Thursday, January 24, 2008

Salute to TV writers: ‘The Richard Pryor Special?’

Yes, that question mark was part of the title. As if Mr. Pryor couldn’t believe it his own self.

I’m willing to bet that 99 out of every 100 black folks in their mid-40s remember watching that special. Especially Maya Angelou’s dramatic monologue (which puzzled me then). Or the pageant of black models posing to a recitation of Langston Hughes’s “Harlem Sweeties.”

Or the Idi Amin sketch.

I’m streaming audio of the Idi Amin sketch on my Vox blog. Click here to hear it. I don’t know for a fact who wrote it... but the bitter tang of it says Paul Mooney. (Note the strategic deployment of the N-word.)

By the way, Mooney and Richard Pryor earned their Writers Guild cards at the same time, after co-scripting an episode of “Sanford and Son.”

“The Richard Pryor Special?” aired on May 5, 1977. It’s available on DVD, packaged with the four episodes of “The Richard Pryor Show” that were broadcast in the fall of ’77 on NBC.


DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, you're kicking ass with this theme. All in the Family, Taxi, and now, probably the most controversial yet misunderstood shows from the 70s.

First, I remember at 13 thinking why is Rich on tv? Had the same thought when Martin Lawrence went from Def Comedy Jam to Martin.

Before I go on, the Mooney/Pryor Sanford and Son episode was a dud. Probably censored to death. I saw it watching TVland with the flu. (I seem to gravitate to that station when I'm laid up)

The Richard Pryor Special? has to go down as one of the all-time variety specials. Especially from a Blackart perspective. It was so rich on so many levels. I could write an entire essay on that show (maybe I will).

My favorite skit from The Richard Pryor Show was the Black President.

And if Spike Lee is a star-maker consider, the cast of the Richard Pryor Show: Paul Mooney, Robin Williams, John Witherspoon, Sandra Bernhard, Tim Reid, and Marsha Warfield. That's a comedian's workshop for your ass!

But the roast to end the show was harsh! Rich got all them muthafuckas back to show he was the master.

Great post, Dave!

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks, DeAngelo. Sandra Bernhard to this day gives all credit to Mooney for launching her career. (He got an on-screen credit for "casting" that special, which Sandra was in... along with the series.)

I haven't been a fan of Sandra Bernhard's comedy for the last 15 or 20 years, but I tip my hat to her for her gratitude to a man who helped her out.

wanda loves... said...

Sounds like a bit like a Mooney writing to me. Love that man.

bklyn6 said...

My favorite skit from The Richard Pryor Show was the Black President.

Good call!

This is why we'll never have one. LOL!

And all the familiar faces: Robin Williams, Marsha Warfield, Sandra Bernhardt, John Witherspoon, Tim Reid....

Later on in this episode there's a skit with Pryor and Thalmus Rasulala.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Young-ass John Witherspoon... how about that? Well-done, Bklyn6.

What trips me out about the Black President sketch is, I would bet that most of Richard's responses were improvised... At least it seems that way.

That's another reason this show was so bold. "SNL" didn't even do actual improv on the air.

bklyn6 said...

Since this post I've watched the first two shows and the special.

To think, once upon a time, if your name was Richard Pryor, you could say "nigger" on network tv and not get censored. There are even some nooses, too! Yep, at the end of the second show Richard fronts a metal band called "Black Death". There are shots of hanging nooses for effect.

I'm loving all the familiar faces, too! I've caught Maya Angelou, Glen Turnman, Eric Launeville, a very young Christof St. Jacques, and model Azizi Johari! <--oh, snap!