Laughter is the Best Medicine

Why Richard Pryor is still funny

– Here at Say It Loud,
comedy is our middle name. – [Hallease] We could be talking
about standards of beauty, baby names, fashion trends, the fascinating world
of ancestry DNA testing. We always find a way to make it funny. – Wigs are usually involved. I will not apologize. – But when we sat down to write an episode about being funny? Like, the actual art of comedy? We bombed, y’all. – Hello, everybody. Comedy. I told my mom I was gonna work for a show called Say It Loud, and she told me, “Go ahead and buy some new cardigans.” I said, “Mom, I’m not Mr. Rogers. – [HECKLER] Get off the stage.
– That was a PBS joke. – We want to understand how our culture has
used comedy to open up, share our human experiences,
and expose hard truths. Somebody’s routine
clearly still needs work, so we’ll spare you our jokes for now and look to the greats for guidance. – Frequently cited as
the greatest of all time, Richard Pryor is probably
your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian. – Any comic working in
America, whether they know it or not, was
influenced by what he’s done. – And it’s because he ushered in visceral, uncomfortable observation
and vulnerability, from the perspective of his Blackness. – We know George Carlin exists. We know, we know.
– We got it. (upbeat music) – Richard, Richard is the
rawest in show business. Richard is the one that
made me wanna do comedy. – It’s 1964, a slick-haired, clean-shaven, 24-year-old guy named Richard Pryor makes his television debut on a show called On Broadway Tonight. – Yeah, I had a wild
neighborhood, I gotta tell you, because my mother’s Puerto
Rican, and my father’s Negro, and we live in a real big
Jewish tenement building in an Italian neighborhood.
(audience laughs) Every time I go outside, the kids say, “Get him, he’s all of them!” – Pryor used his own life
as the butt of the joke while commenting on the absurdity of American race relations at the time. – We take this for granted now. We expect comedy, especially stand-up, to be both deeply personal, yet insightfully uncover an aspect of this weird world we live in. It doesn’t have to be political per se or even politically correct, we just expect it to say something. But it wasn’t always that way. – Minstrelsy relied on mockery to entertain the audience with
song, sketches, and dance. Vaudeville comedy routines
were based on funny situations or silly misunderstandings. And slapstick used
exaggerated physical comedy to make the masses laugh. Now, do you have to enjoy
these particular art forms? No. But each of them had their own
structure, themes, and place in the limelight of pop culture. – These days, we’ve come
to value the personal over the situational. Steve Allen, creator and
first host of The Tonight Show said in a 1957 Cosmopolitan interview: “Tragedy plus time, “plus the will to be
amused equals comedy.” And that’s where Richard Pryor comes in. – Nothing was off-limits,
not cuss words, not slurs, not his childhood trauma,
or even his own wrongdoing. The comedians in the genres
we referenced earlier were larger than life, exaggerated parodies of human behavior. Richard Pryor was just human. – Look, what Richard was able to do was say “I’m giving you my black experience.” – Historically, Black
folks weren’t in control of their image or portrayal in mass media. The stories on stage or on
screen were rarely, if ever, in our own words or of our own creation. Being unapologetically Black isn’t about debunking stereotypes, it’s taking control of your own story, telling the truth about who you are, where you come from, and how
that makes you see the world. – It inspired a generation
of comics and audiences who hadn’t seen their
experiences on stage before. – Okay, he was black and
young, and so were we. And so, a new generation of
humor came from Richard. – Mark Twain said that the secret source of
humor is not joy, but sorrow. And that man up there is
the Evil Kenevil of comedy. – He talked about his
substance abuse, his temper, interactions with the police or women. We know it as the saying “you gotta laugh to keep from crying”. And if you got a lot to cry about, whether it’s your personal experience or a collective history, humor
is a huge coping mechanism. – So when he tells a joke like this– – I’m doing a standup on
the show because the people, NBC said, “Well, America
don’t know who you are. “And you come out, and they’re scared. “They just see black
people, and they get nervous “If they don’t know who they are. “You should come out
and introduce yourself.” I was born. (audience laughs) – You’re laughing because, it’s true. You’ve either lived it or witnessed it, and you’re bonding over shared
knowledge or experience. – Then they feel safe,
“Oh it’s all right, Marge, “you can watch him. “He was born, it’s wonderful.” – Comedy is also a critique. It creates a space where
you can take back your power or disarm others by choosing to make fun
of someone or something. Take this joke about different types of
interactions with white guys. – Some white dudes you cut in front of don’t play that, though, right. You cut in front of him, “All
right, cut the [Redacted].” (audience laughs) – At the root of this joke
is a very real observation: some people get nervous
