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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.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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