Richard Pryor (1940-2005)
I remember the first time I saw Richard Pryor. It was on the Merv Griffin Show in the 1960s. At the time, Bill Cosby was the funniest comedian around and this new guy was a very funny approximation of Cos. But you couldn't see the same conviction in the material.
Flash forward to 1974. I'm in grad school and one of my roomates, Morris, a six foot three soft spoken black man going for his Masters Degree in Labor Relations, brings home this record for us to hear. It was "That Nigger's Crazy" by Richard Pryor.
I had never heard anything like that before. We laughed so hard we almost threw up. After it was over, several questions came to me. Is it acceptable for a white man to laugh so hard at black humor? Would it be any funnier if I was black?
In my opinion, there are only three comedians that are not only extremely funny but were brave enough to challenge the status quo and bring humor to the level that presently we all take for granted.
First, there was Lenny Bruce. He literally gave his life for free speech. So Howard Stern can say "penis" on the radio.
Next came George Carlin. He stretches the envelope so far we can no longer see the edge.
Finally, there was Richard Pryor. He not only thought white people were funny but that black people were just as funny.
The next keeper of the flame would have been Bill Hicks had he survived pancreatic cancer.
So is it acceptable for a white man to laugh at black humor?
I think Richard would say "fuck yeah".
Would it be any funnier if I was black?
It couldn't possibly be.