IF I STOP I'LL DIE by John A. Williams


The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor
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 Unauthorized life and career of Richard Pryor set against the careers of many African-American comedians and actors; by the father-son Williams team of novelist John A. (Jacob's Ladder, 1987, etc.) and son Dennis A., a former Newsweek journalist. The Williamses clearly did not have Pryor himself as a source and often fall back on ``seems to'' and ``must have'' when they lack hard facts. Their book, however, is chockablock with data about the history of black comedians and Pryor's rise and fall in the hierarchy. The title comes from Pryor's famous free-basing coke blast in which he set himself on fire and ran down the street, his cooked body smoking, until some alert cops stopped him: ``Stop, Richard. We gotta get you to a hospital.'' ``If I stop I'll die.'' Pryor was a knockout comedian as a Peoria, Ill., school kid, but when he broke into show business he tamed his humor and set about imitating soft-spoken Bill Cosby, whose only rival then was Dick Gregory. In a famous episode in Las Vegas, Pryor walked off the stage in midperformance and drove to Los Angeles: He'd realized to his chagrin that he was enjoying himself when playing to a sort of ``Mother's Day'' crowd. Over the next three years, the true Pryor emerged, with his wildly brash sexual humor and stories about his family and his own self-destructive behavior and drug-taking. Although he's made 40-some movies, often as writer/actor, Pryor is stifled by the screen but blooms on stage. In fact, he often plays characters on film that he once lampooned blisteringly on stage. The authors mean this to be a sympathetic critical biography, but Pryor does not come off all that well, despite a final paean by Dennis A. that directs us back to the comedian's great concert tapes. Still, in all, lively, serious scholarship. (Photographs-- not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1991
ISBN: 1-56025-008-9
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991