Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor

by Rain Pryor


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The loving yet brutally honest memoir of the daughter of comedy legend Richard Pryor

Rain Pryor was born in the idealistic, free-love 1960s. Her mother was a Jewish go-go dancer who wanted a tribe of rainbow children, and her father was Richard Pryor, perhaps the most compelling and brilliant comedian of his era.

In this intimate, harrowing, and often hilarious memoir, Rain talks about her divided heritage, and about the forces that shaped her wildly schizophrenic childhood. In her father's house, she bonded with Richard's grandmother, Mamma, a one-time whorehouse madam who never tired of reminding Rain that she was black. In her mother's house, and in the home of her Jewish grandparents, Rain was a "mocha-colored Jewish princess," learning how to cook everything from kugel to beef brisket.

It seemed as if Rain was blessed with the best of both worlds, but it didn't quite work out that way. Life at Mom's was unstable in the extreme, while at Richard's place Rain was exposed to sex and drugs before she had even learned to read. "Daddy," she told her father one day, sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at the advanced age of eight, "the whores need to be paid."

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me is both lovingly told and painfully frank: the story of a girl who grew up adoring her father even as she feared him—and feared for him—as his drug problems grew worse. In 1980 Pryor tried to kill himself by setting himself on fire, then joked that it had been an accident: "No one ever told me you couldn't mix cookies with two types of milk!" In his later years, Pryor succumbed to multiple sclerosis, and Rain watched in tears as her father became a shell of his former self. Once, in an unusually introspective mood, Pryor asked his daughter, "Why do you love me, Rainy, when I can be so mean?"

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me answers that poignant question and many more. It is an unprecedented look at the life of a legend of comedy, told by a daughter who both understood the genius and knew the tortured man within.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061195426
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/31/2006
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Rain Pryor was a regular on the hit ABC series Head of the Class, starred in the Showtime series Rude Awakening, and created an award-winning one-woman show based on her life, Fried Chicken and Latkas. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me

Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor
By Rain Pryor

Regan Books

Copyright © 2006 Rain Pryor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-06-119542-1

Chapter One

Home at Last

It was one of those rare Los Angeles days when the ocean fog lifts early and the smog never appears. The baby blue sky sparkles, calm and cloudless, and you can see the sharp outlines of the houses clinging to the Hollywood Hills.

The year was 1973-I was four years old-and my mother and I were in her battered Volvo, winding our way toward those hillside houses. I had no idea where we were going, and my mother wasn't talking.

"Are you going to tell me now?" I said.

"Stop bugging me," she said.

"I just want to know where we're going," I said.

My mother took a deep breath, gave me a dirty look, and exploded: "We're going to meet your father, okay?! Happy now? We're going to meet your motherfucking father."

That was a lot to process for a four-year-old. The language didn't bother me-I was used to it-but I was having trouble getting my mind around the fact that my father lived only a few miles from our own apartment. "My father lives here?" I asked. "In the same city?"

"Where the fuck did you think he lived? On the motherfucking moon?"

Frankly, that was a possibility. I had heard many stories about my father-most of them pretty unflattering-and I never imagined that some day I would become part of his life. He was a famous comedian, after all, and I'd been givento understand that comedy took precedence over fatherhood. What's more, he happened to be a self-destructive, self-absorbed schmuck, and he wasn't even remotely interested in me. That's what my mother told me, anyway-that and worse. Whenever she talked about him, and she talked about him often, she would work herself into such a frenzy that she would turn red in the face. Her parents, my Jewish grandparents, also talked about him. They didn't curse with quite as much vigor, and they didn't turn red in the face, but they made no secret of their feelings for the crazy Black Prince who had ruined their daughter's life (and, in many ways, their own).

"I'm going to meet my father?" I asked.

"Didn't I just say that?"

"He lives in one of these nice houses?"

"That's right. The son of a bitch lives in a fucking palace, and we live in a dump in the wrong part of Beverly Hills."

"Why is it the wrong part of Beverly Hills?"

"Would you give me a goddamn break already?!"

