A Reboot of Comedy Classics

Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!


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The #1 Stand-Up Comedian, Richard Pryor

The #1 Stand-Up Comedian, Richard Pryor

If you don’t love Richard Pryor, then you probably don’t know Richard Pryor! The best comedian of his time he was hated by Bill Cosby, played many characters on the stage, and was too unpredictable to be on television. In fact, the seven-second delay was created because of him! Like most comedians of the time, he had many demons and those demons would get the best of him from time to time. Listen in as Dave, Kelly, and Tom introduce us to Richard Pryor.

Listen to his 1982 album Live On The Sunset Strip HERE!

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Logan Rishaw

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Twitter: @logansaidthis

Kelly Thewlis

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Tom Megalis

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Dave Schwensen

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Twitter: @thecomedybook

Facebook “How To Be A Working Comic” Page:

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Facebook “How To Be A Working Comic” Page:

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Dave Schwensen:
Hi, welcome back to What's So Funny. I'm your host, Dave Schwensen. And today, I'm joined by two good friends. Kelly Thewlis.

Kelly Thewlis:
Well, hello.

Tom Megalis:
Hi, Kelly.

Dave Schwensen:
So good to hear your voice, and welcome back. And we're going to have some fun, today.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, I'm excited.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, and speaking of fun, Tom Megalis is with us.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, man. I just woke up. Thanks guys, for calling me. Thanks for calling-

Dave Schwensen:
Tom, don't be... Tom, don't be lying. Don't be, you're an artist. I know you create things. You create stories.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
You've been up, I saw you on Facebook already, this morning.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, you got to, what is it? Make hay while the sun is down? Or shines? Something, I don't know what it is, but it's one of those things, Kelly knows. Kelly knows the sayings.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, Tom, go back to bed.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure.

Tom Megalis:
Go back to bed.

Kelly Thewlis:
So, what's going, Kelly. What's new? What's happening?

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, not much. Just working on material, and I'm excited about this episode, though. I can't even-

Dave Schwensen:
Ah, wait until people-

Kelly Thewlis:
I'm excited about this episode.

Dave Schwensen:
Wait until our listeners find out who we're talking about, today.

Kelly Thewlis:
I know.

Dave Schwensen:
But Tom, what have you been up to?

Tom Megalis:
Hey, just still making art. Shameless plug, tommegalis.com.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh my God, that was shameless. I can't believe you pulled a-

Tom Megalis:
Yes, shameless.

Kelly Thewlis:
Shameless. Shame, shame.

Dave Schwensen:
[crosstalk 00:01:06] you snuck that in there.

Tom Megalis:
Yes, it was shameless. Why do people say that? You got to stay busy, guys. You know that.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. That's true. That's true.

Tom Megalis:
Idle hands are the devil's... What is the saying again, Kelly? See, you have the sayings.

Kelly Thewlis:
Idle hands, make the straw come out, with the sun. I think something [crosstalk 00:01:22]-

Tom Megalis:
That's it.

Dave Schwensen:
Idle hands make for bored listeners.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Originally, they came to listen [crosstalk 00:01:27] changed the topic, [crosstalk 00:00:01:28].

Tom Megalis:
Oh, yeah. We got to... What are they tuning in for now? Not this jib, jab.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, guess what we're talking, guess who, we're talking about today? I mean, talk about a legendary comedian.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Talk about the pressure is on, because I do not want-

Kelly Thewlis:
The pressure is on us.

Dave Schwensen:
... to mess this one up, at all. We're going to talk about the great Richard Pryor.

Tom Megalis:
Phew. Man.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Loaded plate.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, definitely a lot to say. Talk about, one of the most inspiring comedians, for so many of the comics out today. Groundbreaking, legendary. I mean, come on. This, Richard Pryor was, when Comedy Central did their list of the top comedians of all time, he was number one.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And, the same thing with Rolling Stone. When they listed the top comedians, Richard Pryor is number one. So, here we go.

Kelly Thewlis:
You know what? I honestly think, he is so, just so top level. I think if you go back and listen to every single episode we have done, I feel like we've mentioned him, in every single one.

Dave Schwensen:
You're probably right. Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. He's just, everywhere. He inspired so many comedians, and he just was really top level.

Tom Megalis:
[crosstalk 00:02:33].

Dave Schwensen:
He was raised by his grandmother, in a brothel. Okay?

Kelly Thewlis:
She owned it. She owned the brothel.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, she owned it.

