SXSW 2019: I am Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor portrait from the late 70's. Photo Courtesy of Kobal/Shutterstock

Through interviews and clips, I am Richard Pryor profiles the life and career of the late ground-breaking comedian, Richard Pryor.

To say that Richard Pryor was one of a kind would not be an understatement.  Pryor would rank at or near the top should one put together a list of the best stand-up comedians.  There’s no disputing this.  Live on the Sunset Strip is arguably one of the greatest stand-up specials of all time.  This special came after he set himself on fire in June 1980.  Because Pryor is a comedy giant, he would receive the first-ever Kennedy Center Mark Twin Prize for American Humor in 1998.  Pryor is so talented as a comedian that he beat Mark Twin to a prize named for the humorist!

Born in Peoria, Ill., Pryor would eventually have to make the choice between his mom and grandmother.  He would choose to live with his grandmother and the rest is history.  He left an abusive situation for a stint in the U.S. Army and later for New York.  It is in New York where Pryor got his professional start in comedy.  Pryor’s start in comedy was more so inspired by Bill Cosby.  Where Cosby would stay clean in comedy, Pryor would take things to the edge.  It is the edgy Pryor performances that would inspire a generation.  Among them, Girls Trip star Tiffany Haddish.

While Pryor certainly had a commanding presence on stage, he was not the greatest person when it came to women.  Pryor would marry seven different times including a second marriage to his fifth wife.  Even more importantly, Jennifer Pryor opens up in interviews about the comedian’s behavior towards her.  Maybe it was the abusive situation that the comedian grew up with but he certainly had his flaws in life.  Moreover, the comedian certainly wasn’t a heterosexual.  It turns out that Pryor may have been bisexual.  For what it’s worth, the comedian’s sexual life is a minor focus of the documentary.

Pryor’s late years were unfortunately plagued by his battle with MS.  This disease would end up taking his life in 2005.

While I Am Richard Pryor is premiering at SXSW, the documentary is also going to air on television.  Even with cable standards, there’s still so much language that prevents this from becoming the full-scale Richard Pryor documentary that we deserve.  But for what we have available at hand, the documentary does a fine job.

DIRECTOR:  Jesse James Miller
FEATURING:  Sandra Bernhard, Ron De Blasio, Dr. Todd Boyd, Mike Epps, Tiffany Haddish, Henry Jaglom, Howie Mandel, Thom Mount, Ishmael Reed, Scott Saul, Michael Schultz, Greg Tate, Lily Tomlin, Rocco Urbisci, Jimmie Walker, and Jennifer Pryor

I am Richard Pryor holds its world premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Documentary Spotlight program.  An hour-long version will air on the Paramount Network on Friday, March 15 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.  Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.