This series of essays examines Richard Pryor’s work – from his albums to his concert films to his movies – as one of the most powerful yet idiosyncratic voices of American culture. By tracking the parallels between the comic’s life and the black experience, and contextualizing his art and persona among the tradition of Southern storytellers, the Civil Rights movement, and the complicated racial identity of Reagan’s America, Jason Bailey attempts to answer a series of questions about this uniquely American entertainer: Was Richard Pryor a product of his society, or an instigator of it? Was Richard reflecting us, or were we reflecting Richard? Was he a mirror, or a prophet?
“Richard Pryor has become so revered that it’s easy to forget what an unusual and enigmatic man he really was. So we should be grateful to Jason Bailey for this fascinating, surprising and terrifically entertaining book that is as eccentric and sharp as its subject. Blending incisive critical analysis, including illuminating close reads of his legendary stand-up, and a newshound’s instinct for the revealing detail, he cuts through the legend to explain his titanic legacy in elegant prose that will make you see Pryor in a new light.”
— Jason Zinoman, comedy critic for The New York Times
“Jason Bailey’s Richard Pryor is a sharp-eyed, quick-witted portrait of the comedian. Focused on telling moments when Pryor seemed to rewrite the rulebook of American culture, it refreshes our sense of what made Pryor so hilarious, so spell-binding, and so psychologically complex.”
—Scott Saul, author of Becoming Richard Pryor
“Powerful and compassionate. Jason Bailey understands not just Pryor’s historical significance, but the evolution of his art.”
—Matt Zoller Seitz, author of The Wes Anderson Collection
“Ingeniously organizing Richard Pryor’s groundbreaking career and epic life by theme, Jason Bailey gives movies and records equal weight to relative ephemera like interviews and talk show appearances, resulting in a fascinating analysis of the push-pull between an often seemingly reckless persona and the confession and craft behind Pryor’s art.”
—Karina Longworth, host of You Must Remember This
Jason Bailey is the film editor for Flavorwire. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Slate,Salon, and the Village Voice. He is the author of Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece and The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion.
Watermarks Books & Cafe, Wichita, KS: October 23rd, 6 PM. Friends from Kansas, rejoice! Jason Bailey will read from and sign copies of his new book Richard Pryor: American Id in Wichita! And then, afterwards:
The Palace Theater, Wichita, KS: October 23rd, 9PM. Jason Bailey will introduce a screening of Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, one of Pryor’s best and most iconic concert shows. The film will screen again at 11:30 PM and on Saturday, October 24th at 9 and 11:30 PM. Tickets are $3.50.
Videology Bar & Cinema, Brooklyn, NY: November 6th, 7PM. Ashley Clark (author of Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled) and Jason Bailey will present clips from the films and works discussed in their books and discuss how race, the media, satire, and representation continue to play important roles in our country’s social reckoning with itself. Brandon Harris (The New Inquiry) and Jamil Smith (The New Republic) will also participate in the discussion. A book signing will follow.