Searching For Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor with Jamie Masada at Laugh Factory Comedy Camp, 2002

Richard Pryor with Jamie Masada at Laugh Factory Comedy Camp, 2002

JULY 16, 2014 | Los Angeles, CA

Word is out that the casting net is circling to find someone to play the late, great Richard Pryor in a film bio. Hopefully, the focus will be on finding someone who can capture not only Richard’s stand-up skills, but also his richly humanizing personal life. As great as he was on stage, his offstage actions made a believer of a teenager, who was celebrating his first night as a comedy club owner back in 1979. It was a first encounter I will never forget.

I had no idea what I was doing back then. I was naive, gullible and while English was my second language, I spoke it like it was my third or fourth. I loved comedy and opened the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard, with a little help from friends. At the time, the comics were on strike because they were not being paid for their work in the other existing clubs. It was my plan to split half of the proceeds from the door with the comics. What I didn’t expect was that by the end of the evening, a super star comic would end up paying me.

Paul Mooney was the emcee for the night and brought up Tom Dreesen, George Miller, Falstaff, Brent Jordan, and other talented acts. I was doing my best to be the cashier, host, and waiter for the crowd and was running around like crazy barely able to pay any attention to the show.

To my surprise, Mooney introduced Richard Pryor as a surprise guest, and suddenly I joined the audience in giving my full, undivided attention to the stage. I could not believe that on my opening night, the greatest living stand-up comedian was on my stage! Richard did over 40 minutes that night and although I did not have the best sound system or any air-conditioning, Richard delivered a captivating set and came off the stage soaked in sweat.

Most of the audience that night were guests of the comics and did not have to pay the door charge. At the end of the night, I opened a shoebox that was serving as a cash register and divided the money by the number of comedians who performed. It came to roughly $3 and some change per comic.

Richard was still there, talking with Paul. I ran up to Richard and proudly thanked him saying, “Here is a cut of the door.” I handed him three one dollar bills and some coins. He looked at me in a strange way, as if there was something wrong. Paul caught the look and told Richard that I was the first person to open a club and pay the comics by splitting the door with the comedians, and that this was an historic night. Richard smiled, reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills. He then wrote on one of the bills: “You need this for your rent, boy.1979, Richard Pryor.”

At the time, I had never seen a hundred dollar bill before and did not believe it was real money. Without any hesitation I looked up at Richard and said “How did you print this?” Confused by my reaction, Richard asked Paul if there was something wrong with me as Paul gently shooed me away.

Still confused about the bill, I went next door and showed the cashier the piece of paper. I asked him “Do they make hundred dollar bills in America? Is this real?” The cashier gave me the same look that Richard gave me and answered, “Of course they do. It’s real.” He opened his cash register and lifted the drawer to reveal a couple of hundred dollar bills all looking the same as mine. Suddenly, I felt terrible. Did I insult Richard Pryor, the greatest comedian in the world, by insinuating that he was a counterfeiter?

I ran back to the Laugh Factory and saw Richard surrounded by all the comedians, including Paul. I yelled “Richard, Richard! I’m so sorry.” He looked at me again but this time looked a bit aggravated; and before he could speak, I said “Richard I know in America they make a onedollar bill, a five dollar bill, a ten dollar bill, and a twenty dollar bill, but I’m sorry I really didn’t know that in America they make hundred dollar bills. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I then offered to give him his money back and told him, “This is a lot of money. I can’t take this.”

The great Richard Pryor, reached into his pocket and gave me a couple more hundred dollarbills. He then put his arm around me and said, “The printing machine is still working.” I don’t know what it was about him but when he put his arm around me I felt safe and protected. I could see from looking into his eyes that there was a kindness, warmth, and generosity that I had never seen before. He then looked at everyone and said, “Hollywood is going to eat this dumb motherf***er alive! We all need to keep an eye on him.”

And keep an eye he did. He came by the club many times after that. He would pick me up at the club after hours and drive me in his Mercedes down Sunset Boulevard. He would have me sit in the back and introduced me to people on the street as “a prince from Arabia.” He liked to call the people on the street “night lizards” and he loved pranking them. We spent hours laughing the night away.

As I got to know Richard, I saw that the only thing bigger than his talent was his heart. He loved helping people and he loved animals. To this day his wife Jennifer continues to honor Richard’s love for animals with her charitable foundation Pryor’s Planet, a nonprofit animal rescue shelter. And he truly loved helping children. When I started my Comedy Camp for underprivileged children in 1984, Richard would drop in during the summers when he was in town. He would help kids ease their pain by showing how it could be transformed into humor and he believed laughter could be healing. Richard, himself, had a traumatic childhood and he was a living example of how pain could be converted into something hilarious and therapeutic. He told me often, that he had “many demons” and some of those finally cut his life short, but I truly believe he still did more good in his short time than anyone else I have ever known.

To me, Richard Pryor represents what much of stand-up comedy is today. In a sense, he truly became immortal because the comedy community still speaks of him as if he just walked on stage last night. It is important to remember that his comedy was about social change and explaining the ugly that was in us all. He spoke about racism like no one else did. He took the poison out of the N-word, made light of our inner demons, and made it okay to laugh at ourselves.

