The Richard Pryor Show

richard-pryorHaving established his reputation delivering uncompromising and often profanity-laden monologues addressing racial, political and other topical social issues, the late Richard Pryor was probably not the first person most people would expect to be given his own prime-time comedy/variety program, especially given the safe American television landscape of the mid-1970s, when feel-good sitcoms like Happy Days and brainless action escapism such as Charlie’s Angels and The Six Million Dollar Man dominated the airwaves, providing viewers with a welcome alternative to the harsh realities which waited for them outside their front doors (and often within their own four walls).

Still, Pryor had written scripts for episodes of Sanford and Son, The Flip Wilson Show and a Lily Tomlin special (for which he shared an Emmy), and was also a guest host on the first season of Saturday Night Live, so his transition to television star may not have seemed all that far-fetched. Unfortunately, the resultant show only served to highlight just how difficult it was to try and take Pryor’s raw, often incendiary, comedic talents and harness it enough so that it would be accepted by middle-class America without losing its edge or diluting its potency.

The Richard Pryor Show debuted on the NBC network on Tuesday, September 13, 1977 in the 8pm timeslot. It lasted a mere four episodes, a victim of network interference, poor ratings, and Pryor’s refusal to continue working on the show unless it was moved to its originally agreed-upon timeslot of 9pm. What remains over thirty years later is a patchy series which runs out of enthusiasm and steam even before its four episodes were up. Still, there are some traces of Pryor’s genius peppered throughout, as well as enough humorous sketches and up-and-coming faces (Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhard among them) to make it worth mining through.

Episode 1 (13/9/77): In the debut episode, Pryor takes aim at Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name spaghetti western anti-hero, as well as the then-new phenomenon of Star Wars, with a send-up of the cantina sequence where Pryor is the bartender to a host of oddball aliens (many wearing Rick Baker make-up and old tunics from Planet of the Apes). Pryor tells one grotesque alien that he looks “just like a nigger from Detroit I know”. A more provocative sketch has Pryor as America’s first black president holding a press conference (and becoming violent when a white southerner enquires about the possibility of hiring the President’s mother to wash his windows).

Episode 2 (20/9/77): This episode starts off pretty well, with a great, cutting sketch set in a 1926 Mississippi courtroom, where a young black man is being prosecuted for having relations with a white woman. Dressed as a white Colonel Sanders-type, Pryor as the Prosecutor is overshadowed by Robin William playing the defence lawyer, who gets his client off by establishing that the woman is of easy virtue (and is then subsequently lynched because he managed to prove a black man innocent). The only other moment of real creative note appears at the end, where Pryor comes out as the bat-winged singer of the rock group Black Death – a hybrid of KISS/Black Sabbath/Parliament and pre-Spinal Tap lunacy – and tops off his act by destroying the set and killing his audience of adoring fans with a bizarre fog ray gun.

Episode 3 (27/9/77): A very laboured episode, by now Pryor’s disinterest in the format and material was clear, with a joke about script censoring leading to a series of vague and half-developed skits about cavemen and inept car repairmen. Only real memorable moments are a B&W sequence where a woman describes her first lesbian experience, and a lengthy improv set in a surreal circus, which nicely highlights Pryor’s sentimental side.

Episode 4 (4/10/77): Thankfully, The Richard Pryor Show managed to finish on something of a high, with an episode which, while lacking any truly great moments, is at least consistently amusing, with sketches that send-up the shower scene from Psycho, Zorro (Pryor is a vigilante known as El Negro), the Titanic (Pryor as a lone occupant on a life raft who drags rich survivors aboard then proceeds to rob them) and Taxi Driver (with Robin Williams providing the voice of a pistol in a gun shop). Other moments of fun include a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde bit, and an appearance by American Indian comic Charlie Hill, who of course sets his sights on the early settlers (“Pilgrims came to this country 400 years ago – as illegal aliens”).

Punchline’s three-disc release of The Richard Pryor Show certainly gives fans everything they could possibly want, with extras running the gamut from outtakes and deleted scenes to the original May 1977 NBC Special which eventually led to the series getting the go-ahead. There is also a booklet containing the scripts for unfilmed sketches and, the highlight, the complete uncut 44 minute ‘Roast’ segment from the final episode, where Pryor mostly sits with his head down, nervously puffing a cigarette as – in a send-up of the famed celebrity roasts hosted by Dean martin – the regular guest stars on the show get up and heap praise or ridicule at his expense.

Ultimately, The Richard Pryor Show captures the star at neither his angry best nor his drugged-out worst – like so much of American television, it is for the most part mediocre stuff, and no doubt suffered because of Pryor’s limited involvement in the writing (he is credited only as a writer of ‘additional material’). Still, it stands as an interesting misfire, a rare nugget of Seventies US television trying to go against the grain, and needless to say an absolute must for lovers of its star.

Extras:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes
  • Improvs
  • Q&A Segment
  • Complete 44 Minute ‘Roast’ Segment
  • ‘Mudbone’ Monologue
  • Booklet

Available on R4 DVD from Punchline.

