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Jennifer Lee Pryor talks “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic”

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Throughout the new documentary “Omit the Logic” we get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of the great American satirical-comic minds of the twentieth century. , His collaborator Paul Mooney, Robin Williams, Mel Brooks, Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, David Chappelle are among the many luminaries influenced by Pryor that appear in the film giving testimonials. Directed by Marina Zenovich, the documentary provides an unflinching look at Pryor’s childhood, his rise to fame, the cocaine abuse, the self-immolation, his second-sailing after “Live at Sunset Strip” and, ultimately, the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and his early death.

Marina Zenovich has a history of controversial documentary subjects. Previous to this film Marina directed “Roman Polansky: Odd Man Out.” “We like complicated men,” said Jennifer Pryor at the screening.

I spoke with Jennifer Lee Pryor, at the Hilton at the apex of the Tribeca Film festivities. Pryor, identified in the film as Richard Pryor’s “Wife Number 4 & 7,” comes across as fiercely loyal to the legacy of her husband. She does not mince words about how she felt about Damon Wayans calling Richard’s stand-up routine, as his multiple sclerosis advanced, “sad.” “That was brave of him,” Jennifer says, because Richard was diminished. “He was heroic — he would still want to come out and connect with people.” It is also pure Richard Pryor, the truth teller, ruthlessly mining his own life for comedic material no matter how personal the details or how offensive it might be seen to an audience. That is, of course, the difference between the comedy of a Richard Pryor and the comedy of a Damon Wayans.

It is obvious that Jennifer Pryor is still very much in love with her husband. “Even in death he still breaks my heart,” she said, memorably, during the Q & A at the SVA Theater last Tuesday. Theirs was a complicated relationship of leavings and coming back together. And at the premiere and during our interview Pryor mists up remembering Richard several times. The Pryor who used “motherf*cker” and “n*gger” with an almost disturbing familiarity is also the Pryor, she wants us to know, who “hid presents around the house for me to find.” Jennifer Pryor wants the film’s ultimate takeaway to be Richard’s “tenderness and his vulnerability.”

Richard Pryor was raised in a brothel run by his grandmother, the matriarch of the Pryor family, in Peoria, Illinois. Her influence on his worldview was enormous. He began his comedy career, however, imitating the style of Bill Cosby. One could get more gigs, more television appearances and corporate retreats by going the “family friendly” route and that’s just what he did. Pryor was quite successful at it, did all the great nighttime talk shows of the late 20th century and achieved the comedic gold standard of the day: a Vegas gig. All he had to do was sit back and count the money. In Vegas, however, Pryor had a revelation. In the audience one day was Dean Martin, the epitome of Vegas cool. Pryor was doing his safe, Cosby-ish imitation when he saw the look of utter disgust in Dean Martin’s eyes. It was a revelation. After that, Pryor left that safe routine aside and found his own voice — X-rated, ferociously truth-telling, astonishingly personal — and never looked back. The intense observations made, as a child growing up — Don Draperesque — in a brothel informed his new comedic style. The young and the hip immediately took notice. Pryor went on to become the stuff of legend until cocaine, the fire and MS interrupted his upward ascent.

How were Richard’s last days? “His shrink said at the end of his life he made peace with it,” says Jennifer. But Richard Pryor embodied, post Civil Rights, raw African-American masculinity. He was on stage always so hyper-kinetic, animated; Pryor’s comedy was always quite physical. He would stalk a stage, prowl, owning every inch as he tried to win over the crowd. How did the diagnosis of MS affect that aspect of him? “It’s challenging,” said Jennifer. “I would see sometimes the pain of him being diminished.” Animals helped. “He was an animal lover. He lived with two rescue dogs. They were his companions,” Jennifer says, smiling at the memory of his last days.

How does one cover such a remarkable American life in the span of 90 minutes? If there is any flaw to this noteworthy documentary, it is that it tries to cover too much territory. A full length feature documentary could easily be made just of the making of “Live at Sunset Strip,” his great comeback after the rum-soaked self immolation after the manner of the Ali-Frazier documentary “One Nation Divisible.” That having been said, “Omit the Logic” remains, however, the best entry point into the life of Richard Pryor. It is an heroic undertaking. Jennifer, perhaps sensing that 90 minutes is not enough to tell the whole Richard Pryor story hinted at the premiere that she wanted to do a sequel. I asked her what period of life Richard would have wanted covered more deeply. “I think he would probably want to talk more about the NBC comedy show. It was not easy. He was battling with white executives.”

Jennifer is also seeking to publish Richard Pryor’s diaries which, she told me, go into his upbringing in the brothel and his reflections on that time of his life. The story of Richard Pryor is far, far from over.