Tom Megalis:
She was an entrepreneur.

Dave Schwensen:
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kelly Thewlis:
The family business.

Dave Schwensen:
And they must have done pretty well, because they were one of the earlier families to have a television, so he got to watch Ed Sullivan and some of these shows, as a kid. And he said, that's what he wanted to do. And his mother worked in the brothel, and his father was just a real hustler, about town. And, Richard was a kind of a rough guy, I know he got thrown out of school. He eventually, I think he took a swing at a teacher, and just, different things.

Dave Schwensen:
But as a way to get him to show up at school, when he was very young, the teacher decided, she noticed that he liked to make the other kids laugh. So she said, "If you come to class, I'll give you, on Friday afternoons before the end bell, I'll give you five or 10 minutes in front of the class, to do comedy."

Dave Schwensen:
And that's how he started. And he used to, he would watch the comedians on Ed Sullivan, and he would learn their acts, and he would do it. And the kids all thought he was writing this stuff. And then, all of a sudden the other kids started getting TV, and they started watching the Ed Sullivan Show and they would come in Monday say, "Hey, we saw this guy on Ed Sullivan, and here's his jokes." And he's like, "That's my act."

Dave Schwensen:
But yeah, he quit school. He actually was with a gang, and he broke into people's houses, and stuff. And I think one of the, Johnny Carson or something, asked him one time, "How long were you a thief?" He said, "Until my dad found out."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. That's wild, because I think that was a continual thing, in his life. Right. He was sort of this, um, you don't want to say thief, but he did a little bit of jail time, here and there.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, he did.

Kelly Thewlis:
He did.

Tom Megalis:
Certainly in Pittsburgh, he did.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yep.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, he did.

Tom Megalis:
He did like 35 days, in the cooler. For a little bit of violence, and whatever he did there.

Dave Schwensen:
Right.

Tom Megalis:
So, he learned from the streets.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
He was, that was always in him. Always in him, I think, brewing.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, he-

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, and you know what? He just had no escape at that time. Because, like we mentioned before, his home was a brothel. And then, he'd go out in the streets, and he gets into whatever. He's just, there was no escape, really, for him.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, he found one-

Kelly Thewlis:
I guess, until he found comedy.

Dave Schwensen:
There was a small, like a theatrical company, I don't know if this was in a school or a performing arts center, something, in Peoria. And he showed up, and he fell in love with acting. You know, I think Richard Pryor, probably people don't, may not understand this. Originally, he fell in love with acting. He wanted to be a movie star.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. A little like George Carlin.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Richard-

Tom Megalis:
You could see some similarities.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He would dig around the old movie posters, in the trash, outside the movie theaters in Peoria. And he would hang those on his wall, and he would put his name on there, as if he were the star of the movie.

Kelly Thewlis:
Wow.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And so, he fell in love with acting. So he started doing these roles, and people thought he was just great. Again, I'm talking too much, and I apologize for this, because I'm just such a huge Richard Pryor fan-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, my God.

Kelly Thewlis:
It's all right. It's all right.

Tom Megalis:
He's the guy, man.

Dave Schwensen:
But just the background of this guy, but he had to, his dad said he had to go to work, had to get a job, if he was going to quit school. So he got a job in, I think a slaughterhouse or something like that. And he realized, "Oh my gosh, five days a week, doing this? No way." And then, he got a job in a local nightclub singing. He was a singer.

Kelly Thewlis:
Wow.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And he played the piano, he couldn't play the piano. He lied.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He knew a couple of chords, but he would do jokes.

Tom Megalis:
"I'll make up the rest." Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And they made him the house MC.

Tom Megalis:
Hey, I think that continued. I think the guy was, I think he was a great actor.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
He really, he could have just continued to be a great actor, I believe.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well, you watch his standup comedy, too. He does characters.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He is acting, the whole time. That's when he is really, the Richard Pryor that people think about. He does these characters, and he becomes them.

Tom Megalis:
They're so deep. He goes in deep, man. But-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
But, you know what's-

Tom Megalis:
Go ahead, I'm sorry.

Kelly Thewlis:
No, I was going to say, you know what's interesting though, because he does so many characters in his act, when I watch a film that he's in... Although he is a fantastic actor, he really, truly is great. I still look at him and I go, "Oh, there's Richard Pryor." I don't completely lose myself in the character and believe, "Oh, well, that's," whatever.

