Credit: Shutterstock/Richard Pryor

I believe the ability to think is blessed. If you can think about a situation, you can deal with it. The big struggle is to keep your head clear enough to think.

To call Richard Pryor a stand-up comedian would be accurate, but also hugely simplistic. He was perhaps the most influential and acclaimed comic to emerge from America in the latter half of the twentieth-century, and a fierce critic, and subverter, of social norms.

Richard’s childhood was anything but usual. Raised in a brothel run by his Aunt, at which his Mother was a prostitute, he was a small and shy child who soon realised that he could make people laugh. He was often beaten, and sexually abused by several different adults, but found solace in his humour and performance. He would discover a talent for acting at school, and performed whenever he could until he was expelled at 14. Following this, he worked a string of different jobs before joining the military in 1958. He only served for two years, most of which were spent in prison after he took exception to a white soldier laughing at racial issues in a film.

Pryor began his career in comedy soon after, playing a Bill Cosby type character, using family-friendly language and delivering his jokes in a structured manner that kept with the norms of the time. It was only after a self-described ‘epiphany’ in 1967 that he began to incorporate profanities and social criticism into his act. He would soon move to Berkeley, California, and become involved in the counterculture there. Before long he would complete his transformation from a funny, but safe, comedian to a transgressive, socially and racially aware critic, who would address his audience in long-form stories filled with improvisations and shockingly honest assessments of the USA. His film work is also seminal, particularly his collaborations with Gene Wilder. Blazing Saddles, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Stir Crazy and many others are sill considered classics of the genre, as subversive and shocking today as they were when they were released.

Still influential today, he was voted the best stand-up comedian of all time in a 2017 poll by Rolling Stone.