Like no one else in the art of standup, Richard Pryor could stand in front of a crowd of people and tell them the most awful truths about themselves and their lives for a full hour or moreand leave them aching with laughter, regardless of race, creed or color.
The proof is in the deluxe box set “No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert,” a seven-CD, two-DVD box set that covers rare and classic performances from his earliest gigs at San Francisco’s The Hungry I and West Hollywood’s The Troubador (1966-’68) to one of his final onstage appearances in 1992.
In the earliest recordings, we hear a young, relatively “insecure and polite” Pryor, as an admiring Bob Newhart describes him in the liner notes. But even in these early, often self-deprecating routines he wouldn’t hesitate to bait a vocal audience member as “the spokesman for the bigot group” and used the “n” word frequently, although he seldom turned the air as blue as he did in later years as the seasoned, confident and fearlessly irreverent purveyor of skewering, bawdy wit and keen street wisdom. Those qualities came through with brilliant hilarity when he took on the voice of his most beloved character, old “Mudbone,” who is present here.
But half the fun of a Pryor’s comedy was often his visual performance, which is on full display in his three classic standup films, “Live in Concert” (1979), “Live On the Sunset Strip” (1982) and “Here and Now” (1983), included on the DVDs. One needs to see his lanky frame and highly mobile face in action when he’s doing the “New Year’s Eve” sketch, which is his devastatingly funny spin on a highly publicized 1978 incident when he shot a car during an argument with one of his wives, or when he’s re-enacting his heart attack, during which he has a desperate conversation with his faltering pump, apologizing for all the pork he’s ever eaten.
And speaking of heart, Pryor had a good one, because he may have been profane but he was often profound — and sometimes deeply compassionate — in his observations on the human condition. As George Lopez observes, also in the liner notes, “His wisdom will fill your soul with laughter, love and pain. Richard is … The Bodhisattva of Comedy.”
The 12 hours of priceless Pryor humor is packaged in a deluxe book full of rare photos, essays, celebrity tributes, a discography, a filmography and a note written by his widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor.
— Gene Triplett