Kelly Thewlis:
It's like, "Oh, there's Richard Pryor, working with Gene Kelly," or, Gene Kelly. Gene Wilder. I don't quite lose him but it's still, it's amazing performances, all around.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
When he took those characters he'd do, in Peoria. That he saw in the streets. We're talking about the prostitutes and the drug addicts, the scammers and the thieves and the whole bit, and he took those on the stage. And that's what he was doing. He would become those characters, and that's what separated him from everyone else.

Tom Megalis:
And, he even did it early, when you see this stuff before '67? He's still very funny and very successful, but I always found it amazing that he walks away from that act in, I think it was September '67, he had an epiphany, at the Aladdin Hotel.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
Do you guys ever look at that, where he was performing in front of the Rat Pack? And he immediately said, he looked through the eyes of Dean Martin, and he was embarrassed. He said, "I'm up here like a little clown, a ridiculous person." And he changed his act, from that day. He said, "I just can't do this anymore." Even though he was successful and funny, he became the Richard that we knew in the '70s, which was totally different, which was those characters you're talking about. If we're talking about a style, right? He's sort of developed another style, of character-driven comedy, which is-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he wanted to make it big. When he left Peoria, he told everyone, "I'm going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show." And they were all like, "Yeah, right."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And, he took off to New York City with something like 10 bucks in his pocket. Either he read an article, or he saw a clip on television of Bill Cosby, who was just breaking at that point. So that had to be around 1963, 1964.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And said, "Oh my gosh, this guy's doing-

Kelly Thewlis:
What I want to do.

Dave Schwensen:
... what I plan to do." He was hanging around the Village, and he was performing with Bob Dylan, and Woody Allen. And Bill Cosby would be down the street, George Carlin would be at the other end of the street. They were all there, in the Village, doing this.

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome, man.

Kelly Thewlis:
But you hear, Cosby though, did not like him at all, because they had such similar acts. He thought Pryor was stealing, from him.

Dave Schwensen:
He was.

Tom Megalis:
Oh. Did Cosby say that? He was stealing, but I wonder, did Cosby actually voice that? I didn't see that, ever... Wow. That's like-

Kelly Thewlis:
From what I've heard, yeah.

Tom Megalis:
"You're taking my act, man."

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, he didn't care for him.

Tom Megalis:
Wow.

Dave Schwensen:
There are specific examples. If Bill Cosby talked about, I don't know, his mother-in-law, Richard Pryor would talk about his father-in-law. It was like, that close. He'd go down and watch Bill Cosby, what he's doing, and then he would write an act, based similarly.

Kelly Thewlis:
In the same...

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. And he was keeping it clean. So when he first did the Ed Sullivan Show, he was like Bill Cosby.

Tom Megalis:
Absolutely.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And on Merv Griffin, he did a lot of Merv stuff. A lot of it. And they loved him, he was like the house comic, for a while. And it was very, it was funny, but it was, yeah. I could see that Bill Cosby would be a little PO'ed about this.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well, here's something else. His television debut was on a show called On Broadway Tonight, that was hosted by Rudy Vallee. Do you know who Rudy Vallee is?

Kelly Thewlis:
No, I don't.

Tom Megalis:
Rudy Vallee.

Dave Schwensen:
He's that guy from the 1920s, 1930s. He used to sing through a megaphone.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh my God.

Tom Megalis:
[crosstalk 00:10:03] That guy, oh, [crosstalk 00:10:04].

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, wow, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He had to be a hundred years old, this is back in the '60s.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh my God.

Dave Schwensen:
He had his own variety show, it was a summer replacement show, and Richard Pryor went on.

Tom Megalis:
That's insane.

Dave Schwensen:
And he was excited, it was his national television debut. So he called up, to get his family to watch, he called Peoria. And his grandfather picked up the phone and heard his voice, and thought he was calling to borrow more money. So he hung up on him.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
So nobody in his family got to watch it. They didn't know he was on.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, wow.

Dave Schwensen:
And then, it was something like, within the year, nine months later or something, he made his debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. And they all watched it.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
That was his big deal. But yeah, he was, doing Cosby.

Tom Megalis:
It's interesting, though. The early, I'm just trying to think of, from '67 to the early '70s, what was really going on, or how much time he needed to develop this new persona. This new style, this new Richard, this honest, personal Richard, that we then saw on SNL, in '75. And I got to tell you, I'm certainly old enough to remember when those albums started hitting in the '70s, that it was monumental. These were like-

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, yeah.

