Race War of the Words.
Richard Pryor: Live On The Sunset Strip
Why is it that it’s taboo for white people to make jokes about race, but when it’s a black guy on stage it’s open season on whitey? Oh, yeah. It’s because they’ve suffered as second class citizens in America for running on five hundred years now, and if the price of running the world is that a pockmarked black guy calls you a nerd in front of a crowd of ex-cons and welfare recipients, I think white people should just grin and bear it. I’m as sick of people complaining about ‘reverse racism’ as I am of the jokes that black comics make about whites, which is usually that white people talk like stuck-up Yalies named Chas, and black guys fuck a lot. Neat. So Caucasians get over-educated and black people get AIDS. Way to stick it to the man.
So, now we’ve established that hundreds of years of oppression give one the right to poke fun at your oppressors, but the jokes need to be funnier. This actually leads to a discussion of Richard Pryor, because he is very much not funny. What he is, however, is a great storyteller. He tells amusing anecdotes instead of jokes, like my grandfather, and strangely enough they both use the same word to describe African-Americans. I’ve never laughed out loud at a Richard Pryor bit (and after seeing his TV show, was convinced I’d never laugh again), but I find his material compulsively watchable. He’s had a rough life, and listening to him talk about is as gripping and addictive as smoking freebase until you set yourself on fire. And though some of his stuff may be old hat, occasionally it still touches on subjects that are sensitive, and taboo, which is any comic’s dream. And while it never made me laugh, Live on Sunset Strip did inspire me to catalogue a bunch of racial slurs into a pseudo-review of a stand-up DVD. I think that’s what Pryor would have wanted.