DVD Review: Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert

Richard Pryor became a stand up legend in the ’70s after he torched a blossoming career in Las Vegas. He went underground in the Sixties during the Civil Rights struggle. When he emerged back in public, he was no longer a family safe comedian like Bill Cosby. He became a radical whose language made Lenny Bruce sound quaint. He dropped the N-word more times than a dinner party for Quentin Tarantino hosted by Paula Deen. Pryor’s brand of comedy was dangerous and beyond the edge. After a shocking transformation, Pryor was even more hilarious in a raw state. His hosting gig of Saturday Night Live during the first season featured a seven second delay since Lorne Michaels feared what might come out of his mouth. Too many people don’t remember this part of Pryor. Over the years, his bad movies have eclipsed his comic legacy. Can the star of Superman III, Moving and The Toy be that fearsome? Thankfully his true genius has been restored with Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert a boxset with 7 CDs of his live performances and 2 DVDs of his stand-up concerts. This is Richard without studio executives giving him notes.

The stand up performances on the CDs run from early headlining gigs in 1966 to his final visits before the microphone in 1992. It’s easy to chart his change from safe comedy routines in the early selections to the cutting edge language of his prime. Even more importantly is how the audience gets more in tune with where Pryor wants to take them. You might want to keep small children out of the room when playing the CDs. Only the first few tracks are family friendly. Once he loses his filter in the late Sixties, Pryor truly became legendary. It’s not that he cussed and used words that get people fired from the Food Network and O.J. Simpson freed. He has a sense of cadence in his uncensored language. The words reminds the audience that he truly understands the scenes he recreates. This isn’t merely observations he got from watching something on TV. He’s down with the characters he creates. He even plays a suitable uptight white guy. He doesn’t want to hold anything back in his routines. He even discusses the parts of his life that land him on the cover of the tabloids including shooting up his wife’s car and setting himself on fire. Most of these recordings were from his numerous comedy albums. There’s about two hours of new tapes on the discs. A few of the routines that were sliced back to fit on the albums get restored to their full length. There’s need no talk about how he wasn’t appreciated by his peers since Pryor won 5 Grammy Awards for Best Comedy album. .

During the late ’70s, comics used to go to HBO so their stand up routines could reach America without fear of network standards clipping away the best bits. Richard Pryor skipped over being on TV altogether. He aimed for the big screen with three movies that have aged better than the majority of a scripted movie career. Richard Pryor – Live In Concert (1979) was recorded at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach in 1978. There’s an informal feeling to the special. The audience hasn’t returned from intermission when Pryor takes the stage. When is the last time you saw a performance special where the audience isn’t all seated and primed to applaud the star’s entrance when the cameras roll? Pryor uses the tardy audiences as the basis for a routine about white ticket holders finding their seats taken by a variety of characters. Later a goofball stands up against the stage and snaps photos of Pryor with an cheap Instamatic camera. He’s not the professional photographer getting stills for the promo package. This is a guy who won’t take an easy hint from Pryor that he needs to sit down and pocket his camera. Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) was Richard’s comeback from his attempt to set himself on fire. He deals with this suicide attempt on stage so that his pain gets major laughs from the audience. Richard Pryor…Here and Now (1986) is a bit of a reflection on his career as a stand up during a performance in New Orleans. It’s extremely important that all three of his stand up movies are in the boxset. It’s one thing to hear Pryor’s routines, but his physicality adds so much the characters he creates on stage. He’s not a radio comic. He becomes Mudbone on the stage. He gives a richer theatrical performance than his time in Brewster’s Millions.

No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert allows Richard Pryor one more chance to shine as comic. His legacy gets restored on 9 discs. The routines are the reason why Pryor is a iconic genius of humor. When he gets on a roll, he has few equals behind the microphone. There’s a brilliance to his views and techniques that rarely are equaled after all these decades. His language might offend those with innocent ears, but his messages remain important.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The concert videos look fine for events that were shot live. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The whole point of the sound is to hear Pryor clearly. The audio on the CD is fine. You might have to rewind parts to make sure you heard what you think you heard.

The boxset is packaged inside a book which contains a few biographical articles and dozens of photos from Pryor’s long career.

TV Spots (1:00) are for Live on the Sunset Strip.

Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert allows the genius of Richard Pryor to shine brightly. This is why Pryor deserves to be worshiped as a comic God. He doesn’t hold back when he’s at his prime. This a boxset that deserves a place of honor in any collection.

Shout! Factory presents Richard Pryor: No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert. Starring: Richard Pryor. Boxset Contents: 7 CDs and 3 feature films on 2 DVDs. Released: June 11, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.

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