Richard Pryor Live In Concert (1979)

Director: Jeff Margolis

Starring: Richard Pryor

Written by: Richard Pryor

Running Time: 79 mins

Original Cert: X

Original US Release: January 1979

Concert movies are a genre all to themselves. Sometimes they manage to capture the mood of the time brilliantly. Others feel lofty and can get a little boring for you long to have been there yourself. Comedy stand-up films are even worse. Unless you are watching them with a bunch of people who are laughing along with the audience watching the performer, they aren’t as entertaining and for some reason and I’ve never worked this out, they become almost lost in translations, so the jokes aren’t that funny. Richard Pryor Live In Concert is a true exception to all the rules. This is more a snapshot of a man who was, and is, one of the all-time greats and it is mainly thanks to this movie.

Shot during his Long Beach concerts in the late 70s, Pryor has no limits to where his humour will take him. One moment it’s sex, the next it’s animals, then heart attacks. What makes him such a unique and special performer is his ability to bring everything to life. Not only was he a great verbal comic but he was an even better physical comedian. His routine about deer in the woods is totally accurate, from the sharp head movements to even the position of his tongue.

What makes Pryor such a unique performer is his honesty. A very troubled life is almost therapy when on stage. He is quite open about his heart attack that almost killed him. His family, especially his overbearing grandmother and mostly the difference between race. Openly using the N-word, his ability to laugh not only at himself and his own racial stereotypes but also at others around him is amazing. His mimicking skills are awe inspiring.

At 79 mins long, it feels so short as he bounds from one story to another. One moment he’s becoming the horn player in Patti LaBelle’s band (she was the supporting artists before Pryor came on) the next he telling about how he was arrested for shooting his car (including the conversations he had with the car).

Some people may find his language incredibly offensive and at the time of release, this cause a huge amount of controversy but Pryor is such an amiable guy that after a while you forget. It doesn’t sound offensive but part of Pryor’s performance skills.

I have been a fan of Pryor for years, after first seeing him in Silver Streak but you never saw his full potential until you see the man doing what his thing. Many have tried to copy his style, more notably Eddie Murphy but no one can come close to his timing, his pacing and his overall ability to make the mundane and ordinary seem magical and hilarious. That’s the main thing. He is funny. No, he is a comic genius that is solely missed. There were other concert movies (Live on Sunset Strip and Here & Now) but none capture him at his best.


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