Biography of the comedic genius, anticipating the authors’ in-the-works film script on Pryor’s work and hard times.
Pryor was a careful autobiographer, as witness the revelations in his popular concert films from the early 1980s. He was also a brilliant improviser and actor who would single-handedly “populate his stages with upward of eight or ten characters who he permitted to flirt with, mock, con, love, hate, enchant, and begat each other.” The Henry brothers, one a screenwriter, the other a music producer, do not add materially to what Pryor has told us about himself, except to note that his frequent protestations that he had quit drugs were lies. Indeed, on many matters, they rely too heavily on the memoirs of Pryor’s ever-patient friend Paul Mooney. What adds value to this book is the authors’ expert sociological constructions, some of which they do not follow as closely as they might have. For instance, it is a noteworthy observation (though not original to the Henrys) that Pryor, more than any other single source, may have brought the “N-word” into common usage in popular culture; they could have explored it more. Along the way, they venture useful notes on the influence of Dick Gregory, the frequent betrayals (including Pryor’s assumption that Mel Brooks was going to cast him as the sheriff in Blazing Saddles, a good bit of which Pryor wrote), and of course, Pryor’s incessant drinking, drug use and sad demise. The book is a touch slapdash at times—the spelling is Sandy Koufax, not “Kofax”; someone from Wales is Welsh, not “Welch”; Moms Mabley never worked a room clean if she could help it—but it’s mostly insightful and often entertaining all the same.
A mixed bag but worth reading. Those who do will be inspired to give Pryor’s concert films fresh screenings.