Chillin’ with Adam with Emma McIntosh & Special Guest: Richard Pryor
“Humor was Richard’s way of trying to survive. This is truly a story of survival, but I’ll let him tell you,” and with that, Adam handed over the floor to Richard, who, for the first time, declared himself speechless.
“Okay,” said, Richard, “So this is the first time that I’m speechless. I’m trying to think what I should tell you because I want to look like I know everything. I want to look like I’ve evolved. 😆😂🤣
People know me as this very loud, honest, straightforward, “fuck you” kind of guy. That’s how people know me, but really, deep inside, I was a very lost individual as a human being. I was good at making people laugh and making people think, opening people’s eyes, confronting them with the realities that are going on around them at the moment and seeing the humor in it.
When it came to my personal life, I was a train wreck. I felt that I didn’t belong here and I really didn’t feel like I ever lived at all. That really takes a toll on you. It really takes the energy, the life force, out of you. So, humor, what I did in comedy and the movies was the only thing that kept me going. It was the only thing that truly kept me alive because what a lot of people might not know is that I had suicidal thoughts from the age of twenty all the way to the age of forty. I had so many….. and even probably after that.
I had a lot of issues that I couldn’t let go. I had a lot of issues that I couldn’t process and because those energies of undealt-with trauma, the energies of being abandoned, the energies of not feeling loved and not understanding love, because I never understood love. All of that, I dragged that with me my whole life. I never released it. I never processed it. I never talked about it. So I never really sought help or advice. I was very introverted and I was an individual that, when these negative vibrations became so high, I would disappear for several days. That was my way. It was running and hiding. Trying to not kill myself. Then coming back and trying to continue.
That led, unfortunately to a lot of failed marriages. It led to me being a father to a lot of children who I either treated not in the appropriate way, I would say. I was too strict. I would threaten them. I would tell them, “If this doesn’t go that way, or you don’t do this, I’m going to kick your ass.” There was a lot of threats and looking at it now, from a different view. From a spiritual perspective, you do get a whole different interpretation of who you were and why things were happening the way they were. You don’t judge it anymore.
I don’t judge it anymore. I found peace with it and I found love in my journey, but when you look at it from my human perspective, it was such a struggle that I really didn’t enjoy life. I’m going to be honest with you. I might have been the clown of the ball, but I didn’t enjoy living. I truly didn’t.
Looking at all the women that I married, that I had relationships with, and there were lots, and the reason why I just couldn’t do it. I had seven marriages with five different women. Most of my marriages didn’t last more than a year. All of that really, the lack of being able to show intimacy. The lack of being able to understand what true love is, really led to all of that. Every time I failed, it just highlighted the illusion that I had that I wasn’t worth the love. That I wasn’t worth self-love, even. I just wasn’t worth anything.
Just to give you an insight on where this dysfunctionality, not being functional in a relationship, came from, I was born in a very violent environment. My dad was a very aggressive person and he was a very physical person. He would beat me whenever he felt like it whether I’d done something wrong or not. If he was drunk. If he was upset, if somebody else did something to him, he would come home and he would work it out on me. He’d beat me up. My mother was also a drunk. She was an alcoholic. She would hit me as well. She was very physical. My mom disappeared a lot of times. She’d disappear for weeks and she would come home drunk, broken. My father was drunk and broken.
So, as a little boy, never getting a hug. Never having anyone tell you, “I love you.” Experiencing your reality of family life becomes getting hurt, getting beat, going to bed hungry. That was my reality. That was what ‘family’ looked like to me. On top of that, my mother was a prostitute. My dad was a pimp. My grandmother, Marie, had a brothel and that’s where my mother worked. My grandmother was also very abusive. She would beat me as well for the slightest, I couldn’t say anything. Just nod and be quiet.
Then Richard showed Emma an image of a man raping him in the brothel at the age of seven; and said one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.
“You know, the scariest thing. You would think that getting raped at the age of seven was the scary bit, but the scariest thing I ever encountered was…”
“God, I’m almost crying,” Emma said. “His emotions are just over the top. Oh, God. Whoo. Okay, I’m going to try and do it without crying.
He found a box underneath his mother’s bed and when he opened it, there was a dead baby in the box. The baby was his little brother. She had kept it there; and it made him feel, in some way, relieved that they hadn’t killed him at birth.”
