Richard Pryor is undeniably one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comedians of all time. ‘Live in Concert‘ is arguably the best example of his work available today and offers a wonderful insight into the the style and delivery that inspired the likes of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock.

As a disclaimer, I should explain. I hate comedy DVDs. All of those pre-recorded concerts that turn up at Christmas to act as stocking fillers for fans of ‘Mock the Week‘ slightly depress me. Live stand-up is the only way to go. That being said some of the world’s greatest clowns are no longer with us and this is the only way we can experience their genius.

Live in Concert‘ starts in a truly unusual way. Richard just walks out… the audience isn’t fully seated, the lights aren’t down and he just walks out bold as brass and starts talking. He banters as the audience fill the room and despite the chaos he is always comfortable and always in control.

Richard warms up with some traditional paint-by-numbers race jokes (N.B: DefJam acts please note – this is NOT the bit to be inspired by) but soon gets in to his flow. I can only really describe this show as therapy: there is so much personal tragedy that Richard somehow manages to turn into hilarity. Getting your gun whilst drunk in order to shoot your car so that your wife can’t leave you shouldn’t be funny… but in this clown’s hands it really is!

Every so often Richard reverts to the safety net of cheap race gags but this really seems to just be a reset and a way to get back on track. The real artistry comes from his discussions with the neighbour’s dog, stories of boxing with Muhammed Ali and the tales of his youth. A throwaway comment about not wanting to fuck with his kids too much in case he fucks them up as badly as he is is a poignant reminder of the very unfunny World that he lived through*

This truly is an excellent show and although some of the references are dated – very few people will know that Leon Spinks was ugly enough to scare forest creatures – most gags still hit the mark almost 40 years on.

Nothing will ever beat live stand-up but if you can’t get to a show and are in a need of a good laugh then you can’t do much better than grabbing a bottle of good vodka, turning the lights out, getting comfortable and settling down with this.

Clown Stars: * * * * *

 @Terrace Theatre, California

* Please read his biography – “Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences”-  it’s a horrifically intense example of comedy from tragedy.