American: The Bill Hicks Story

American-Bill-HicksOf all the books and films I have devoured on Bill Hicks there is no doubt that American: The Bill Hicks Story is one of the most comprehensive and authoritative. What makes it so is that it’s narrated by his closest friends and family members.

The film delves into his comedy roots which started at a mere 15 years of age, the people he created his art with and follows his career in small clubs through to his breakthrough in England and his last tours in the US. And of course his tragic death from cancer. The only thing that was missing was any input from his girlfriends or any mention of any (he did have a fiancée).

The most interesting interviews are those with his best friend Dwight whom Bill started his comedy act with. Stories of rebellious teens sneaking out to go and perform comedy are golden and most importantly unheard. There’s also some tales about mushroom trips at a ranch the friends frequented. The archive footage is awesome, there’s clips of Hicks performing when he was just a baby, he’s so clean cut and his style is so different, but you can see his voice forming.

What I dug about his background is that his formative years are actually interesting. Sometimes its a bore to have to listen to or read about someone’s background. Comedy was in Bill at such a young age that the facts go from “born here, raised by, friends with” and then it’s straight to the good stuff, much like Andy Kaufman he was born to do comedy and knew it at a young age.

The film also utilizes a really neat method of telling the story. The directors went and captured images of different areas Bill lived in, hung around at and have used photographs of Bill (and his friends, family) to put them in the scenes and try and recreate events. It’s sort of a Tom Goes To The Mayor style but without the spazz-y movements and photoshop effects. It’s far more appealing than talking heads or unrelated stock footage and works well.

If you’re expecting a cash-in film this is not it. The film took three years to make and is crafted with love and respect, the Hicks’ family were also very involved in the film, thus ensuring a high standard.

There’s a whole assortment of extras here which makes this DVD release even more appealing if you’re into the extras thing.

Extras

  • Austin Panel and SXSW (10 mins) – Interview with Steve Hicks and various comedians, they discuss meeting Bill and the first time they saw him perform.
  • Dominion Tour (8mins) – The Hicks family travel to London and reminisce with director/producer of the Revelations performance. A neat short that focuses on the concept of the show.
  • Festivals in the UK and USA with the Hicks’ (14 mins) – A bit of a filler extra, this one consists of Mary (Bill’s mother) and his siblings Lynn and Steven at various film festivals including London, Austin and Toronto.
  • Hicks and Abbey Road studios ( 4 mins) – The Hicks family found some cassette recordings Bill had made and while they were in London they took the tapes to Abbey Road to have them remastered.
  • Kevin Shoots His Film in LA (4 mins) – A little segment on Kevin’s (one of Bill’s friends) film about the war on drugs.
  • 15th Anniversary Tribute (8mins) – A clip of the Hicks family attending the 15th anniversary tribute of Bill’s performance in London.
  • Comedy School (18 mins) – Bill’s friend Dwight gives his thoughts on comedy.
  • Dwight in London (5 mins) – Clips of Dwight’s stand-up and of him discussing the difference between UK and US audiences
  • Making of Arizona Bay (7 mins) – Footage of Bill making the album.
  • The Ranch (7 mins) – Clips of Kevin Booth showing us around the ranch where they used to take trips and relax.

As if that weren’t enough already, there’s also 7 minutes of deleted scenes, 8 minutes of early and alternative scenes, 15 minutes of early and rare clips of Bill’s stand-up and three decent audio clips of Bill. This release also features subtitles for the hard of hearing and has reversible cover art.

Another excellent release from Madman. A must see for those who have never heard of Hicks and a must own for those who have.

American: The Bill Hicks Story is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen

Charlie-Sheen”You can’t hurt me. Hell, even I can’t hurt me.” – Charlie Sheen.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of this Comedy Central Roast is that Charlie Sheen doesn’t react to any of the abuse hurled at him. He takes every insult with a big grin and there’s some pretty touchy subjects. A few of my favorite taunts were concerning his children: ”If you’re winning, this must not be a child custody hearing. The only time your kids get to see you is in reruns — don’t you want to live to see their first 12 steps?” – Jeffery Ross and ”It’s amazing — after abusing your lungs, liver and kidneys, the only thing you’ve had removed is your kids.” – Kate Walsh.

Seth MacFarlane, Jon Lovitz, Jeffrey Ross, Steve-O, Kate Walsh, Amy Schumer and Mike Tyson are some of the Roasters and Slash provides some riffs as Charlie makes his way to the stage. I think Mike Tyson was a stand out Roaster as well as Patrice Neal. Steve-O wasn’t all that funny and ends up resorting to Jackass antics by running face first into Tyson’s fist.

I can honestly say a joke has never offended me and I don’t think this joke went too far, I think it was just very mean spirited. Amy Schumer made a joke about Steve-O’s deceased friend Ryan Dunn and poor Steve-O looks incredibly sad. It just wasn’t done well enough to be funny. You would expect a joke like that and fair game, Roasts are no-holds barred events, she could have made it work a bit better. Patrice Neal also gets worked up over some jokes targeted at him that he deems racist, but… yes “but” they were pretty funny and so over-the-top I have no idea how he could take them so seriously.

