It would’ve been interesting to have heard from Jim Brown. Pam Grier certainly could have supplied some stories, too. Nothing from his offspring? Those were my eventual thoughts after thoroughly enjoying the SHOWTIME broadcast documentary “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic”. What wasn’t there. But my initial reaction was amazement that director Marina Zenovich managed to squeeze in as much as she did with this barely 85-minute piece. Richard Pryor probably lived ten lifetimes compared to the average person. And so much of his wild existence makes it up onto the screen—warts and all. The fact that Jim Brown was Pryor’s best friend, Grier nearly one of his multiple wives, and that he had a number of children didn’t escape me. But it also didn’t detract. If you come into this knowing little about Richard Pryor, by the end your mouth will probably be hanging open in disbelief until you exclaim, “HE DID WHAT!”. He was that kind of an artist. And if the word genius is thrown around a little too much these days, sorry—he was one.
You probably know about some of the movies. The good ones, like “Stir Crazy”, “Silver Streak” and “Lady Sings the Blues”. There’s plenty of awful ones too, like the unlikely pairing in “Superman III”, his final release with Gene wilder, the horrible “Another You”, as well as the deplorably racist “The Toy”. Good or bad, it was nearly impossible to capture his improvisational madness in film roles. Thankfully, we have the stand-up though. And if 1979’s theatrical release of “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert” isn’t a comedic masterpiece, then there is no such thing. Wildly profane, searingly honest—Pryor didn’t do jokes, he told stories. And it was incredible to think that he lived it all. The drugs, the booze, the violence, the heart attack, the childhood in a brothel, the Vegas epiphany, and the self-immolation that very nearly took his life. We were told it was an accident in 1980 when it happened. It was until much later that we learned it was on purpose. But I’ve never heard it told before as its recalled here. It will strike you mute.
Okay, there’s probably a bit too much fawning from fellow comedians, co-workers and friends. Engaging as he usually seemed on camera, this was a dude who did some really crazy shit. It’s impossible that everyone loved him. And maybe featuring a little more recollection from some African-American comedians would’ve gotten closer to the spirit of what Richard was about—much more than the faded memories from agents and managers who label themselves as “close friends”. It makes you wonder how much the honesty is being stretched. Make no mistake though, this is an archival time capsule that is indispensable. If it ain’t perfect, well—I doubt anything about Pryor could be. Maybe if it was ten hours long. But for a brisk crash course on Richard’s life and times is what you crave, “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic” should more than satisfy. I already knew a lot about the man, and I learned a bundle. I’m even looking forward to watching it again. Grade: B+