Tom Megalis:
... there's nothing that compares, to today. When those came out, we all would sit around listening to them going, "Oh my God, this is amazing."

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And so, he was all of a sudden reaching, I think Black audience and white people, white kids, who were just like, we had never heard that. We never heard the language of the streets, and the characters of Mudbone, and these characters, which were just unbelievable. And so, there's nobody today, I think, that even compares to that kind of impact. He was huge, in the '70s. He was just, not as huge in the '60s, the '70s was his period. Where it was just, explosion.

Dave Schwensen:
He wanted the fame, and he wanted to be a movie star. And so, he played it, like the Bill Cosby thing. And his first booking he did in Las Vegas, I think Bobby Darin, one of the singers from the '60s, saw him-

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
... and said, "Hey, you be my opening act." And he paid him thousands of dollars a week, like they do in Vegas. And he was like, talk about drug binging, and showgirls and alcohol and boozing it up. He lived, he loved Vegas.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Sin city.

Dave Schwensen:
Exactly. Exactly. Matter of fact, he was on one of his binges, and he missed an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. So it was surprising Ed even had him come back. But, that was, like you said, Tom. When he was performing out there, in front of the Rat Pack in '67, '68, he went on stage. All he said was "What the, blank, am I doing here?"

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Everybody was totally shocked. He walked off stage.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Well, if he would have continued that trajectory, I don't think we'd be talking about him, as much as we do now.

Dave Schwensen:
No.

Kelly Thewlis:
No, oh no.

Tom Megalis:
Because he, I think the difference is, and why he really appeals to me a lot, is that he transcended, he became very personal, very honest, very open. It became art. Whereas, the stuff he was doing then was, it was entertainment. Which is great, that's fine, but it's not art. It's not personal and deep, and mining your own life, which he did. And opened up this world where you go, "Oh man, this is real, and this is raw, and this is funny and personal." And I think that, that's why, his appeal went to another level.

Kelly Thewlis:
Right, and it wasn't a copycat of Bill Cosby either, anymore.

Tom Megalis:
Bill was great, Bill was great.

Kelly Thewlis:
At the time. Yeah. Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
It's interesting that he really, he hated catering to white audiences. He hated, just doing that persona, it got to the point where he was done with it. And, it's a true lesson for all comedians out there. Where it's, yes, you can do characters on stage, but it all still has to really be grounded in yourself, in your own voice. And that's the area you're going to find success in. If you're up there just, doing some other person's act, if you're not being true to yourself and what you think is funny, it's never going to play. And that's the lesson that he brought out, there.

Dave Schwensen:
That's interesting, Kelly, you're bringing it up like that. Because I'll tell you how I look at Richard Pryor-

Kelly Thewlis:
Sure.

Dave Schwensen:
... when it comes to the comedy business, industry, whatever you want to call it. He's like an old blues singer, to me. Or, well, okay. Let me put the... You know I relate comedy to music, a lot. Okay?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Richard Pryor is Led Zeppelin. Richard Pryor is the Rolling Stones. Those bands took the old blues music of Robert Johnson, and all these guys and they redid it, and they came out with their own sound. Richard Pryor, you go back to the, he was on Chitlin' Circuit, Black clubs, white clubs. You didn't cross over, until Dick Gregory did it, in the early '60s.

Dave Schwensen:
But Richard Pryor was doing the acts of the Chitlin' Circuit comics that he heard, too. He was really doing it, but he expanded on it. And so, when he saw these characters, like Mudbone. The drunk guy, the old guy, and he was bringing that, expressing what was going on in real life, in that era, in those theaters. In those neighborhoods. He was bringing that, to the stage. That's how I look at Richard Pryor.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Well, that's the problem. I think when you look at some of his comedy now, albums, and people that are going to look at the specials. The Sunset standup special, that we're going to kind of focus on a little bit today, which... The one he did, in 1982. It was this personal, man, this personal stuff that was like... I saw that movie in '82.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah?

Tom Megalis:
I went to see it, in the theater. And it literally was jaw dropping. It was like, I think anybody that was watching it then, was just amazed.

Tom Megalis:
It was just unbelievable, that, what you were seeing... He's imitating a cheetah, he's imitating all these inanimate objects. And this, and he's playing all these parts, and he's so likable, with that little Charlie Chaplin smile, and his little laugh that he did. It was just, you mentioned the rock stars. He was a true rock star, at that point.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
It was like, we were just, I remember going with my buddies to watch this, in the theater. And it was like, "Holy crap. What did we just see?"

