cover image Becoming Richard Pryor

Becoming Richard Pryor

Scott Saul. HarperCollins, $27.99 (592p) ISBN 978-0-06-212330-5

Drawing on interviews with family and friends, unpublished journals and court records, Saul (Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t) jauntily chronicles the year-by-year, and almost day-by-day, evolution of the young man from Peoria who developed into the man that Jerry Seinfeld called “the Picasso of our profession.” Saul examines the forces that propelled Pryor to the top of his game in the late 1970s, tracing the comedian’s early years being raised in a brothel and his introduction to improvisational acting by teacher Juliette Whittaker to his days in New York’s Greenwich Village and Manny Roth’s Café Wha? honing his skills. In his heady days in L.A. he played baseball with Aaron Spelling and Bobby Darin. Saul then documents Pryor’s retreat to Berkeley in 1969, where he found himself part of the city’s counterculture movement. Glaringly honest, Saul shines a light on Pryor’s descent into drugs, his brutal treatment of his wives, and his fretful insecurities about his own abilities. In the end, Pryor emerges as a revolutionary stand-up comic who perfected the art of dramatizing his own imperfections, and the world’s; a trenchant social critic, often called “Dark Twain”; and a crossover artist whose work in film often failed to achieve the incendiary raw power of his live comic shows. (Dec.)