around a group of Black folks. Pryor chooses to zero in on
the way these people move and talk and nails it. “White dude, ‘sure go ahead,
sure cut in, sure cut. “Well, then, what do you want, trouble? “There’s a whole bunch of ’em. “They could be cousins or anything.” – You can’t spend your whole life sitting with this knowledge
that there are people who are afraid of you. It’s just too heavy.
– Yeah. – So instead, you make
fun of the situation and the characters involved as if to say, “Isn’t this absurd? “We’re both just people.” – It could be Pryor, Dick Gregory. – When Negros in Chicago
move into one large area, and it look like we
might control the votes, they don’t say anything to us. They have a slum clearance. (audience laughs) We do the same thing on the West Coast, but you call it freeway. (audience laughs) – Wanda Sykes or Amanda Seales. – When I was growing up, my mother, she wouldn’t even let us dance in the car. You know, we sitting in the car, a good song come on
the radio, we (humming) my mother’s like, she would stop the car. “White people are looking at you.” (audience laughs) – Wait, huh? “White people are looking at you.” I’m like, “Oh, damn.” (audience laughs) She was right. – They use comedy to challenge cultural
norms or complacency. They blow the lid off all the ugly stuff our society thinks it’s hiding. – That’s why there’s often
tension in the laughter. This sort of comedy
plays on people’s biases. The humor relies on your
ability to at least acknowledge or buy into the prejudice
the comedian experienced or the stereotypes in the joke. That tension reorients the
audience’s point of view. – To get the joke or find it funny, you usually have to sympathize, even if that means you’re
implicated in the joke. And once a comedian can
get you to that point, to laugh at your own behavior, they can take it on home by giving you a dose of social commentary. – There ain’t a white man in this room that would change places with me. None of you. None of you would change places with me, and I’m rich. (audience laughs) – Where you might have had a wall up, laughter makes it
possible to turn that wall into a window into another point of view. Satire sticks with us. Which might be why this
particular style of comedy is so popular. Just look at SNL or the Daily Show. – Studies shows that
people who get their news from a comedy show exhibit
more fact retention than people who read a
newspaper or watch CNN, all because of the brain’s
dopamine-reward system. – Laughing feels good, which makes you remember stuff better. – And maybe that’s why Black
people continue to use comedy as a tool for social change. It’s definitely harder to hate someone while you’re laughing with them. – ‘Cause some people, people
don’t hate each other, and people start talking to each other, and then they start talking
to each other, they find out who’s the problem. – Which is? – Uh, greedy people. – But while we’d all like
to believe in comedy’s unwavering ability to bridge
the gap between us all, when you’re a sub-culture
within a larger society, nothing, not even humor,
is entirely for you. That’s not how culture works, especially when technology is involved. – Journalist Wil Haygood
aptly described this catch-22. With more visibility, comes more opportunity
to be seen and heard and misunderstood. To paraphrase, “The negro comics’ trajectory
has gone from minstrel shows “to the big screen. “Sometimes the laughter
is of a confused sort, “owing to misinterpretation,
the joke merged with history “and the ears of whites
placed at awkward angles.” Television put Black entertainers like Richard Pryor into white homes where there had been
no Black people before. – Did Richard Pryor’s use of the n-word empower the wrong people? Is it his responsibility to even take that into consideration? As he paved the way for more
unapologetic Black comics with various Black experiences, the issue of crossover or palatability was questioned or compromised. – Stand up, sketch shows, and sitcoms could be someone’s only interaction with a particular group of people. And not everyone is
laughing at the same joke. In 2005, Dave Chappelle
famously exited his show at the height of its popularity, and quit comedy for over a decade. – And it all started with
one long and hardy laugh from a white guy in his audience, as Chappelle performed a
satirical sketch in blackface. It made Chappelle deeply uncomfortable, and he had to ask himself if his work was effectively
criticizing stereotypes or simply reinforcing them. – What I didn’t consider is how many people watch the show, and how the way people use
television is subjective. Somebody on set that was
white laughed in such a way… I know the difference of
people laughing with me and people laughing at me. And it was the first time
I’d ever gotten a laugh that I was uncomfortable with. Not just uncomfortable, but like, “Should I fire this person?” (audience laughs) I don’t want black people
to be disappointed in me for putting that out there. – Well you don’t wanna be
disappointed in yourself. – You know what, Oprah? (audience laughs) You’re right.
– Yeah. – I mean, I can’t even lie. I struggle with this, too, as a frequent consumer
of Instagram comedy. These videos get millions of views and thousands of comments. I know why it’s funny, but does everybody else? – Especially with the
