Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip [1982]

Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth finds the Comedy Central superstar in performance at San Francisco's legendary Winterland, where he's welcomed with a huge ovation. Easing into his set, Chappelle shares a few observations about the city itself, noting there's nothing tender about the Tenderloin District: "You've got people smoking crack while sitting in front of Starbucks." Chappelle's inspiration dips a bit after that, as the subject of sex with monkeys and smoking weed with Indians doesn't quite reach his usual standards. Then, suddenly, he's on top of his game again, his material like an echo of vintage Lenny Bruce as he discusses why whites drink grape juice and blacks drink "grape drink," why police harassment has led him to believe in impromptu alibis, and why the culture of celebrity should stay away from real-world issues: "Maybe Jah Rule doesn't have the answers we want in a disaster." --Tom Keogh Taken together, Richard Pryor's concert films, the essential Live in Concert, the virtuoso Live on the Sunset Strip, and even the lesser Here and Now, provide a more incisive autobiographical portrait of the groundbreaking comedian than the fictionalized Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. In Sunset Strip, Pryor relates two life-changing experiences. The first is his trip to "the motherland," Africa. As funny as is the routine in which Pryor gives voice to a couple of cheetahs poised to prey on unsuspecting gazelles, he brings the audience up short with a moving revelation that leads him to forswear ever again calling another black person the "N-word." The second, of course, is his near-fatal freebasing accident, which Pryor at first jokingly passes off as an accident involving milk and cookies. Then, he takes the audience step by harrowing step through his growing cocaine addiction (abetted by his untrustworthy pipe which speaks to him in reassuring tones), alienation from friends, including the formidable Jim Brown ("Whatcha gonna do?"), the explosion that resulted in third-degree burns over the upper half of his body, and finally, the agonizing rehab. It is even more unflinching and savagely funny than his Live in Concert routine about his heart attack. Other memorable bits include his experiences as a 19-year-old stand-up comedian working at a Mafia-owned club, a monologue from one of his signature characters, Mudbone, and his visit to a penitentiary while filming Stir Crazy. Sunset Strip captures Pryor's triumphant return to the stage. He is a survivor, unbowed, winning this round over the demons that plagued him throughout his career. --Donald Liebenson

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