Will you be seeing “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Was Richard Pryor the greatest comedian of all time?

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I cannot wait to see the new Richard Pryor documentary, authorized by his estate. Jennifer Lee Pryor, Richard’s widow, is listed as a producer on the upcoming documentary “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic,” which will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-April. The fact that Pryor’s ex-wife is listed a producer on the project lends authenticity to the narrative of one of the most compelling figures in entertainment. When Richard Pryor died in 2005 at the young age of 65 of complications due to multiple sclerosis, he was regarded as probably the most influential American comedian of all time. As a monologist, he rivaled Mark Twain. It was the same self-destructive impluses that fueled his brilliant comedic imagination that led to his untimely demise.

Born on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois Richard Pryor’s career arc traversed the Civil Rights revolution and its aftermath. His influence in comedy – particularly during the 70s and 80s, where he was at the height of his powers — altered the DNA of comedy, at home and abroad. “It was essentially comedy without jokes – re-enactments of common human exchanges that not only mirrored the pretensions of the characters portrayed but also subtly revealed the minor triumphs that allowed them to endure and even prevail over the bleak realities of everyday living,” wrote Mel Watkins in his obituary in The New York Times. “He was brilliant at telling stories, and some people are brilliant at losing themselves,” comedian Paul Mooney, his collaborator for many years, told NPR. “That’s why Richard could play characters.”

Raised in a brothel and bars run by his grandmother, addicted for most of his adult life to cocaine, Pryor, who attained fabulous wealth in the United States during the post-Civil Rights era, lived both the American nightmare as well as the American Dream. His life served as rich soil in which he mined some of his most brilliant routines, dealing with everything from racism and inequality to drug addiction and fame. He excelled at creating hyper-realistic characters in the key of life — hustlers from black folklore to network bosses. Pryor was a pioneer of observational comedy, visiting clubs and bars with Mooney, capturing the body movements and influections as well as the stories that make up America. He began on the chitlin’ circuit — where the humor was blue — venturing afterwards to New York City, to pursue fame and fortune. In the 60s, Pryor modeled his career after Bill Cosby, who worked clean. Pryor’s comedic breakthrough came when he abandoned the clean sets of his idol and ventured into the dark side, expressing that zone of life with an organic, gritty humor. It was a side of life he intimately understood. By the 1970s Pryor had come into his comic persona — essentially himself — and ushered in a new era of American comedy, wholly without artifice and pretense.

As a dramatic actor Richard Pryor was immensely underrated. It is one of the great tragedies of American film that Pryor never did more dramas, never fully showed us his range as a performer. Comedically, Pryor was no stranger to Emmy’s, which he won for his collaboration with Lilly Tomlin, as well as the Grammy for Best Comedic Recording in 1974. His his supporting role in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues, however, earned critical support of his dramatic ambitions. But it was his breakout dramatic performance in Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar in 1978, which unfortunately never won an Oscar nod or box office appreciation, that proved that Richard Pryor could do anything. Playing Zeke, a frustrated Detroit autoworker surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, caught between a corporation and a corrupt union, Pryor stars alongside Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto in the logical dramatic extension of his realistic and gritty view of life. It is testament to the brilliance of Richard Pryor that he was able, almost alchemically, to transform so much pain into such timeless humor.

If this documentary captures even a fraction of the complexity of this man then it is more than worth the price of admission.

Are you interested in seeing “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Weird Al CBB

CB!B! Gets Weird

“Weird Al” Yankovic to Join Comedy Bang! Bang! as New Bandleader and Co-Host

"Weird Al" is coming to Comedy Bang! Bang! this spring on IFC.

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Comedy Bang! Bang! has just enlisted its new bandleader and co-host — and he’s pretty “weird.” Filling the big shoes left behind by Kid Cudi and Reggie Watts, parody demigod “Weird Al” Yankovic will be joining host Scott Aukerman and the rest of the CB!B! menagerie for the upcoming season.

“If you would have told me, when I was a teenager, listening and laughing along to Al’s In 3-D album, that one day I would partner up with him, I would have asked who you were and how you got in my room. Then I would have politely shown you the door. Because that’s how I was raised,” Aukerman said.

With a musical career that goes back to the ’70s, Yankovic’s comedy and musical pedigree needs no introduction, and as a recurring guest on the IFC talk show and the CB!B! podcast, his improvisational skills and rapport with Aukerman have proven to be fan favorites.

Production for the 20-episode fifth season begins today with a premiere date slotted for the spring. Listen to Scott’s announcement on today’s episode of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, featuring Weird Al himself as a special guest co-host.

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