use of AAVE or Ebonics, certain movements and behaviors. We might be in control of our
content now more than ever, but social media can make us lose sight of intentions and context when stuff is interpreted
and reposted by others. – Oh, and don’t forget Black Twitter. Remember when we said
comedy is tragedy plus time? The span of time between traumatic
events and viral hashtags is almost instantaneous now. – Does this quick-witted coping mechanism lead others to believe things
aren’t really that bad? Just because we fire off thousands of BBQ Becky tweets in a day
doesn’t mean we enjoy the idea of having the cops called
on our family function. So, who are some of your
favorite funny people online right now? – Right now I am loving
@YesImPrettyVee and @TheBSimone2. These are some funny ladies on Instagram, and also everywhere, but
I watch them on Instagram. And I love how they use
physical comedy, so it’s their exaggerated movements,
their exaggerated voices, but they’re also like super observant, so they’re somehow extra and
on point at the same time. And I think it’s so smart.
– And that’s like a skill. – It’s a skill, yes.
– A legitimate skill. I mean, for me, you know, aside from you– – Oh, thank you.
– Obviously, I also enjoy KevOnStage.
– Yes. – His brand of comedy isn’t
necessarily feel good, but in a hectic world, I could always go to him
for a good wholesome laugh. – Guilt-free laugh.
– A good guilt-free laugh. – I think for me, it’s all about you know, being true to myself. If it’s something that I
think is edgy, I decide, I spend a lot of time before
I make the video deciding if I’ll make it, if I
do, what angle I take, ’cause I don’t like to
hassle with deleting videos. Nobody is above these jokes. Everybody get these jokes,
me, my wife, kids, my grandma. You, if you fell down the
stairs, you get these jokes. And I know we just met, these
jokes are for everybody. – One of my favorite sketches that you did is the Calling in Black sketch. I would think a lot of
people probably know you for because it really had a
great commentary around something that we’re
all sort of experiencing and going through. And to understand the joke, you have to be socially aware.
– Yes. Sometimes, I need a minute. Okay, and that’s where calling in black would be so clutch. Oh, no, no, it’s not contagious, I need a solid day to reaffirm
my humanity to myself. So, I’ll see you tomorrow. I have a slight fever boiling with the rage of the
police killing my people. – So, how hard was it to write that? Is it hard? – Mmm, yes. So, Call In Black was a video I made that was me re-imagining what it sounded like and
looked like if I was able not to call in sick, but to call in black. Like, we’ve had a hard new day– – A hard news day.
– You know what I’m saying, Not guilty–
– Yeah. (chuckles) – You know, having been
declared not guilty, and I just need a day off.
– Yeah. – You know, so, it was
definitely a difficult process, because I had to teeter that
line between making sure people didn’t think I was making
light of a situation, but instead I wanted to
communicate how exhausted I was. So, it’s definitely a lot of effort that goes into that. Comedy looks effortless,
but it’s very effortful, and so, I had to make
people feel what I felt. – I think I would love
people to realize that probably our greatest skill is making it look easier
than it really is. Laughter is involuntary. I have to say something that triggers a response in your brain that laughs. That is very difficult. Comedians, we gotta
prove to you I’m funny. And sometimes you come to a comedy show, for whatever reason people
do this all the time, come to a comedy show, and they’re like, “You prove
to me that you’re funny. “I’ll be the judge of that.” They don’t necessarily come to laugh, we gotta work to prove
to you that we’re funny. People only give you about, there’s slot only give you
about three to five minutes. – Comedy has been our greatest
gift and our sharpest tool. Should Chris Rock have boycotted
the Oscars that one time? That’s up to your personal opinion, but getting the Oscars to pay you to roast Hollywood to their face? – Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, “We like you, Rhonda, “but you’re not a Kappa.” (audience laughs) – It was awkward. I mean, even on this show, we use comedy to talk
about pretty hard topics, because we want you to engage with us, and as Baughman said, “One of the greatest sins
in teaching is to be boring” – For better or worse, Pryor’s
work was groundbreaking because it was honest. The good, the bad, and
the ugly personified. And if we’re going to teach each other about our experiences, sometimes
that’s the only way to go. – So what makes y’all laugh? Let us know in the comments. Also we’ve linked a bunch of resources for you to check out about this topic. So, go forth and learn about
what makes pain so funny. – Subscribe or follow this
channel, give this video a like, follow us on social media @SayItLoudPBS, and we’ll see y’all next time. – [Both] Bye. – Yeah, what’s the deal with, um, you know, uh, privacy settings, and the terms and services, am I right? What’s the deal with, um, algorithms, am I right? Like, Al Gore Rhythm. (music chiming) (dramatic music)

