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Richard Pryor Live On The Sunset Strip (1982)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Comedy, Concerts, Standup Comedy
Joe Layton Joe Layton
Richard Pryor Richard Pryor
Gene Cross Gene Cross
Julie Hampton Julie Hampton
Jesse Jackson Jesse Jackson

7.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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The third and most successful of four stand-up act movies release by Richard Pryor on film. The stand-up act includes Pryor's frank discussion about his freebasing addiction, as well as the infamous night on June 9, 1980 that he caught on fire. --TMDb
Review by Chad
Added: February 23, 2008
Confession time here: I'm really not that big a fan of stand-up comedy. Well, I don't exactly hate watching these comedic performances and there are some guys (and gals) who I do enjoy watching, but a big fan of these performances? Not really, no. As such, I never took the time to track down the work of the so-called greats and legends in the business; while I know who a lot of the big names are, I have to admit that I've never actually seen a fair amount of them do their routines. Up until tonight, Richard Pryor was one of those fellows whose work I'd heard praised time and time again but never seen for myself, and when I saw a Pryor double feature in the bargain bin for a mere five bucks, I decided to change that.

Running just shy of ninety minutes, the performance found here holds a special significance in the career of Pryor: it was his first performance after being horribly burned and spending six months in a hospital as a result of either trying to kill himself or an accident involving freebasing cocaine, depending on who you want to believe. This show at the Palladium was also billed as being his final performance, although he would eventually return to the world of comedy a couple of years later. Topics here include the burning incident (which he attributes to freebasing cocaine - his wife and daughter are the ones who claimed it was a suicide attempt) and the drug addiction that led to it, visiting Africa, the differences between black people and white people, marriage, working at a Mafia-owned nightclub, and quite a few other insights and observations.

As an introduction to his style of comedy, I have to admit that Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip was a monumental letdown. I'm sure that'll get me some heat from some of you readers, but it's true. The main reason for this is quite simple: while there were a few moments that made me giggle and one or two that made me bust out laughing, the vast majority of the material here simply isn't that funny. As I watched his performance, I kept wondering how in the world he managed to become a legend in the world of stand-up if this was the sort of material that he delivered. It's not offensive (though the white jokes may have been at the time), it's not edgy, the material isn't particularly insightful, and as a result, it's simply not very funny.

Take the chunk of time in which he slips into his "Mudbone" character, for example. Portraying this character consists of him talking in a slurred mumble and rambling on about, well, nothing for a solid ten minutes. There are no jokes slipped in throughout this character's duration, as the character itself is supposed to be the joke. The audience seemed to love it, but personally, I just didn't get why in the hell this was supposed to be funny - I could listen to this rambling nonsense from any wino on the street if I so chose.

This was but one example, and truthfully, a large percentage of the remaining material wasn't much better. When he slips into his Mafia story, it comes with some good Italian impersonations and a couple of decent jokes, but he just runs the whole thing into the ground and it loses its charm long before it's finished. That's the problem with a lot of his material: he just doesn't know when it's time to change subjects.

The final piece of the performance, that being his observations of the burning incident, was truly the highlight of the film, even though - again - I have to admit that it ran on for too long. He's brutally honest about his addiction and the help he received from actor (and friend) Jim Brown, and of course, the actual burning itself and the subsequent recovery period are also touched upon. I wanted to enjoy this material, I really did; here's a man being completely open about a major incident in his life while also attempting to laugh at himself, but unfortunately, it just didn't do a whole lot for me. Maybe it would have been more powerful had I been a fan of the man or if I had been there to see it live, but as a newcomer to his career who watched the performance on DVD, I have to say that it was a letdown.

In conclusion, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip didn't sit too well with me. As mentioned, I haven't seen any of his other performances and thus, I can't very well compare this to the rest of his work, so I'm not sure if this was just a bad way to get introduced to the man or if his style of comedy just doesn't work with me. There were a few bright spots - most of the Africa story was pretty funny - but as a whole, I'd have to say pass on this one. 4/10.
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Edd #1: Edd - added 02/24/2008, 01:40 AM
I couldn't agree more. I never really thought he went on too long, but he really just went on stage for 90 minutes and made bad "White people drive like this, and black people drive like that" jokes. Now some of them are funny, like as you mentioned Mudbone (snickered and laughed at the whole thing actually) but I just can't understand how he became such a big name. 2/10.
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