A comedian, a film star, a raconteur, an entertainer, Pryor was an iconoclast whose material showed us that comedy could not just make us laugh, but could also make us think. Pryor covered race, sex and power in a way that no comedian ever had. His style was a breakthrough, and he opened the door for a generation of comedians who came after him.
Pryor grew up in Peoria, Illinois, raised by his parents and grandmother who ran bars and brothels. His early experience in the bordellos, surrounded by a world of winos, prostitutes, pimps, junkies and pool hustlers, would shape his view on life and his comedy later in life.
He started playing bars and clubs in Peoria, later toured the chitlin circuit and finally made his way to New York. His early style was more Bill Cosby than the quintessential Richard Pryor that the public would come to know later in life. But his clean humor made him a household name nationwide within the space of two years and led to appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."
Soon enough though, Pryor tired of doing someone else's brand of comedy. "I made a lot of money being Bill Cosby," he said. "(But) there was a world of junkies and winos, pool hustlers and prostitutes, women and family screaming inside my head, trying to be heard. The longer I kept them bottled up, the harder they tried to escape. The pressure built till I went nuts."
Those voices emerged as a brand of character based stand-up comedy that had never been seen before. To say that Pryor was an influence on stand-ups like Eddie Murphy is like saying that Benjamin Franklin was an influence on someone working in electronics today. The man quite simply invented a brand of stand up.
Here for your enjoyment is Pryor doing what he did best, making people laugh.
MP3s of Stand Up
Black Super Hero
Video of Pryor Hosting SNL
Classic Sketch: Racist Word Association
Monologue: Richard Fails His Acid Test