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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.