Richard Pryor is one of the best stand-up comedians of all time. Whether it’s an album like That N***er’s Crazy or the Live on the Sunset Strip comedy special, there’s such incredible comic timing in his work, and also just pure raw truth. Funny enough, my first tastes of Pryor were at an early age and comparably tame/soft-edged: Superman III and Brewster’s Millions.
Pryor was a troubled and ultimately tragic guy at heart, which may explain why his jokes were so good — he was able to transform that pain and anxiety into gold. In the Mel Brooks episode of the WTF podcast back in February, Marc Maron noted that Pryor’s comedy was vulnerable, and Brooks concurred.
Trying to capture such a comlplicated guy like Pryor is difficult in just an hour and a half. Director Marina Zenovich does a serviceable job in Omit the Logic, which is a nice enough entry point into Pryor’s life for those not familiar with his work.
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Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic
Director: Marina Zenovich
Release Date: May 31, 2013 (Showtime)
The issue with trying to capture Richard Pryor in just 90 minutes comes from the different arcs of his life. Just looking at his comedy career, his shift from Bill Cosby-clone to Richard Pryor-proper could have been the focus of a full documentary, and the same goes for his rise in prominence in the 1970s and early 1980s, his battles with NBC censors on The Richard Pryor Show, and his eventual decline as a relevant social comedian as the 80s wore on. Add to this his drug addition, his self-immolation, his many wives, his awful struggle with MS, and his very traumatic family life, and there’s material enough for several 90-minute documentaries.
What Zenovich offers is a view from the surface rather than getting to the essence of the man, though there are some great glimpses there of Pryor at his best, with interviews from Dave Chappelle, Whoopi Goldberg, Mel Brooks, Ishmael Reed, Robin Williams, and others that serve as both celebration and punctuation.
But there are also surprising omissions with interview subjects, probably due to access and clearances. When I was talking to another film journalist/blogger about Omit the Logic, he brought up the lack of an Eddie Murphy interview, which would have made sense given the comedy lineage between Pryor and Murphy and their work on Harlem Nights. I was a little disappointed that Gene Wilder wasn’t in the film, though it would probably hurt him too much to talk about a friend so tragic.