Dave Schwensen:
Well, he pretty much invented the standup comedy movie.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He's the first one. I know he did one early, like in 1971. I don't know, was that called Live & Smokin'? I don't remember.

Tom Megalis:
He played all the parts in those movies-

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
... in his stand up, he was able to be the director, and all that. And up on the stage, and it was just total theatrical...

Dave Schwensen:
And like you brought up, he played a cheetah, and everything. He played all those-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, my gosh, what-

Dave Schwensen:
That's what separated him.

Tom Megalis:
He played a crack pipe. He played his penis. He played every, he played everything. It's amazing.

Dave Schwensen:
And I think he was more comfortable doing that, rather than being himself. And you watch the interviews with him, like you said, the old ones. They're online, with Johnny Carson and David Letterman and stuff. He'll sit there and be kind of a shy, quiet guy. But then, he'll put on a character, and he becomes that character. His voice goes up higher, and he becomes the Richard Pryor, we know from the movies.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
So I think that was his talent. I think that's how he expressed himself, as maybe someone else. As, a character.

Tom Megalis:
I had the good fortune, when I was doing radio, to interview Paul Mooney. And who, you may know, Dave. Right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. He performed at the Improv, when I was managing. Yes. A few times.

Tom Megalis:
So, and Paul was candid, kind of off mic. A little bit on mic, but then when he was talking to me, because I was asking him about Richard Pryor. Because he wrote a lot of Pryor's stuff, especially for SNL. And so, I was asking him about that, and how much they were afraid... They wanted Richard to be there, but they were frightened of him. And NBC invented the seven second delay, because of Richard.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
Ah.

Tom Megalis:
So, that was invented to stop him from, "We want him," Lorne Michaels wanted Richard to be on the show so bad, but they were like, "We can't trust him."

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
"What's he going to do?"

Dave Schwensen:
Right.

Kelly Thewlis:
You know what's so interesting? So, he had a show, I believe it was... Oh yeah, it was, it was on NBC, briefly. He had, a sort of a variety show. And it only-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, The Richard Pryor Show.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, yeah. They took it off, yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
... lasted seven episodes, because of that issue. And there's this great clip on, I believe it's out on YouTube where, it's a part of the episode. It probably was the last one, where, it's just Richard Pryor delivering a monologue. And then, all of a sudden, the voiceover cuts in. And it's like, "This is a representative from NBC. We can no longer show the audio portion of this."

Kelly Thewlis:
And then, he just starts going, "Let me translate for you, in an NBC way. Golly, gee, everything's great." And you just see Richard Pryor just getting angrier and angrier, jumping up and down, cursing. It's just, it's great. It's so good. So even the exit of that show, it clearly wasn't working, and they both were in on that. And, I love it. It's such a fun thing.

Tom Megalis:
That's great. That's great.

Dave Schwensen:
You know what else is funny about that show, what... Yeah, but Richard Pryor, he had this reputation. He was getting real famous. That's why NBC gave him his own variety show. I look back on it now, I'm like, "What are you, nuts?"

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
... Giving Richard Pryor prime time?" And I think he came on like at eight o'clock at night, or something.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh my God.

Dave Schwensen:
Family viewing, and you've got Richard Pryor. But he made his mark, when he started changing. A lot of people don't know that he was one of the co-writers for Blazing Saddles.

Tom Megalis:
That's right.

Dave Schwensen:
The Mel Brooks movie.

Tom Megalis:
But Richard wrote a lot of stuff. He won an Emmy for writing Lily Tomlin's special.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, yes.

Tom Megalis:
So, he wrote a lot.

Kelly Thewlis:
He worked on Sanford and Son, too. [crosstalk 00:19:43].

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, isn't that, that's crazy. Right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
So, but I think he's also, when they put money in front of you. Right?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh and that, you brought up Sanford and Son, that reminds me of another Richard Pryor story, that's pretty well known.

Dave Schwensen:
When he did the Ed Sullivan Show and all this stuff in the '60s or whatever and he was, everybody down in the Village, in New York City, knew who he was. Richard Pryor. But he went up to Harlem one afternoon, to meet his friend Redd Foxx, who was big on the Chitlin' Circuit, with the Black audiences.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
They walked down 125th Street together, but it wasn't that people were coming out to see Richard Pryor, that they watched him on the Ed Sullivan Show, they could care less. It was Redd Foxx.

Kelly Thewlis:
Wow.