I think there are a few comedians working today who could portray Richard in a movie. I have seen glimpses of his essence in Dave Chappelle, Mike Epps, Tony Rock, Jerrod Carmichael, Katt Williams, Kevin Hart and a few others. I just hope that the casting process includes meetings with Paul Mooney and Eddie Murphy – comics who knew Richard very well. I’ve read that Nick Cannon and Marlon Wayans are vying for the chance to play him. Whoever does eventually play him has the chance to bring Richard Pryor to a whole new generation of people. People who may have never seen a comic who could make them laugh, cry and then laugh again all during the same set. As Richard once said, “I can’t just say the words, do a lot of one-liners. I love each person I play; I have to be that person. I have to do him true.”

Laugh Factory and Jamie Masada grant the right to publish both the article and accompanying photo to Comedy Scene in Houston

The Etiquette of Bombing: A 5 step guide to recovery.


By Billy D. Washington

Edited By Al Bahmani

It’s late Friday night and a comic hears a knock at his hotel room door. A half dressed cutie stands there and says, “I saw your show tonight and got so turned on that I want you to make love to me tonight!“. The comic asks, “Was it the early or the late show?“.

There is nothing a comic takes more personally than bombing. Most would rather be accused of a crime than to be exposed to the uncomfortable stares of entertainment inadequacy. You never see it coming. The Bomb assumes its position when you least expect it. There is no clue as to its arrival, no prep for its ire and certainly no remedy for its results. Pre-bomb symptoms often take on flu like qualities. They include a sudden hot flash, a tightening in your vocal area, watery eyes, confusion and that one bead of sweat that develops somewhere in the middle of your back and rolls precisely through ass crack center. No matter how physically comedic or rhetorically gifted you are nobody is outside of its realm of influence. Many years ago I performed at the HBO comedy festival in Aspen and watched George Carlin stop in the middle of a taping and opt to close a showcase show later that night because the audience just wasn’t there for him.
Somewhere over the Rainbow…. If George Carlin can bomb, why oh why can’t I.

There are many ways to handle the Bomb, but as a comic who has experienced it few times and witnessed it many, I wanted to offer a few options as to how to address the humiliation with your head held high.

Continue reading

Open Mic Terrorism: Why Groans Aren’t Laughs


By: Warren Wright

     I work at a bar that has a comedy open mic. An open-micer myself, I really enjoy the work environment and look forward to the nights I get to work on open mic night because I get to see comedy. I’ve even done a couple of sets on the job. I’ve always appreciated the community at the heart of an open mic, both the people going up and the people goodly enough to put it on. It’s great to see audience members come out to them and them walk away glad they did. They’re a good time. I’m not ashamed to admit that doing open mics are often the high point of my entire week. It just bugs the shit out of me when people get the clever idea to foul the whole establishment with god-awful jokes about rape,  or by referring to women as “bitches”, or whatever travesty inflicted upon those unfortunate enough to be in the proximity during that comic’s set. (The worst I’ve seen was a dude do a joke about the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook shooting).
Oddly enough, those jokes don’t go over well. Nor do they strike me as being very intelligently thought out. Those jokes seem to serve no purpose other than making a group of strangers in a bar uncomfortable.  I never understood why a person would  consciously decide to spew such repugnant garbage into a microphone. I could only imagine if it comes from a place of sadism or just plain stupidity. It scared me to imagine if  somehow they were simply honestly and sincerely trying to be funny. I regard that theory as being the least likely. 
A joke, traditionally, is told with the intent of getting laughs. Hence the “Comedy” part of the phrase, “stand-up comedy.” The only measure of a good bit, be it a one-liner or a rant, is the audience’s response. Most comics understand that laughter, specifically, is their ultimate goal. After all, making the audience laugh every 5-15 seconds is our job. Any pro in Houston or the world over understands that and makes a living doing so. When you’re watching a comedian play their role successfully, it’s because of a certain creativity and the effort put into turning funny ideas into funny bits. With the objective killing and dying in comedy; and the expectations placed on us, it’s not an easy task. (At least to me). When a joke about necrophilia instead yields groans, it’s because it’s shit. It seems the reason this kind of anti-humor exists is because some people in all walks of life don’t realize the simple concept that is, You can’t say whatever you want. Be funny or get out of our way. 
A drunk dude offstage at a bar telling a street joke about the holocaust will seldom get laughs. I remember kids in middle school having arsenals of dead baby jokes. Even then, having the mind of a 14 year old, I found them pretty fucking obnoxious.  There’s a reason that those jokes fail. No matter how vehemently you demand the freedom to “speak your mind”, people get offended by things regardless. Todd Akin uses the word “legitimate rape” in a sentence and then John Stewart makes fun of him. Anytime you speak, you speak at the jeopardy of people being put off by your words. Even more so if  you’re telling jokes at a comedy club, or you’re appearing as a guest on Fox and Friends. Society has standards. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. 
What bothers me most about comics with such flagrant disregard is the how they violate the venue itself. Not only is a comic being a dickhead onstage going to damage his own relations with the crowd, but the crowd will have damaged perceptions of where they were when the saw this. I highly doubt Letterman would ever mention someone’s knack for rape jokes as he intro’s someone on national television. People bitch and moan about “political correctness gone mad”, but so-called “political correctness” is really just the practice of verbal self-preservation. People who firmly believe that they are “artists” and therefore should have carte blanche are missing the point. The whole thing is bigger than them. The impact of the rape comic ripples throughout the entire comedy scene. The rape comic on Monday isn’t going to make people wanna come to the Saturday night show. If only that asshole went with the airplane food material.