100 thoughts on “Why Richard Pryor is still funny

  1. I think I have a future in stand up 😂 Thanks for watching, y'all! This episode was a tough one to write – and I'd be interested to know your thoughts especially when it comes to how comedy can hurt people/do comedians have a responsibility to be woke (for lack of a better term). Aka no i haven't watched Dave Chappelle's new Netfilx thing 😅

    These are african immigrants that do not identify themselves as such.They do not understand or speak for historical black americans.
    I would like for these ladies to do a show on comedy in Nigeria.
    Stop leeching on the legacy of American descendants of slavery.

  3. Shame on you PBS for propping up these people to represent black americans.They should at least say that hey…we are immigrants my family was not here during jim crow etc.Are they ashamed of being Nigerian?

  4. I’m always kinda scared to go in these comment sections given some of the attitudes online, but then so happy when I see you guys getting the accolades and recognition you deserve. This show is so excellent. ❤️

  5. I’ve watched a bunch of your videos in the last week or so and love them. I’m curious who you see as your audience. I’m thinking about this a lot lately as a white lady who loves Lizzo; people are suggesting on insta that people should be more aware and mindful of who content is FOR, and I’m curious to know more. How can we support people and art we like even if it’s not for us? Not expect anyone to do the work to explain this to me here, just sharing. I will do my own work. Thanks for your videos!

  6. Too bad you guys can’t talk about Cosby. Both him and Pryor had a huge influence in comedy and black culture. Too bad his personal issues eclipsed his actual influence and impact in society.

  7. My favorite Pryor sketch on YouTube "The Richard Pryor Show – Uncensored Food Foreplay" Loved him! Thanks for this insightful commentary!

  8. I love Richard Pryor. My favorite comedian, my favorite jokes to quote (cleanly), and I love rewatching his old work. He was a great man

  9. Y’all are like that thread on Twitter that went on about if black twitter/experience as college dissertation topics actualized. I can’t get enough 💜

  10. I grew up with Richard Pryor at the height of his career and, of course, love(ed) it. But I have always wondered, with all of his on-point social comedy that he was such a master of, how did "The Toy" even get made? I mean… I just.. SMH

  11. “The comedian is the modern day philosopher.”

    Yes, Richard Pryor is hilarious, and poignant, and timeless, and very real. It’s the comedians’ job to tell a story, create a scenario to have us reexamine ourselves through humor. The humor can be straight to the point, or outlandish and absurd, but still relatable. Even in telling an offensive joke, it’s still most generally poking fun at ourselves. A speech is trying to convince you of a point of view, comedy asks the question, “have you ever thought about it like this?” The problem, for the most part, isn’t the comedian, or the comedy itself, it’s the audience.

    “Make us laugh. A full hearty laugh. But make the joke understandable so I can retell it. So, it has to be smart so I can look smart, but not too smart where it goes over someone’s head. Oh, and it can’t be offensive…unless it’s intended to offend someone I don’t like. And just a little dirty, but I still might want to tell it around my kids. Yeah…so, go ahead. What are you waiting for?”

  12. And then they direct us to a PG13 comedian like some authoritative figure.
    I like Kev On Stage but we’re not all for a Steve Harvey copycat

  13. Interesting, the title card says, "Is Richard Pryor Still Funny?" but the name of the episode is "Why Richard Pryor Is Still Funny."

  14. I never thought Richard was that funny, and to this day overrated. I think that because I’m black and grew up around black People. Richard was just another black man talking about being a black man, he didn’t say anything in a way another black man wouldn’t have said it talking on the corner with his friends. If you live in predominantly black neighborhood you know I’m not hating but telling me he truth. There’s a Richard Pryor on every corner, in every house, at every job.