Dave Schwensen:
[crosstalk 00:20:21] seen Redd Foxx, and they were coming out of the restaurants, and the stores. And Richard Pryor was like, they didn't even recognize him. He thought... He wanted that, with his own community, with the Black audiences. He wanted that.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
We're kind of focusing, we're supposed to I think, on the album Live on the Sunset Strip. Not focusing, but that's something, [crosstalk 00:20:39] watched.

Kelly Thewlis:
Anchoring this episode, yeah.

Tom Megalis:
They shot, the Live on the Sunset Strip, they did two nights. They were going to do one, but the first night kind of bombed.

Dave Schwensen:
I heard something like that.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I don't know if, Kelly, did you hear that? It was kind of-

Kelly Thewlis:
I haven't heard that, no.

Tom Megalis:
It was kind of, didn't-

Kelly Thewlis:
Was that-

Tom Megalis:
I heard it somewhere, that it didn't work and, he was off. Because he had not been doing a lot of standup, I think., Because he was burned two years before that, and I think it took a while, to heal. And then, the second night, was legendary.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, the TV special and the album were combined, from two different performances. I'm pretty sure.

Tom Megalis:
The Live on Sunset Strip?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, I think it was two different nights. I listened to the album, recently. And I think it says, certain clips, cuts, whatever you want to call them. Tracks, were recorded at this place, recorded at this place, on such and such a date. Then there would be other tracks saying, recorded at a different place, and a different date. I don't have that [crosstalk 00:21:37] in front of me.

Tom Megalis:
So they did do two nights.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
So, as long as you wore the same suit, you could cut them.

Kelly Thewlis:
Well, and that's a little-

Tom Megalis:
It's interesting, yeah. It's-

Kelly Thewlis:
... secret for our listeners, who aren't quite involved in comedy. That often happens, they will record multiple nights and then, splice it together. It's just, some jokes are told better one night, than another. Or, with him, he was such a, just a fire cannon. You just never knew, he was explosive, and you didn't know what was going to come out of him. Maybe some things were not going to be able to be released, so they had to record both nights. We just don't know.

Kelly Thewlis:
But I do, I could see easily, where his first performance of it would have been a rough one. He hadn't performed since he set himself on fire, and that was a big deal. Like, it wasn't just a little fire. He almost died. He had a one in three chance, to live.

Dave Schwensen:
I think they did predict, yeah. Yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. It was-

Tom Megalis:
Well, we all thought... I mean, 1980. Again, I remember, we all thought, "He's dead. Richard's going to die." And, it was devastating. It was like, "Oh my... What? What?" Everybody was talking about it. And then, he didn't die. And he said, he'd kind of had a crack pipe, incident. But then later, some other people said, "No, he actually poured the rum on himself, and lit himself."

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Because he was watching some Vietnam special, and there was that monk who burned himself. And I think it inspired him, and he was on drugs. And he just said, "Here you go".

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And the next thing, he's running a mile down the road, on fire.

Kelly Thewlis:
On fire. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He was afraid to stop. He said, "I can't stop, or I'll die." He was trying to run to the hospital. And I think the police finally threw him in a car-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, my God.

Dave Schwensen:
... and got him to the hospital. But I saw-

Tom Megalis:
Unbelievable.

Dave Schwensen:
... a talk about it. He did not take that much time off. He did, to recover, and he talks about this. Some of the stuff he had to go through was just awful.

Dave Schwensen:
But yeah, he was laying in bed all bandaged up, and they had the TV on. And he's watching it. And it said, "Richard Pryor died." He's like, "No, oh no, [crosstalk 00:23:37]."

Kelly Thewlis:
Wait, I'm still here.

Tom Megalis:
I'm still here.

Kelly Thewlis:
Wait, so everyone-

Dave Schwensen:
He told that, I think, to Johnny Carson.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. This was his big comeback.

Dave Schwensen:
He talks about that episode. Yeah. Live on the Sunset Strip.

Tom Megalis:
Some amazing bits on that, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, yeah.

Tom Megalis:
It's, anybody that loves standup, should just really watch that. And forget about people that have ripped him off, a little bit. His gestures or mannerisms, or talking like a white person, which he's the first guy to really do, in that way.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And just look at it as, "Man, this is happening in 1982," before a lot of these comics, before Chappelle, before... Certainly Eddie Murphy, pretty much lifted a lot of what Richard... I think.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, they were all inspired.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. They were-

Dave Schwensen:
Chris Rock-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
... and Dave Chappelle. They all point to Richard Pryor.