Richard added, “And the other way it made me feel… So afraid that I might not make it out of this family alive. So, I lived in constant fear. I lived without an inch of knowledge of what love means; of what love was. As I grew older, I lived in a neighborhood where there were a lot of gangs. I was thin. I was skinny. I didn’t have any muscles to defend myself, so I discovered that the only way I could defend myself was being funny. Using humor to get my black ass out of there. That was the only thing I could do.
My mother left at an early age and I eventually ended up just being with my grandmother in that brothel. Seeing things…. Seeing white people, white men coming in raping the black women that were in the brothel. As a young child, there’s things you shouldn’t see and that you shouldn’t hear and you just don’t overcome that. You just don’t. It is something that is imprinted in your mind that whenever you close your eyes, I would re-experience it and I did for a very, very long time. I tried to get out. I tried to get out. I went into the army.
Laughing, Richard said, “Boy that was another mistake I made.”
He spent most of his two-year stint in the army in jail in Germany for joining in with a group of black soldiers who attacked a white soldier for making racist remarks during a television show.
“By that time,” according to Richard, “I was full of anger. I was full of hate. I hated everyone. I hated myself. I hated the world for what it had done to me. I was very much into the ‘victim’ phase and I never got out of it. I always stayed in that victim phase.”
Upon his release from the army, Richard went to New York where he tried singing, acting, and comedy. He said he had more success in the comedy department than in any of the other ones. “People didn’t want to hear me sing, so I started that and it just kind of built from there. It started bringing me success in the beginning. I started getting recognized, coming on T.V., and it was all very clean then, it was all according to the books. According to the ‘rules of comedy,’ because back then, comedy in the 60’s, there were restrictions to it. There were limitations to how far you could go. I behaved very nicely.
I used my past to create the comedy. Everything I ever used in my stand-up comedy was always based on what I’ve been through. I did that for several years and I became very successful, but it never calmed the anger. It never softened the anger. It never released it, so the anger was always there. The frustration was always there. The trauma was always there and I was just hiding. I was just hiding behind a smile and there was a point where I couldn’t continue the way I was doing things.
There was a point in my career where I just got on stage and something clicked in my head. Something….. I just got this idea that “What the fuck am I doing?”
That was the idea that popped into my head. I was trying to be somebody else. I was trying to please the crowds. To please the white people. To please the black people. To please everyone, but I was doing it, not in my own way. I was doing it in a way that was in some way, copycatting other people. Copycatting other comedians.
So, something clicked on that day and I literally just…. I came on stage. It clicked, and I walked off stage and I disappeared for several months.
Richard walked off stage during a show at the Aladdin in Las Vegas with a full house in the audience including Rat Pack member, “The King of Cool,” Dean Martin.
Richard moved to California where he found his voice as a comedian in the midst of Berkeley’s counterculture. He used the time to figure out, “Who am I in this whole comedy thing and how can I contribute to creating happiness, creating laughter, and creating awareness of what was going on. Creating clarity because when shit hits the fan in the world, the first reaction of people is ‘If I don’t look at it, it’s not there.’ They try to hide from it. They try to ignore it. It’s not there.
But what stand-up does, and that is for all comedians, stand-up comedy is usually people who are sharing personal experience in a funny way. That’s what stand-up comedy does, it opens people’s eyes. It brings awareness and it confronts people with the truth. It confronts people with the reality and it makes people think. It makes people think and it also we lighten the energy around very serious events.
“Comedy was the only way I felt that I could be truly myself and it was the only time when I got on that stage, everything else faded. It was the only time where I wasn’t confronted with my trauma, with the feelings of abandonment, with not knowing what the hell I was doing. Of course, every time I’d get off stage, I’d get hit in the face with reality.”
I thanked Richard for spending time with us and for talking with us. I was especially happy that Adam got to hang out with one of my all-time favorite comedians, as Adam was a huge fan of comedy. He loved making his friends laugh.
Richard’s reply would make Adam’s friends proud.
“I’m just happy to hang out with him because I think he missed out on a career. He should have gone into comedy, because, boy, he does have it inside of him.”
I agreed that Adam’s sense of humor is wicked funny.
“It is,” Richard agreed. “It’s changed. Your son, his humor comes from a point of love. Not from a point of pain.”
How this amazing man created a life of comedy from his tragic beginnings is mind-boggling. Please enjoy this very moving, very intimate visit with Richard Pryor.
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