FAME Review: Richard Pryor - No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert (7-CD, 2-DVD box set)
Richard Pryor - No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert (7-CD, 2-DVD box set)

No Pryor Restraint:
Life in Concert

Richard Pryor

(7-CD, 2-DVD box set)

Available from Shout Factory.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

This leviathan bonanza box set treats of comic genius Richard Pryor as he should be handled: generously and without, as the title states, restraint, a gatherum that's both overview and re-assessment, outdoing even the old Rhino And it's Deep Too! big box. Not only do you get 7 CDs of Richie's best from the old Laff, Stax, and Warner Bros. LPs, but also 2 DVDs containing his three major stand-up concert films—in all, 12 hours of material—and, within the beautifully presented showcase's confines, two hours of previously unreleased rare and stand-up recordings. This is precisely the sort of material collectors and casual listeners alike treasure in compilations. Issued in sturdy book form, a 64-page booklet precedes the discs and features an intro from producer Reggie Collins, a piece from Jennifer Lee Pryor (R.P.'s fourth wife), essays by Dr. Todd Boyd and Scott Saul, a mid-word by Bob Newhart, an afterword from Lily Tomlin, a filmography, a discography, and track credits for all material…along with many many photos. When it comes to the greats, there is no such thing as surfeit, might I remind you?, only necessities. No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert proves that very nicely indeed.

The CDs are arranged chronologically so the listener can trace Pryor's development from 1966 to 1992. From the very first track, Peoria, until the closing minutes of an interview in CD 7, Richie's unique approach is keenly felt in reviewing 113 cuts of cutting comedy based not in joke-telling, puns, or humorous Toastmasters anecdotalia but in reality and riffs on it. He preferred to leave the old school, Henny Youngman and such, to the old school, playing hooky from the traditional and trading the dozens with the cut-ups on the street. In fact, very early in the box, a perhaps somewhat well-meaning semi-heckler in a night club suggests that Pryor stick to 'a funny thing happened on the way to the club' material, and Richie unheatedly replies "Why don't you go to Vegas? They got millions of comics doing that!" and then cracks up. From the git-go, he was following what Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and very few others had introduced, a then-dangerous route even in the 60s that could easily bring the weight of the Establishment down on your head were you to step out of line jes' a leetle too far, Bertram. Richie, of course, trampled the demarcation line as he sprinted to lands verboten.

Nothing was off limits to that far-reaching mind as it ransacked his life and the country's peculiarities for what everyone else was missing. Didn't matter what the subject was, he found ways to uncover the scatological, the profane, the outré, and a phase of the mundane that can be viewed only when one possesses a sixth sense…and a seventh…and an eighth. Perhaps the most interesting factor in Pryor's entire oeuvre was his insistence on not sticking to the safety of even his own inventions, seen clearly when, after inventing one of the most ingenious characters in American comic history (Mudbone), he refused to beat the invention to death or make it his crutch. When audiences would insist on ever more Mudbone, he'd snark back "Fuck you!" and mean it. Everyone got it, too: you don't want to piss off an ultra-comic because he knew better than you where your weaknesses lay and could slice 'em out like a surgeon, dropping each one quivering on the floor for everyone to gawk at. More than once, hecklers discovered this in his club gigs, heaven help 'em, and you get to smirk over a number of the poor bastards in the CDs and DVDs provided…but…still…Mudbone was a brilliant invention and even I pined for more of him. Sigh!

Bill Cosby, always good for a laugh and lately often when he doesn't mean to be, said of Pryor "I wish every new and young comedian would understand what Richie was about and not confuse his genius with his language usage". Also a comic genius, albeit a Puritan comic genius, Bill was a bit too Andy Griffithy (another genius) inadvertently in such adumbrations, telling his audience more about himself than the object of his criticisms, his several intended digs over the decades backfiring with a loud bang. George Carlin, on the other hand, understood very well indeed why the Pryor swore like a sailor; after all, George made that very trait his calling card in the Seven Dirty Words bit, always maintaining a friendly rivalry with Pryor. And, hey, without Richie, there might well be no Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock, now would there?

There is, by the way, but one god of comedy, and his name, mentioned above, was Lenny Bruce, from whence all great modern comedians have issued, whether they know it or not, depending on how they got their impetus: directly, second-, or third-hand. Pryor readily acknowledged the immortal master, one time saying "I owe it all to Lenny Bruce…[who] changed my life". Lenny blew a lot of minds, mine most definitely included, so when you make your way through the voluminous materials in No Pryor Restraint, you just might want to continue the bliss by also laying hold of Shout Factory's much earlier release of the Bruce box set Let the Buyer Beware, a literal treasure chest, the overwhelming lion's share of which has never been otherwise released: 6 CDs, 7-1/2 hours of non-stop brilliance. When I first learned of its existence in 2005, a year after its release, I nearly pulled a heart attack (hey!, I coulda joined Richie and George in what Carlin called 'the Heart Attack 5000'!), sprinted to the record shop, and grabbed a copy out of the rack so quickly that it practically caught fire. That fabulous item remains one of the foremost gems in my very large collection of recordings but now, here, it has a very distinguished companion. If you want to understand how genius generates genius, then you need to, after hearing Restraint, track down Lenny. You won't be sorry, and good things should always come in pairs.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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