  15. They really didn’t explain comedy. I was an English major in college and wrote an essay on wit. Comedy is all about wit; to make people laugh you have to take them down a road and then make an UNEXPECTED turn, that’s a joke. When you think one thing is going to or supposed to happens or be said but all of a sudden the response is a surprise. For example, Dave Chappell says, “I’m not for ir against abortion.” Normally you expect a person to give a philosophical reason to explain their belief. The surprise (unexpected turn) is when Dave explains his position is not philosophical but convenient, “ it all depends on who [i] get pregnant.” This is the art of all jokes. Set up, the journey down a path, the punchline, unforeseen twist. When you can predict a punchline then it is not funny to you, there’s no surprises.

  16. I love Richard Pryor.
    I love Dick Gregory.
    But I’ve always hated any video analyzing comedy. It just ruins it.

    It sorta reminds me of some award show Comedy Central introduced some years ago.

    Once you start talking about the social aspects about comedy, you start sounding quite smug.
    I stopped watching this stupid analysis when they talked about how awesome The Daily Show was! HA!

    Long live comedy!
    (Just not the analysis of it)

  17. I know Evelyn has been on the internets for a while but the calling in black skit was my first introduction to her & it cut me pretty deep – definitely a laughing to keep from crying moment. Great vid keep the knowledge comin!

  18. I really dug this video. It was pretty dope. Thank you both for the work you put into it. Two things: 1) Those well-placed close-ups on Hallease's facial expressions were the perfect punctuations. Nice touch. 2) That was the first time I've ever heard anyone pronounce AAVE like a word ("ave") instead of an abbreviation. It was unexpectedly beautiful. I think we should all start using that.

  19. I gotta say that Patrice O Neal is probably my favourite comedian. Unfortunately he has passed but he’s definitely one of those “your fav’s fav” type deal.

  20. I'm 55. I just started doing stand up last year, at an annual camping event. I have so far only done the two shows. Most, and I do mean most, of the attendees are white. Some attendees have known me for many years; some have never met me at all. My friends know my irreverent sense of humor and doing stand up was a bucket list thing that was a success. I did it again this year. I was only supposed to have 10 minutes but I went on for 20 and for the second year in a row, there was laughter throughout. I'm really loving it. So much that I approached another friend who owns a club where they occasionally do shows. I am about to post the video from the last two years on my FB.

    Thank you for this video. It popped up on my feed right around the same time I was second guessing posting. My life experiences, my outlook, and my age all give me a different perspective. The second guessing stopped about halfway through this video.

    Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement!!!

  21. I like how they removed bill cosby from the Richard Pryor story when Cosby was the inspiration for Pryor according to Pryor smh. Even woke black folks are still afraid 😱 to offend white folks 🤦🏾‍♂️

  22. No offense but it feels like you spent less time researching than the 16 min runtime of the video. Maybe revisit this topic.

  23. He did not quit comedy for ever a decade. Not doing something mainstream is not quitting comedy. He toured during this time. You could have researched this fact.

  24. The video is informative, and well put together, but has very little to do with Richard Pryor. It ws almost a brief history of comedy that the change came with Richard Pryor, and I've seen that doc already. You didn't evenput in any of his funniest sets. It makes me wonder did toy do any real research on him and his comedy shows, albums, or movies? This IS about if he's still funny, not how he changed stand up comedy. Talk about certain sets and jokes that could be relevant today, or his delivery, is it a good delivery compared to others now. Stuff like that.

  25. Thank you so much for making this. I have wrestled in my own comedy with what I choose to joke with and about. This was so thoughtful and helped me to process how to better do that moving forward. Bless you both.

  26. Thank you Ladies very much for this considered conversation about a communication style that continues save the human race day by day… Humor is our saving grace.

  27. "Calling in Black" deserves an entire episode of Say It Loud. I have personally witnessed this in my black friends. Exhaustion from holding their breath. It makes me sad to know they experience it. I have no way to express that I know something they don't know I know.

  28. A very wise man was reported to have said, " Too much laughter destroys the heart!". Of course this statement is going to be rejected by many because it warns against an emotion that many have elevated to be worshiped! Don't believe that? Then why do many make statements about , "comedy gods"?

  29. I like existential comedy because the jokes are 'hahaha the planet's dying because capitalism… but so are YOU' *cue laughter and dread* 🤣🤣😢

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