For those not familiar with the ‘Mount Rushmore' exercise, one takes a topic like a sporting event, for instance, and has to pick the Top 4 people to symbolize said topic, much like the 4 faces on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The goal of this is to stimulate discussion among peers and strangers alike, and possibly breed some familiarity among new people. When it comes to the Mount Rushmore of comedy, and not just American comedy, Richard Pryor has to be on that list of Top 4. To omit him is folly to the person doing this, to the point where said person should be shunned from society. Shout! Factory releasing what is likely the most complete set of Pryor's work in one place, titled No Pryor Restraint helps illustrate how revered his material is.
The set is packaged in an approximate eight inch squared presentation about the size of a book, and includes seven CDs spanning Pryor's standup from 1968 to his 1983 Here And Now show. And it also includes rereleased DVDs from Pryor's three standup shows too: 1979's Live In Concert, the famous 1982 show Live on the Sunset Strip and Here And Now. It also has a 60-page booklet full of information on these recordings, and remembrances of Pryor from family and friends. The discs are packaged similar to the recent Bond 50 set, with the discs housed in cardboard within a respective page. It is, to say the least, a hefty work for the vaunted comedian and performer.
As a previous owner of one of Pryor's last boxed set of recordings (2000's And It's Deep Too!), I was mildly apprehensive to see this set on the horizon, as my feelings were that it could be a potential repackaging of his work. And to be fair to me, some of that occurs here, but to the credit of Pryor's widow and former manager Jennifer, material from subsequent releases is included on this set as well, some of which from Deep, the other being 2005's Evolution/Revolution, which spans Pryor's work from 1966-1974 and is not part of Pryor's catalog work from the Laff, Stax or Warner Brothers days. This work includes 1971's album titled Craps. So yeah, there is overlap, though certainly not as much as one would expect. And including the three DVDs which had been in circulation for several years was a nice touch.
However, the discs do have a flaw that is more of an inconvenience than anything else. Rather than making a disc for each title, they tend to fade out from one album and fade into the next mid-disc sometime. This is evident in the early discs, where the listener goes from quieter club crowds to bigger halls as Pryor's fame and popularity increased in the 1970s. I cannot stress enough this is not a detraction, just a distraction that I quickly got over, but wanted to point out for people.
The material itself? Well if you have not seen or heard it, the hell are you waiting for? There are some well-loved and legendary jokes and works here. The popular one people go to is Live on the Sunset Strip, and rightfully so. Recorded after his infamous incident when he burned himself while freebasing cocaine, Pryor discusses the incident, his rehabilitation from it, and even the jokes made about him during it. During all of this, he does it with his trademark quick cutting humor and poignancy thrown in. Pryor's early work introduced us to various members of his neighborhood such as the vaunted Mudbone, and he uses some of the talents in illustrating those characters to
To me, just as good of a concert is his last released one, Here And Now. It had some of the same spirit that Sunset Strip did, though it appeared to have some more of the reflection of a post-drug, post-alcohol consuming Pryor that we may not have had in Sunset Strip. His bit on ‘Motif,' a local junkie in his neighborhood, is mesmerizing in how sort of autobiographical it would appear to be. Pryor seemed to do things from time to time that was ‘maybe, but not really' in tone but one could sense in Motif that this was his most personal character at the time. In looser moments such as the show's coming and going of patrons from their seats and Pryor's observations of and joking about them is sharp and full of wit we had come to appreciate about him at that time. At the time, Sunset Strip was hyped as a final performance of sorts for Pryor, but Here And Now serves as the better goodbye.
While Pryor's recounting of his struggles with the law, his relationships and vices may be the focal point of his later work, his earlier work helped give a window into what black America was like for the white Americans going to see his shows. It showed them that everything was not as it appeared, and helped perhaps used their insecurity to tamp down any apprehensions they may have had to generally love one another regardless of race or social place, which would be something that hopefully a good chunk of us still have to this day.
It was a pleasure to go through Richard Pryor's work again and experience how it transforms over the years. While everyone marvels at the work of contemporaries like Louis C.K., Tig Notaro and other comics of the moment, the fact that most if not all of these comics still cite Pryor as an influence is encouraging and impressive, decades after he ceased to perform. When comedian historians write the book if comedy ever no longer exists, the two most beautiful words in the book will continue to be Richard Pryor.The Disc:
The concerts are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the overall results being about what could be expected. Edge enhancement and image haloing is nil, and the film grain is easily prevalent during the viewing experience. Colors are reproduced as naturally as can be expected and while there are some bouts of crushing in some of the nightclub shows, taking into account the nature of the source material the film is conveyed as faithfully as can be.Audio:
Dolby Digital mono for all of the DVDs. Considering the technology of the time and the genre I honestly was not expecting much more than what was here, and the audio does this. Dialogue sounds good, though the ‘hecklers' in Here And Now were a tad hard to discern because of this. Also to be expected? The lack of activity from the rears or subwoofer as is the case with a mono track. It is what it is.Extras:
The Sunset Strip concert includes two television spots.Final Thoughts:
No Pryor Restraint likely serves as the best and most complete release of Richard Pryor's work that we have seen or will ever see, with the memorable jokes, funny looks and bathing of applause coming through the speakers and television loud and clear. Technically, it may not be anything to gawk at, but the material and the extras help give one an additional sense of value when poring over the material. If you have seen it, see it again, if you haven't seen it, find it and go through this material; a boxed set of perhaps the greatest comic of all-time is worthy of it.