Sunday, March 1, 2015

RICHARD PRYOR: AMERICAN ID (Day 2)


So the first chapter, “Two Television Interviews,” is an expansion—and I mean that, it’s now nearly twice as long as it was—of this piece, which I originally wrote in 2011 and which ran at Flavorwire in 2013.  The original notion was to contrast two interviews—one with Milton Berle on The Mike Douglas Show in 1974, which co-host Pryor wrecked, and his own first post-fire appearance on The Tonight Show in 1980—to spotlight the generation gap between Pryor and comics of Berle’s ilk.

For the book, I realized I needed to go into greater depth and detail about that shift in the comic landscape than I had earlier, and I had a lot of material to draw from. I spent a good month of my research period working my way through three fabulous books of stand-up comedy history: Gerald Nachman’s Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Richard Zoglin’s Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America, and William Knoedelseder’s I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era. I pulled a ton of passages from them, but only ended up using a quote or two from each, which is how it should be—I was mostly reading them for atmosphere and general knowledge. But also, they were three books that had been on my Amazon wish list for like two years, and here’s the great side thing about writing a book: if you play your cards right, it finally gives you an excuse to read and watch things that you’ve been putting off forever and might not get around to otherwise. (All three books are catnip for comedy nerds, though I’d imagine serious comedy nerds already know this.)

Oh, and at one point I really needed this quote that I vaguely remembered from Joseph “Run” Simmons (I know it sounds like  a stretch, hopefully it works) from the great History of Rock ‘N’ Roll documentary series, which meant I had to emerge from my closed-door office cocoon and found myself scanning through a DVD for this quote while my 18-month-old toddled up and started pawing for the eject button, presumably so she could watch Frozen again. This, friends, is working from home.


Anyway, I’m pretty happy with “Two Television Interviews” 2.0, and it’s clocking in at a 20K–word-count-goal-friendly 2,523 words. Tomorrow, well, that may be another story, since tomorrow’s essay is supposed to tackle Pryor’s transformation, his place in the story of black entertainment and race in America, and his use of THAT WORD, and all in about that same, 2500-word frame. So that’ll be fun!

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