Posts Tagged ‘Richard Pryor’

Just Cos

July 13, 2014

Saturday July 12th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Today is Bill Cosby’s 77th birthday, and I challenge anybody to name a 20th century entertainer that has touched more people in a positive way. I sure can’t, and if there is one not only does my hat go off to that person, I will include my head along with it. Bill Cosby stands alone at the top.

My grandfather took me to see him when I was about 14. I will admit I wasn’t thrilled about it at first, mainly because I was a 14 year old know it all punk and didn’t think it would be any fun to have to sit through something like that. Looking back, I clearly see what a flaming idiot I was.

I remember getting to the Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee with Gramps early and finding our seats. All that was on the stage was a microphone in a stand, and I remember experiencing an immediate sense of disappointment. I don’t know what I had expected, but it was more than that.

To make it worse, there was an opening act we had to sit through. It was a piano player named Walt Michaels. I don’t know why I remember his name all these years later, but I do. He wasn’t bad, and in fact he was unbelievably good – but I was 14 and knew everything about everything.

Then Bill Cosby came out and within ten minutes both Gramps and I were bent over clutching our sides with laughter. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. He proceeded to pound it out for an hour and a half, and by the time the show ended the entire audience could not breathe.

I was a fan from that day on, and I’ve never stopped. Especially since I’ve done comedy – or at least a reasonable facsimile of it – for so many years, my respect for what he has accomplished is enormous. His place in the all time annals of standup comedy is in stone, but he’s not done yet.

And that’s not counting what he accomplished in television. Fat Albert was a staple of the ‘70s on Saturday mornings, and I watched it regularly as did millions of kids of my generation. After that he only came out with the biggest sitcom of the ‘80s. Most mortal entertainer types would be thrilled to be able to lay claim to any one of those things. Bill Cosby is more than a mere mortal.

Sure, he had a few movies that flamed out. So what? Most of us never get even ONE chance to star in a movie and he got several. People make jokes about “Leonard Part 6” and “Ghost Dad”, but who wouldn’t love to be made fun of like that? If those are his worst problems, he’ll be fine.

I have been unbelievably fortunate to have met more than a few legendary comedians in person from George Carlin to Richard Pryor to Bill Hicks and others, but Bill Cosby is one I would still love to meet. I don’t know what I’d say other than how much I love his work, but that’s enough.

I wouldn’t consider myself a peer, as he’s pretty much in a class by himself. I’m a lifelong fan though, along with millions of others white and black, old and young, Northern and Southern and just about any other kind of difference. Bill Cosby has made more people laugh than anyone else.

Can anyone think of a higher honor than that? There isn’t one. If he’s a dented can he sure does hide it well, but it wouldn’t surprise me. We all are to some degree, but people like Bill Cosby do us all a favor and make the ride a little more pleasant. What an amazing contribution he’s made.

Bill Cosby is still going strong at 77. What a career he has had. Wow.

Bill Cosby is still going strong at 77. What a truly legendary career he has had. Wow.

Woody Allen And Richard Pryor

December 3, 2013

Sunday December 1st, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

Today is significant in the annals of standup comedy, as it is the birth date of a pair of certified legends of the field in Woody Allen (1935) and Richard Pryor (1940). They’re about as opposite as opposites get, but their contribution and influence have transcended generations of comedians.

I can’t think of two more influential names in 20th Century standup comedy and both graduated to successful movie careers. That’s about where the parallels end though. They had very different life and career paths, but both should be studied by anyone who is serious about standup comedy.

Woody Allen is quite simply the most prolific comedic artist of our time. Period. Who else can even come close? He started writing jokes in high school, and has kept cranking out product on a regular basis without ceasing. Between four books of humorous essays, three standup recordings, several successful plays and virtually a movie a year since the 1960s, he has had an epic output.

I know how much hard work was required to put out the two comedy CDs and DVD that I did. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to amass the body of work Woody did. He has kept it up for decades, and continues to do it today. The discipline and talent required for that is huge.

There are people who don’t care for his work, and that’s fine. Any art is subjective, and it goes with the territory that not everyone will appreciate anyone’s work. Still, the sheer volume of how much he was able to accomplish over one lifetime is absolutely staggering. He won’t be equaled, at least not in our lifetime. Whoever does do it will have to set out early and labor for a lifetime.

