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Richard Pryor - Live! In Concert

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 78 mins . M15+ . PAL


If your familiarity with Richard Pryor extends only as far as his performances alongside Gene Wilder in some good and some not so good movie pairings, then you owe it to yourself to view this DVD of one of his live performances at least once to fully understand his comedic brilliance and the road he cleared for the young black comedians who followed in his turbulent wake.

But screw the history lesson and bio, that’s what the Internet is for. Look him up yourself and learn about a crazy black fella with a super sharp mind and a genuine heart for his subject matter.

Filmed in 1979 in California, this is Pryor at the top of his game, laying waste to an audience with tales largely drawn from his own life. Growing up with rough discipline at the hands of his grandmother and father, marital problems resulting in him shooting his car to stop his wife taking it (I know the feeling, but I’d probably shoot my wife instead – oh shit, now I’m gonna have domestic violence Nazi’s emailing me...), his drug addiction, a re-enactment of his heart attack and tales of parenthood bringing his own life full circle, these subjects (and much more) are all fair game for an honest and open book 75 minutes on stage that, like all good things, is over far too quick.

For the more God-fearing cuss-intolerant readers amongst us, I feel it’s important to note the dialogue is full of profanity and explicit descriptions (that means S. E. X, you stupid virgin pansies). But what’s surprising is the balance he is able to strike between the content and delivery while still managing to engage the audience with an honesty that is believable and often endearing. Believe me, all you prudes and lesbian nuns in safe shoes are going to miss some genuine talent if you pass this one by.

What’s also dazzling here is the polar opposites reached, from the story of his randy pet monkey that tried to hump anything it could which then dies leaving Pryor looking like he’s almost in tears, to the climatic discussion on the difficulty of getting a women to orgasm (yeah, sure, like I have that problem! I’m a goddamn orgasm generating machine! Plug me into the national grid, baby, and I’ll power the whole f*cking country! Yeehaa!), this can almost be bizarre in its extremities. As far as the audience (and us the viewer) are concerned though, it’s all a part of the seamless journey through Pryor’s mind and life that doesn’t suffer from a dull spot or a flat gag.


If Richard Pryor was reduced to the life of reviewing DVDs for a living (he’d only do it for a quality site like DVDnet, naturally) I have no doubt he’d use words like ‘sh*t, ‘f*cked’ and ‘crap’ to describe the picture we’re given on this disc. There’s a warning up front before the menu system kicks in, and I quote:

“Being archival footage, there may be imperfection in picture quality inherent in the original masters. This should not affect your viewing enjoyment.”

I don’t know about you, but when I see something like that, I expect the worst, and that’s about what we get. Set in a theatre, the picture is naturally going to be dark to start with, add Pryor’s dark skin, his dark pants, and his dark hair, so roughly all you see is his badly rendered face, a red shirt and a white pair of shoes walking about the stage. When he moves the picture lags and smears detail and often sections of the picture will wobble about like it’s being viewed through a heat haze. I wouldn’t have a clue if there’s even a name for some of the issues here, so this DVD would have to come with a recommendation that you rent first before buying.


Ranking only marginally better than the picture quality, the two channel mono audio does nothing other than reproduce his voice enough so that we can understand his routine clearly throughout, but not so well that we can be enthusiastic in reporting anything about it. Then again, to put it in perspective, it is just him on stage with an audience laughing off-screen, so it doesn’t need to do much more, to be honest. Passable, but only just.


For extended info on Pryor, there’s nothing but a few screens of text listing his films and albums and a very brief bio which ends at his movie debut in 1967. He didn’t die then, so why the truncated bio? There’s plenty to highlight in his life, it’s not like it was smooth sailing. Being molested, drug use, a heart attack during a threesome, a film career, setting himself on fire, being jailed, a whore mother and multiple sclerosis. Two shitty pages covering his life up to 1967 is the best they can do? Lame.

As usual, Madman have thrown on a bunch of trailers for their other titles, which is always welcome on their DVDs. Covered here are: The Marx Brothers' A Night in Casablanca, which is a clip from the film rather than a trailer, a clip from The Norman Gunston Show, another clip from The Very Best of Benny Hill and a proper trailer/ad for John Safran’s Music Jamboree.


It's a bit difficult to determine this title's overall value. I found his performance to be a killer set, with material so good and making me laugh so much that I’ve returned to it quite a few times already. But the visual quality really is disappointing and very distracting.

Even if you are a hardcore Pryor fan, you should rent first. The only thing stopping me from telling you to not bother with this DVD at all is that Pryor’s actual performance is top notch and it would be a shame for you to miss out.

Them's the facts, you decide.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3070
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      And I quote...
    "This DVD contains a killer performance from a classic comedian, but unfortunately it's saddled with a picture that isn't fit for video release."
    - Vince Carrozza
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS730P
    • TV:
          Philips 55PP8620
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB1070
    • Speakers:
          Wharfedale s500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Polk Audio CS245
    • Surrounds:
          Wharfedale WH-2
    • Subwoofer:
          DB Dynamics TITAN
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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