‘Richard Pryor undisputed champion of the world, greatest of all times, case closed, period, exclamation point.”
There are many who will agree with that pronouncement made by Dave Chappelle early on in “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic,” an informative and haunting new Showtime documentary about the legendary comedian-actor-writer premiering Friday at 9 p.m.
Without a doubt, fans will laugh once again at all the jokes they remember and anew at those that might have slipped past their radar from the various hugely influential comedy albums and concert films of the ’70s and ’80s that cemented Pryor’s name as a comic — one adept at making the deeply personal wholly relatable and injecting incisive social commentary while he was at it.
Hilarious film roles — of which Pryor had many, including “Stir Crazy” and “Silver Streak” — are recounted by costars and collaborators. His invaluable contributions to “Blazing Saddles” are remembered by Mel Brooks. The ways in which he broke ground for black actors and writers in Hollywood is celebrated. His often superb dramatic work (“Blue Collar,” “Lady Sings the Blues”) is given its due. His remarkable (and even more impressive in retrospect) breakthroughs on network television and in the comedy clubs are lauded.
Famous fans and peers, including Brooks, Robin Williams, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, as well as former lovers, lawyers, wives, and managers all weigh in on Pryor’s incredible story. (Though as far as acolytes go, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock feel notably absent.) And their tales are often chilling as they do not skimp on Pryor’s undoing by those self-destructive habits which led to his professional decline.
But “Omit the Logic” is by no means a simple laugh-riot recounting of Pryor’s personal and professional milestones. Given the rocky contours of those milestones, such an approach would be impossible. Yes, “Logic” will remind older viewers, and instruct younger ones, as to the many ways that Pryor, who passed away in 2005, was funny. But be prepared to be discomfited and provoked as well, because the film, directed by Marina Zenovich, does not flinch from the darkness in Pryor’s life.
And there was so much darkness it’s no wonder that, to paraphrase Bruce Cockburn, Pryor felt the need to kick at that darkness until it bled daylight in the form of healing, community-creating laughter. That Pryor was so successful in doing so feels miraculous.
Most fans can recite chapter and verse of Pryor’s demons and the bad choices they informed — from multiple marriages and infidelities, to run-ins with the law, his substance abuse problems and, of course, the horrifically fiery suicide attempt — which are all recounted here.
When those demons are traced back to an abusive childhood spent in a whorehouse (where his mother and “aunties” were literally pimped out by his father, and his grandmother ran the joint), it doesn’t even take a dime store psychoanalyst to make the leap to a troubled soul with a desire to create joy and self-medicate.
At only 85 minutes, the film could definitely have gone a little deeper both personally (his children are given almost no screen time whatsoever and they likely could offer an interesting perspective) and into specific films. But by itself, “Logic” is a captivating warts-and-all overview.
Given Pryor’s own proclivity for brutal honesty in his comedy and for pushing the limits of both himself and his audiences, the film doesn’t feel like exploitation, especially since many of the revelatory passages are in Pryor’s own words from interview excerpts. Anyone who saw “Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling” knows that Pryor had a fearlessness, a compulsion even, for sharing his story, “Omit the Logic” continues that tradition.Sarah Rodman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman