Rewind album: Live on the Strip, by Richard Pryor (1982)

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 November, 2014, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 November, 2014, 11:11pm

Live on the Sunset Strip
Richard Pryor
Warner Bros

There was always a frothing madness to Richard Pryor's on-screen personae. He played mostly ramshackle deadbeats looking for a decent break and was occasionally brilliant at it, such as in Stir Crazy (1980). The charm came in the fact he was just so lovable.

But his fans, and lovers of America's live comedy circuit, knew the heart of a far different beast beat deep inside him, constricted by the restrictions on what Hollywood studios of the time allowed their artists to do and say.

Pryor, both on stage and off, was an angry man. The lifestyle he chose to lead at the time added fuel to the fire but it also added to experiences such as this ground-breaking and - for many - life-changing routine, captured live on record before it was then released on film.

Pryor had through the 1970s helped give voice to black America's boiling dissent, ranting and raving about the injustices he encountered as a young man trying to make his way in the US. He laid waste to the lie that "we're all the same" and took wicked delight in making the white members of his audience aware of the differences between them.

It always seemed he was trying to make up for lost time, for the period in his career during the 1960s where his material was PG-rated. One night in Las Vegas he quit mid-show and decided to change his act entirely.

What makes Live on the Sunset Strip a masterpiece is its timing. By 1982, Pryor had changed again - on stage at least.

The anger still simmered but life lessons had tempered his act somewhat, turning its attention more towards the human condition and the absurdities of life.

This was the first time Pryor had taken to the stage since almost burning himself to death freebasing cocaine. So, to bring the curtain down on this particular night, the man faced his demons up close, turning the barbs - and the brilliance - on his weaknesses as a man, to his addiction, and to the fact that death at one point had one clammy hand on his shoulder. It's hilarious yet heart-breaking.

Across the six tracks before that, Pryor trod familiar territory - sex and other functions of the body and mind feature prominently - and his genius as a performer shone as he recounted a recent trip to Africa.

The way Pryor transformed himself into a rolling force of energy, feeding off the fans and the attention, showed the measure of the man as an artist. He influenced a generation of comedians with his delivery and his honesty, and the album won a Grammy in 1982. It was also among his last fully realised pieces of work before multiple sclerosis killed him in 2005, aged 65.