Tom Megalis:
Who couldn't?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Everybody does, I think. He influenced, I think, everybody.

Dave Schwensen:
And Pryor can point to Bill Cosby, can point to Dick Gregory. And Redd Foxx. And it goes back, like I said, they all influenced each other. And it's amazing, this happened the same time, maybe it was just because of the atmosphere in the country, or what was going on. But Richard Pryor and George Carlin, both around the same time, were these Bill Cosby-like, wearing suit kind of comics. Were ha-ha, very funny, and were on the Ed Sullivan Show. Then they both broke out into the counterculture, whatever you want to call it. Carlin went with the hippies, and Pryor went to the streets.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Well that was the era, too.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Vietnam and political commentary, political comedy. It was a darker time. Kind of like, now.

Dave Schwensen:
Thanks for reminding us of that.

Tom Megalis:
So, Kelly. Yeah. And people that are taking the stage now, there's a lot to talk about. There's a lot of things that are... But like you said, Kelly, you should always mine your own life, right?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Just dig into your own being, and your own life, and tell your story.

Kelly Thewlis:
Right. Even, it's-

Dave Schwensen:
Well, that's what it is.

Kelly Thewlis:
Even if you're telling, if you're doing political humor or something like that, but it's not your personal story, or whatever. It's still anchored in your point of view, it's filtered through your lens. And that's what people want to hear. That's why they came to see you.

Dave Schwensen:
And that's what all the great comics did. And again, Richard Pryor, that was his take. That's what he saw.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
It wasn't the average American, in the '50s. The Eisenhower era, where it was Ozzie and Harriet, and everything is so nice, and everybody's getting washing machines, and TVs and stuff. And he's out in the street.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And that's what he talks about. It was like, "Whoa, that's what was really going on?" But he made it hysterically funny, but had a point.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I think Mel Brooks called him a standup philosopher.

Dave Schwensen:
Right?

Tom Megalis:
The cuts, the bits on SNL, are worth looking at. Like his, in '75, the Exorcist bit, with Laraine Newman-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And, "The bed's on my foot," and there was just, the two priests. There's some good bits in there, man. He was good on that show, man. He was a funny skit performer.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, he has that famous bit on there, that we can't even mainly discuss on this show, with Chevy Chase.

Tom Megalis:
Oh the... Yeah. And I guess, that's the one Paul Mooney wrote, and it's beautiful. I think-

Dave Schwensen:
It's on there, and talk about controversial. That had to be what, like 1975?

Kelly Thewlis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Schwensen:
'76?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
When the first, I think it was the first season of Saturday Night Live. Because that's the only season, I think, Chevy Chase was on the show. And you do this on, even though it was after 11:30 at night, still.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, the job, it's a job interview bit, we're talking about.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. It's on NBC, national television. You're like, "What?"

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
I can't confirm or deny this, but I think one of the reasons why we've changed our format of this season, is because we want to do Richard Pryor and there's nothing, on this classic album, we can play of his. That's just sort of, how his language was, but it certainly all is worth looking into, if there's anyone listening to this who hasn't heard that stuff. They need to go back, you need to go back and listen to it.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, it's not for the squeamish. Okay?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. Don't listen to it with your kids in the car. Don't-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, don't... put on a pair of earplugs, ear buds, and listen to it. It's the kind of material, again, as a former club manager. It's the kind of thing, after the show, someone will say, "I need to see the manager."

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
"We were offended by what he said." Well, you should, read the ads. For mature audiences only. That's definitely Richard Pryor.

Tom Megalis:
We didn't talk much about his films later, but he did a lot of films.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And the one, which I kind of liked, was this Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Because, it was really personal.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He wrote it, didn't he?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, he-

Dave Schwensen:
[crosstalk 00:28:19] and directed it, [crosstalk 00:28:19]-

Tom Megalis:
directed-

Dave Schwensen:
... or produced it, whatever.

Tom Megalis:
And he's, as someone who's, I've directed films. And I think that watching... It was, I think he could have been a great director, as well. I think that film had moments where it was like... Because it was kind of a drama.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
It was a very personal film, but I thought, "Man, nice direction. Nice," he was good, man. I think his standup is probably what everybody will remember him for, obviously.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Because, Jo Jo Dancer, no one even talks about. Or, Which Way Is Up? I think, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, those are-

Kelly Thewlis:
Those are well known.

Tom Megalis:
He's funny. And he's good in those, but his concert films are it, probably, that...