John Wessling and His 3 Hour Tour


John Wessling is telling 3 hours of jokes. Yes, 3 hours! Comedy Scene in Houston talked to John about the show and why he’s doing it.

Comedy Scene in Houston- Do you have 3 hours of comedy?

John Wessling- Yes I do. If I just wholesale do every joke I’ve ever done on stage since I was an open micer, I have about 3.5 hours. The hard part will be remembering all of the material. But I routinely do about 2 hours of material over 5 sets on every Carnival cruise I do, and that’s with leaving out some of my edgier bits. I’ll be unearthing some of my old favorites, jokes I haven’t told in YEARS, really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.

CSiH- What made you want to do this?

JW- Several things, actually. As you may or may not know, I am one of America’s premier endurance comedians. Tommy Drake, Chuck Savage and I were the first ever comedians to perform 50 shows in 50 states in 50 days (HELLGIG AMERICA, 2005) and I looked at this super long set as another challenge.
Secondly, and selfishly, I wanted to go through a lot of my comedy inventory and see which ones still belong in the rotation, which ones need back in and which jokes need to be retired for good.

Third, even though the haul won’t be massive, I really wanted to do some good for the Houston Food Bank. Its one of my favorite charities who do a great deal of help for people in need in the Houston area. Lots of people donate and volunteer during the holiday seasons, which is great, but hunger exists 365 days a year. So I thought doing this in the charity off season might help raise a little extra awareness for the Houston Food Bank.
Plus, my really good friend and fellow Houston comedy alumnus Matt Kirsch was recently named Executive Producer of Comic Relief, the top comedy charity organization in the country. Matt has inspired me to do what I can to use my talent/gift to do some good. If this works out, I can see other headliners doing the same kind of endurance set for their fans and favorite charities. If we’re lucky, this could be the first run of a whole series of these shows, not just in Houston but all around the country.

CSiH- Have you done anything like this before?

JW- Nope, never done anything like this before. I’m actually fundamentally opposed to comics doing more than a 60 minute set at a show. I believe in leaving them wanting more. A comedy show shouldn’t be longer than Dances With Wolves. At some point it goes from an entertaining night out to a hostage situation, mostly due to the massive ego of the comic who just keeps on going! But this is a special situation and I think the crowd who comes out for this show will appreciate the effort.

CSiH- You could charge a cover, but you decided to raise money and take food donations for the Houston Food Bank. Why is that?

JW- I’m lucky enough right now to be making some good money telling jokes, so this is my way to give back a little. Whatever I could’ve made from this gig wouldn’t have made or broken me, so I’m happy to raise money, food and awareness for a great charity.

CSiH- You’re a funny guy. Do you think people will stay for 3 hours? Will there be bathroom breaks?

JW- I think the audience will stay for 3 hours, absolutely! I’m not up there to filibuster, I’m doing my best to make this long set a cohesive show, a virtual tour through the years of my career and some sneak peeks into whats coming up next. I won’t take any breaks…unless I’m about to piss my pants…in which case we should probably have a wireless mic on standby so I can keep it going in that emergency scenario.
But if anyone in the audience needs to pee, smoke, get a drink or whatever, of course they are welcome and free to do whatever they need to do. If people can only stay for a little while or have to show up late, its totally fine for me. I’ll do my best to make sure that I’m funny for however long they can afford to pay attention.

CSiH- What can the audience expect?

JW- They can expect what they should always expect from a professional comedy show, to laugh repeatedly and with vigor and gusto.

CSiH- Will there be any new material?

JW- Yes. I won’t say how much, but there are some longer ideas and concepts that I’ve been tinkering with that I plan on running out there. It’ll be scattered throughout the show, won’t be one massive new material chunk. Like I said, really focusing on making the 3 hour show cohesive and flow together as best as possible.
I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to actually build up some fans here in Houston, and I get requests all the time for some of my classic bits that have fallen out of the act for one reason and another. But I also have fans and friends who are clamoring for the new stuff and want to see where my act is heading. This 3 hour set will be great for both of those!

Outlaw Dave’s Worldwide Headquarters
6502 Washington Ave
Houston, TX 77007
8:30 P.M.

Here’s a list of the most needed items from the Houston Food Bank…

If people want to donate cash, we’ll either give it to the HFB directly or go buy the needed items…whichever the food bank prefers.