I didn't understand what she was so upset about. Earlier that afternoon, when we were in the house, preparing to leave, my mother had seemed excited, if a little nervous. She said we were going "somewhere special," and told me to wash up and put on a nice dress and to try to look pretty. When I returned, fully dressed and looking awfully pretty (if I may say so myself), she was still in her jeans, topless, tearing through her closet for just the right thing to wear. I guess she wanted to look pretty, too, but nothing made her happy. I watched her try on one blouse after another, growing increasingly frustrated, until there was a veritable kaleidoscope of blouses piled on the bed. She had practically emptied the closet by this time, so she went back to the bed and sifted through the discards, hoping she had missed something. She tried the purple dashiki again, then the severe black knit sweater with the bell sleeves, but neither of those worked. Finally, she opted for my very favorite: a yellow and red Mexican peasant blouse with embroidered flowers. She buttoned it up, tied up her hair with a red silk scarf, and turned to look at herself in the mirror.

"Motherfucker!" she said.

"What did you say, Mommy?"

"Nothing," she snapped. "Let's go."

We went out into the street and moved toward her old, sad-looking Volvo. She opened the rear door and motioned with her head. "Get in," she said. I did as I was told, and as she strapped me into the backseat, I noticed that her hands were shaking. I wanted to ask her if something was wrong, but she didn't seem like she was in the mood for questions, and I didn't want to make her mad. I hated it when she got mad, and she got mad often. She shut my door, hard, then climbed behind the wheel, started the car, and pulled out into the street.

We rode in silence for a while, each of us alone with our thoughts. The Volvo chugged across Robertson Boulevard, took a right on Sunset, then a sharp left into the winding hills.

When she finally told me that we were going to visit my father, I was more confused than ever. I couldn't believe that my father actually lived in Los Angeles, way up in those lovely hills, just a few miles from our shabby little duplex. I couldn't understand why we had never visited, or, conversely, why he'd never come to see me.

"Did he just move here?" I asked.

"No," she said. "He's always been here."

"Do I look like him?"

"Stop with the fucking questions already!"

I looked out the window again. The houses were unlike any houses I'd ever seen-big rambling places nestled into canyons, only vaguely visible behind trees and walls and tall gates.

The Volvo kept climbing, negotiating one hairpin turn after another, and after what seemed an eternity we reached a gate at the top of the hill. We'd only gone a few miles, but I felt as if I were embarking on a very long voyage, indeed. Mom got out and rang the bell and a Hispanic man appeared a moment later. He opened the gate and waved us through. We made our way up the steep driveway and came to a gravel parking lot that was overflowing with shiny new cars.


Excerpted from Jokes My Father Never Taught Me by Rain Pryor Copyright © 2006 by Rain Pryor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rain Pryor's story of life growing up as the daughter of Richard Pryor was an eye-opener. While I found the story intriguing, I still cannot wrap my mind around how anyone could be so forgiving of such a violent, drug-adled monster. Beatings. Beatings Beatings. Some she witnessed, others that happened to her. Were he not such a well-known comic entertainer, would anyone be so forgiving of his behavior? Of course, his well-documented struggle with MS made him a sympathetic character in later life, but it is disturbing to read reviews that suggest the book will make the reader a bigger fan of Richard Pryor. I don't think I can ever watch another of his movies without feeling disgust toward the man. I guess people will forgive you anything so long as you have loads of money to toss around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rain Pryor’s book Jokes My Father Never Taught Me is amazing. She lived a very odd life with two drastically different parents (living in separate households). Some of the book is laugh out loud funny. Other parts are painfully heartbreaking. The details about her famous father Richard Pryor are eye opening Overall I really enjoyed this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rain Pryor pulls no punches...she says it like it is. Richard Pryor is presented -- warts and all. I found this story extremely engrossing and read it in a couple of days. The insight into the life of her father is, at times, upsetting and mind-boggling. However, if Rain hadn't said it like it was, she wouldn't have held the reader's interest as she did. Thanks for a really good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rnjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very touching. I can't imagine the pain it caused for Rain Pryor to re-live some of her life while writing this book. I had some questions at end. Some things I felt were left untold, but who can share EVERY DETAIL of their life? I applaud her for sharing what she did. I hope she now has a happy and fulfilling life.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was nice
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Schiltax1 More than 1 year ago
This must have been very cathartic for Rain Pryor.  Three cheers for her!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I believe the book about richard prior. It was raw.ugly.and vulgar wich seems to describe the man behind the comedian. I was left with no respect for the man or those who put up with a sick abusive self centered tyrant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is amazing that a child can forgive and continue to love their parents no matter how they miss the mark. God bless you Rain Pryor.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so funny my class can't stand me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They shouldnt be allowed to breed.