Dave Schwensen:
We talk about him possibly being a director, or an actor. He had a lot of demons-

Kelly Thewlis:
Yes.

Dave Schwensen:
... he really did. And, the things I've read about him. Again, he missed an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, because-

Tom Megalis:
Oops.

Dave Schwensen:
... drugged out. When he got his big paychecks in Las Vegas, what did it go for? It was wine, women and song.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Piles of blow. Oh, no.

Kelly Thewlis:
You didn't-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, definitely. And it was just like, he lost so much time, and again, even setting himself on fire. And when he came back, people have said he was never really the same, when he came back.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He had that great special, we're talking about. He was so funny. He even ends it-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
... he says, "Thank you for your love. I know everyone's here. Thank you for coming out. But I also know the nasty stuff you were saying behind my back. All the joking-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, yeah. Oh-

Dave Schwensen:
And when he did that joke, and he lit the match.

Tom Megalis:
... and the matchbook.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And he holds his suit. "Richard Pryor, running down the street." Then he says, "Thank you. Good night." He gets off stage. After that, it kind of went downhill, fast.

Kelly Thewlis:
Well yeah, he even-

Tom Megalis:
Wasn't-

Kelly Thewlis:
... in 1986, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
He was [crosstalk 00:30:00], he... That's a pretty devastating diagnosis, and he still continued to perform afterwards, but it was rough.

Tom Megalis:
In a wheelchair, right?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
In a wheelchair.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, but I heard some of it was pretty bad. They would lead him onstage-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, boy.

Dave Schwensen:
... and he could just talk, for a little bit. Then he'd have to leave. There were one or two performances, they said, where he really picked up. And it was almost like the old Richard Pryor. But, for the most part-

Kelly Thewlis:
It was rough.

Dave Schwensen:
It was just like, let the audience see him for 10, 15 minutes, then get him off stage.

Tom Megalis:
No stamina.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
It wouldn't, he had no energy. It was gone. It was depleted. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, yeah.

Kelly Thewlis:
Well, despite all that though, he did... 1998, he received his first, the first ever recipient, of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is a pretty big deal, for comedy, now.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. Oh, yeah. [crosstalk 00:30:43]-

Kelly Thewlis:
He won Emmys, he won Grammy's, he really, he had... Critically, he was winning all the awards. But yeah, personally, he had a really rough time.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
People got to look back. If you're 20-something years old and your idol is, and I can understand this, Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock or, current guys. And they're amazing. Chappelle is amazing. But as Dave, you mentioned, there wouldn't be a Chappelle, or a Chris Rock, really without Richard. And people could dig back, and look at some of that stuff, and you can learn from it. And, it's just amazing.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
And, he was like no other star, comedy star, at the time.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
I just remember how, he was a rocket. And the biggest star, I think in Hollywood, or on the circuit in '70s. For sure.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Things influence each other. But he was a major one, Richard.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And he influences... As a painter and an artist, I just, he influenced me, as well. People go, "Oh, what artist influences you?" Well, no, it's guys like Richard Pryor. People like... It's creative people-

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
That just create worlds, and scenes and stories. That's what I love.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, they take a chance, and they go out on the edge.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
He did take a lot of chances, and he opened up his... Opened it up, for people to see. And it was, hilarious, obviously. But I think, through that opening up... Comedy is truth, a lot of times. When you're laughing, you're like, "Wait a minute. That's real. Actually, that's truthful. That's honest." And that's great.

Dave Schwensen:
Hey, I'll be honest, right now. I think we're out of time.

Tom Megalis:
What?

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh.

Tom Megalis:
We just got started, Dave.

Dave Schwensen:
You know, this Richard Pryor, this is like a 10 episode series here, is what we should have-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, it's ridiculous.

Dave Schwensen:
... because there's so much to talk about. He did so much, he was so important to the comedy industry, but we just touched on it today. And-

Tom Megalis:
Go look it up, kids. Go look it up, kids.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yep.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Anyway, listen, I'm going to say thank you, to both of you. Kelly Thewlis-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, my gosh.

Dave Schwensen:
... thank you.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, thanks for having me.

Dave Schwensen:
And Tom Mergalis.

Tom Megalis:
Oh. It's a pleasure.

Dave Schwensen:
Hey, it's always fun to talk with you guys.

Dave Schwensen:
All right. I'm Dave Schwensen, you've been listening to What's So Funny. And until we come back next time, keep laughing.

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