December 11, 2005

"Hey, Richard, what was it like to be on fire?"

Larry King asks Richard Pryor in an old interview, which CNN re-aired yesterday, the day that the great comedian died. (Richard Pryor, as you probably know, set himself on fire free-basing cocaine.)
"It was... scary... and petrifying... and... awesome... You know, fire, you know how fire looks red and stuff. It's really orange and white. I didn't know that until after it was over. I said, wait a minute. This is fire but it don't look like it."

"But the pain... It must be..."

"Excruciating, is the word."
Later, King asks him if he has days when he gets depressed. He says:
"Very. I have days when I just don't know who I am, where I am, what I'm doing. But then, it comes back and says, you're Richard, and you're here, and you had a shot, and you messed it up, so you gotta stay here." He has a terribly sad expression on his face now. "'Cause we're all gonna die. We just don't get to choose when."


Mark the Pundit said...

I read in one of the tributes where the fire incident was a suicide attempt, but his management told everyone it was an accident.

Steve H. said...

If you want to see an unbelievably deep, moving tribute to Pryor, written by a guy who spent weeks working alongside of him, please don't read Roger Simon's piece at OSM.

I've written more poignant pieces about trimming my toenails.

I liked Richard Pryor back in the day, but Dave Chappelle buries him. Jamie Foxx is a phenomenal standup comedian, better than Pryor, and he can't hold Chappelle a light.

I just realized I can't think of any really good white standup comedians. Weird.

Barry said...

If you can't think of any really good *living* white standup comedians, or white artists who are still actively doing standup, I kind of agree with you, I think.

However, you owe it to yourself to check out Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks (a generation apart, both dead now) at an absolute minimum, and there are recordings of Woody Allen's nightclub years in the early 1960s that absolutely kill.

Carlin was funny once, but not for a long time now.

Pryor is the King.

tiggeril said...

I can't think of any exceptional American white standup artists, but if we go outside the US, Eddie Izzard is phenomenal. (Although, admittedly, his best stuff is from the late '90s, but still.)

Lars said...

"Hey, Richard, what was it like to be on fire?"

A typically sensitive, insightful question by Larry King. I remember him interviewing Christopher Reeves after the accident: LK-can you still have sex? Hey Larry, baby, the man is paralyzed and numb from the neck down.

XWL said...

the man is paralyzed and numb from the neck down

Switch down for up and you have Larry King defined.

Daryl Herbert said...

I think the biggest difference between Carlin and Pryor is that Pryor had earnest warmth, whereas Carlin makes my skin crawl.

I can't imagine this sort of emotion showing itself for Carlin (or Larry King).

Ann Althouse said...

Mark: In the interview I'm quoting, Pryor does say that he was trying to kill himself. I was going to include it in the post, especially since it fits with the quote about not choosing your time to go, but I just couldn't accept that he really meant it. Who kills himself with fire? That's crazy!

Those of you who think there aren't many great stand-up comedians: I disagree. Especially about Carlin, who is absolutely brilliant, down to his recent HBO concert. Carlin phones in on the King/Pryor show, by the way, and praises Pryor lavishly.

Ann Althouse said...

On reflection, I think Pryor must have been trying to kill himself with the drugs, not the fire.

Goesh said...

Stir Crazy, my favorite.

SteveR said...

At the time (70s and very early 80s) both Carlin and Pryor were great but Richard was much fuunier. Comedy does not age as well but it was very good stuff, I am thinking about his TV show and those early HBO specials.

I recall him saying cocaine was God's way of saying you have too much money.

ChrisO said...

Sorry, but nobody "buries" Pryor (not the word I would have used.) He is without a doubt the most influential stand-up of my lifetime. Carlin is a clever wordsmith and certainly did some groundbreaking stuff with the language, but Pryor was the total package. If you talk to many comics, you'll find that Pryor is considered the king by the vast majority.

And there are several really good white standup comics, living and dead. Louis CK, Bill Burr, Kinison, Brian Regan to name a few. They're not originals like Pryor, but who is?

I first saw him on Hollywood Palace performing his Rumplestiltskin routine, before he found his voice, and it was apparent that he was a star. I truly believe that even if he hadn't found the angry/funny black voice he's known for, he would have been a giant.