I personally am a huge fan of Woody’s work, especially his standup comedy. His writing is as good as it gets, and I play his classic ‘The Moose’ routine in my comedy classes even now. He’s a mega talent, and his work ethic is incredible. That combination is the recipe for major success.

Michael Jordan had it in sports. He was naturally gifted, but his work ethic was the key to what made him a legend. One without the other won’t cut it. It’s rare to have both, and that’s why the ones that do are considered superstars. In the comedy universe, Woody Allen is Michael Jordan.

Richard Pryor was no slouch, and he was loaded with natural talent. He came along a few years after Woody Allen, but they crossed paths in New York in the 1960s. I have never found Pryor to be on my list of favorites, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him as I totally do. He influenced countless comedians, and continues to do so to this day as does Woody. They’re both superstars.

I don’t think Pryor had nearly the work ethic Woody Allen does, but very few artists of any ilk do. I know he struggled with drug abuse for years, and I don’t think Woody ever has. He put all of his energy into his work, and continues to. Good, bad or indifferent, Woody stayed the course. Pryor was all over the place, but he still managed to capture the pulse of a large part of society.

My hat is off to both of them, and it’s odd that they would both be born on the same day. Who knows if that has any significance? I share a birthday with Albert Einstein, and there aren’t very many similarities there at all. He was dead before I was born, but I still think it’s pretty neat we have that in common. Woody Allen and Richard Pryor both left their marks, and I respect them.

Woody Allen is THE most prolific comedy artist of our time. Period. Nobody will touch him, at least not in our lifetime.

Woody Allen is THE most prolific comedy artist of our time. Period. Nobody will touch him, at least not in our lifetime.

Richard Pryor had a huge influence on both the public and comedians of his generation. He was never one of my personal favorites, but that doesn't mean I don't respect him. He was a giant.

Richard Pryor had a huge influence on both the public and comedians of his generation. He was never one of my personal favorites, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him. He was a giant.

Evolution 9

August 5, 2010

Tuesday August 3rd, 2010 – Lake Villa, IL

Any good artist, or person in general for that matter, constantly evolves. Singers, actors, comedians, writers, radio personalities, anyone. Early Elvis and The Beatles are a far cry from their later stuff, and that’s good. Not all fans may like it, but growth causes change.

I’m at a point in my comedy where I’m feeling a huge need to grow. I’ve not had much of a chance to be an ‘artist’, because most of my ‘career’ has been spent trying to eke out a living. Part of that means playing it safe and not taking any artistic risks to get a check.

It’s easy to call that ‘selling out’, and in many ways it’s exactly that, but what’s so damn wrong about it? When push comes to shove, most people in the business would totally do it, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s difficult enough to make a living in the regular world, much less the surreal circus that is show business. I do see why a lot of decisions occur.

In some ways, some sort of conformity is good – at least at the start. It does tend to keep an act grounded in my opinion. It establishes a starting point to evolve from, and it makes it easy to chart progress. Early George Carlin or Richard Pryor weren’t even close to what they were at their end point, but they were both legends in the business. They evolved.

Even Bill Cosby has evolved. I saw him live when I was a kid and he was unbelievably fabulous. Then, I saw him just a few years ago and he was still funny, but talked about his childhood in a completely different way than the Cosby legend most of us are used to did.

He was still great, but in a different way. I think it’s necessary to keep growing or it will all fall in on itself and crumble. This is probably a major reason as to why bands break up, other than it’s extremely difficult to get people to work in harmony for any length of time. Fans want to keep hearing ‘the old stuff’, and musicians want to keep creating new music.

I’m lucky enough where I don’t really have that many fans. I have some, and I’m totally grateful for every single one of them, but in reality I’m a comedy mercenary. I get hired to do various commando jobs around the country, and I’m gone the next day. I’m in and out. That’s how it was in vaudeville, where comedians used to use the same act for fifty years.

Personally, that would be a prison sentence to me. I don’t care how well it paid. I enjoy working and tweaking and reinventing my show and also tailoring it to the specific crowd on that particular evening. That’s part of the joy of performing, and what keeps me going.

In my early twenties, I was extremely angry about a lot of things and out to prove to the world I wasn’t about to take it’s BS. I was green and inexperienced, and made all kinds of stupid mistakes, several of which I’m still paying for today. But I’m not that person now.

George Clinton’s famous quote is “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.” I tweaked it just a little. I have freed my mind, and my act will follow. I’m not sure where it will go, but it will go somewhere. As I grow and change, my act has to or I’ll be in comedy hell.