Richard Pryor, one of the world’s most revered and beloved stand-up comics of all time, died today back in 2005. The comedian, writer and movie star passed away from a heart attack after a long, debilitating battle with multiple sclerosis at the age of 65.
Every comedy nerd knows that Pryor is practically the godfather of modern comedy. Along with greats like George Carlin, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, his edgy and groundbreaking material took stand-up comedy away from being just a jokey world where sharply dressed people in nightclubs laughed at mindless, thoughtless jokes. He gave stand-up a big injection of anabolic steroids by bringing social issues into his material but in a way that never talked down to his audiences or skimped on what made them so funny, especially when it came to talking about his own addictions and demons.
Of course, Pryor had an illustrious film and TV career with his writing work on Mel Brooks’ classic western spoof Blazing Saddles (he created the character and wrote most of the dialogue for the brainless brute Mongo) and performances in such movies as Stir Crazy, Silver Streak and See No Evil, Hear No Evil with his on-screen comedy partner Gene Wilder–as well as Which Way is Up? and Harlem Nights with Eddie Murphy and Redd Foxx.
He also had his own short-lived sketch comedy show on NBC that offered an interesting way for Pryor to play with the boundaries of television that normally wouldn’t let his uncensored comedy act on the airwaves. His appearance as the host in the very first season of Saturday Night Live also featured one of the show’s most memorable and dangerous sketches in which he plays a job applicant undergoing a word association test with an increasingly racist interviewer played by Weekend Update anchor Chevy Chase. The only thing more interesting than the sketch is how it came to life, according to this recent Salon article.
But since we’re regular geeks and comedy geeks, we’re still going with Richard Pryor’s Star Wars sketch as our closing video. It’s a big deal in the Star Wars universe–with actual costumes from the film–but lesser known to Pryor fans. Check out the kind of thing that used to be able to be shown on network television back in the ’70s…