement, but not particularly funny. The DVD set is worth watching mainly because of the picture it paints of America in the late '70s. The clothes, the racial content, the humor, the important political issues. Some of the skits are truly hilariousbut the majority of them are dated, overlong, and not especially funny. This would have been better as a one-disk DVD, composed of the best skits as rated by longtime Pryor fans and network executives. Looking back at Pryor's career since his death, this show is an interesting entry is his catalog, and it is sad that most of the movies made in the years before his diagnosis were feebleCritical Condition, Moving, See No Evil Hear No Evil and the rest. For the best overview of what Richard Pryor was about, get the concert films ("Live in Concert," "Live on Sunset Strip," "Here and Now," as well as the hard-to-find but occasionally brilliant "Live and Smoking"), along with the feature films Silver Streak (for his comic breakout and best pairing with Gene Wilder), Blue Collar (for a great dramatic performance), and Jo Jo Dancer-Your Life is Calling (directed by Pryor and "partially" based on his life).
Perhaps I'm guilty of judging the show by modern standards, but I don't
really think the Richard Pryor Show was as outrageous as it presented
itself to be, or as NBC's Bureau of Standards & Practices did in 1977.
One look at the four episodes of this show and you can tell, this is where the Wayans family got their ideas, back when they were stealing the thunder of comedians like Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. It's also surprising to find that this show was the humble beginning for people like Marsha Warfield, Sandra Bernhardt, and Robin Williams, who I thought did nothing but the comedy club circuit before his famous role as "Mork from Ork." Yet with all the co-stars, and special features within the box set, it's not as funny or outrageous as you'd expect. This doesn't mean, however that it's not worthy of adding to your DVD library, because it is.
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