If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor

Overview

Though it is hard to imagine what America will be like now that Richard Pryor has passed away, it would be harder to imagine life if there had never been a Pryor, teaching us to laugh, and by laughing, to see. In the 1960s, when many black performers were trying to open the color barrier, comedian Richard Pryor was slamming into it with a vengeance. Employing the language and attitude of the black ghetto, he assaulted racism in comic routines that were both outrageous and screamingly funny. If I Stop, I'll Die ...

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Overview

Though it is hard to imagine what America will be like now that Richard Pryor has passed away, it would be harder to imagine life if there had never been a Pryor, teaching us to laugh, and by laughing, to see. In the 1960s, when many black performers were trying to open the color barrier, comedian Richard Pryor was slamming into it with a vengeance. Employing the language and attitude of the black ghetto, he assaulted racism in comic routines that were both outrageous and screamingly funny. If I Stop, I'll Die examines the comedian's life and humor which not only reveals details of Pryor's troubled but briliant career, but also places these events within the context that shaped Pryor's outlook, personality, and opportunities. It captures the irony that pervaded his life and career: how he could present brilliantly universal material from such a militantly black perspective; how the powers of Hollywood could force him to portray on film the very racial caricatures that he lampooned on stage; how he could publicly flaunt his private exploits, with embellished comedic versions of his drug use, sexual adventures and bursts of violence, while fiercely protecting the real facts behind such episodes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
John Williams ( The Man Who Cried I Am ) and his son, Dennis, who teaches writing at Cornell University, here take a critical look at the life and art of one of show business's most troubled and troubling personalities. They discuss the sensational events that have brought Pryor notoriety--self-immolation, drug use, numerous marriages--but more significantly concentrate on his place in the entertainment world, where he has established himself as a comic genius. But in spite of his brilliant stage routines, Pryor has made consistently mediocre movies. Attempting to explain this problem, the authors examine the history of blacks in the entertainment industry and present penetrating insights into why black filmmakers in Hollywood have been unable to present a true picture of African American life in America. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Pryor, currently recovering from recent open-heart surgery, is known for both his comedic talents as well as his personal problems. John A. Williams ( Jacob's Ladder , LJ 12/87) and his son Dennis (a former Newsweek reporter) do not ignore his drug problems, failed marriages, or other conflicts. However, unlike most celebrity biographers, they look at Pryor in the context of the society that provided the background for his comedy, and in comparison with his comedic contemporaries. Not only is Pryor a gifted comic, he is a skilled writer who continues to support groups in his hometown of Peoria. The Williams's scholarly treatment of a celebrity life will nonetheless please all readers with its mixture of concise information and occasional trashy tidbit. A detailed filmography and discography are included. Photos not seen.-- Danna C. Bell-Russel, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560259183
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

John A. Williams has been descirbed by the New York Times Book Review as one of the most important writers of American fiction. He has authored twelve critically acclaimed novels, such as The Man Who Cried I Am, Sons of Darkness, Captain Blackman, Jacob's Ladder and Clifford's Blues. Along with his works of fiction, Williams has also written several non-fiction books, among them, The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright. Williams is a retired Professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University.

Dennis A. Williams is a former Newsweek reporter and editor whose work has appeared in Essence, Emerge, The Village Voice and Black Scholar. His first novel, Crossover, was published in 1992. William currently teaches English at Georgetown University.

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