One of the most famous metamophoses in standup comedy was Richard Pryor’s transition from Cosby-style material to a more profane, incendiary style of truth-telling.
The dividing line can be located in history. Some people refer to it as Pryor’s "breakdown" onstage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.
John A. and Dennis A. Williams, in their biography “If I Stop I'll Die," put the date as September 15, 1967. Pryor said something like "What am I doing here?" and walked off the stage.
Before that, Richard Pryor had appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”
But after that, Pryor moved to Berkeley, started hanging with a clique of black literary hipsters including Ishmael Reed and Claude Brown, and did a lot of cocaine. As the Williamses report: “He was so strung out that people didn't want him around their kids - and told him so."
The 2005 double-CD “Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974)” captures Richard Pryor, before and after.
Click here to hear a 4-minute piece from February 1966, recorded at San Francisco’s hungry i, famous for showcasing such comedians as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen and the Smothers Brothers.
Then click here for a piece from 1971, recorded at San Francisco’s Basin Street West.
In both monologues, Pryor recalls his childhood in Peoria, Ill.