My favourite insult had to be from Amy Schumer: “You’re just like Bruce Willis — you were big in the 80s and now your old slot is being filled by Ashton Kutcher.”

It’s not the best roast I’ve seen, I think that honor goes to William Shatner and Flavor Flav but its still worth checking out if you are a fan of Sheen and/or Comedy Central Roasts.

Available on R4 DVD.

 

Comedy Central Roasts Collection

Comedy-Central-Roasts-DVDORDER DVD

Comedy Central Roasts is a triple DVD pack featuring the Roasts of William Shatner, Denis Leary and Flavor Flav. I’ll put it bluntly – Roasts are not for those who find racial, homosexual and gender stereotypes and insults unfunny. The content contained on these three discs is offensive and at times absolutely disgusting but is never mean spirited. If you love taboo humour or are a fan of any of the three men featured in the set then read on.

ROAST OF WILLIAM SHATNER (80 mins)

I’ve never seen Star Trek and don’t really know much about the man, but when it comes to Roasts not knowing much about the person doesn’t really matter. Sure you don’t get the odd joke but people tend to rip on appearance and scandals. Everything from Shatner’s bad career choices, hair and weight were targets. Jeffery Ross and Betty White were on fire throwing some really great insults, not only at Shatner but at the other folk on the dais. An extremely wicked and thoroughly enjoyable Roast. Extras: Red Carpet Interviews (8 mins), Behind the Scenes(4 mins), Making of the Roast (2mins)

ROAST OF FLAVOR FLAV (73 mins) Continue reading

Jimeoin: Something Smells Funny

Jimeoin-Smells-Funny-DVD

It’s very rare that I come across a new comedian that I like. I’ve liked the same comedians for years and the only recent one who is right up there with the likes of Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks, Stewart Lee etc is Louis CK.

A few years back I had to review a stack of DVDs for another website and they were mostly all DVDs of Australian comedians so by the time I came around to Jimeoin on Ice I was ready for another shitty “bloke” comedian to bore me for an hour or so. So when he managed to make me love aspects of comedy I hate I was sold that Jimeoin is awesome.

Sure he’s not quite up there amongst Hicks or CK, but Jimeoin takes two elements of comedy I usually hate and makes me laugh: physical and musical comedy. He’s hard not to like because he’s cheeky, he has Irish charm in bucket-loads and he is so effortless in his delivery it really feels like you’re just watching a friend goof off for a while and I suppose that’s why the 10 minutes or so of guitar playing is easy to handle: he’s not trying to be a rock star and he’s basically just goofing around. If you met Jimeoin on the street he’d be the same person as he is on stage. Continue reading

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nerd

rocknrollRock n Roll Nerd is an intimate look at the rise to fame of Australian musician / comedian Tim Minchin. Until I watched this DVD I had no idea who Tim Minchin was and well…I wasn’t missing out on much.

His comedy is music based and he sings about himself, his wife, and the way he sees and feels about things ranging from war to relationships. While sometimes witty, some songs often seemed too self deprecating and I had no patience for the act as he came off as kind of a whinger. Maybe the mixture of the film consisting of personal story and live footage didn’t display his talent enough and focused on the more dramatic aspects of his career / life, but from what I watched I am in no hurry to look out for his material in any form.

Another disappointing factor about the guy is that he fails to stand up for his art, he is branded a racist and then drops the word ‘nigger’ from his act. It seems a bit spineless to make a point and then retract because you’ve been branded something that any intelligent person could decipher as being social commentary.

I am amazed at how well he has done for himself and it’s great that people can make careers out of doing what they love, but I must be the bad guy and say that it’s comedy for the easily amused as it just isn’t that funny, subversive, interesting or entertaining . I swear he could get up on stage and jump around, bug his eyes out and scream and people would find it funny, because (I’m sorry)… he is kind of funny and awkward looking. I do think that people must be able to relate to him or something, like here is a guy putting his heart and soul into whinging about not being cool / hip enough to be a rock star, but at least he is doing something and has become someone so we should love him sort of thing. The film made me feel sorry for him and I feel he should stop trying to make people laugh and become a proper musician, get rid of the weird Carrot Top / Russell Brand style and grab a guitar / piano and make serious music. I feel really bad writing a negative review because he is just a guy doing what he likes to do and he can play loads of instruments really well, and I respect that, I just can’t dig it.

Rock n Roll Nerd is worth renting if you’re interested to see how a person can come from a nobody to a somebody, but as an introduction to the guy’s work maybe go for a live DVD if he has one. This is I am assuming one for the hardcore Minchin fans only and you’ll also be pleased to know that there’s a whole bunch of extras on the Madman DVD including deleted scenes, extra performances and never before seen footage.

Extras
  • Extra performances from Melbourne 2006
  • Never before seen footage of Tim writing a musical
  • Deleted scenes from the film and more

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nerd is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.