Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic debuts tonight on Showtime at 9 p.m. Eastern.
It seems a bit strange that there hasn’t been a proper Richard Pryor documentary until this new Showtime production—Pryor is widely considered the greatest stand-up comedian of all time, and he’s been dead nearly a decade. But, as Omit The Logic proves, cramming Pryor’s life into feature length is an incredibly difficult task, and at 83 minutes, it can’t hope to do a thorough job.
Still, it offers a compacted glimpse at a life that was intense, painful, and oftentimes incredibly joyous. Pryor wasn’t a guy who did things halfway—and least not after a comedic epiphany he had in Las Vegas—which meant that his comedy was unfiltered and his relationships were intensely rocky. (For quick evidence, just see onscreen titles that read “wife number 4 & 7” and “wife number 5 & 6.”)
Pryor’s early comedy years get short shrift, which makes sense: He worked relatively clean and straight for years before deciding—onstage, in front of Dean Martin, legendarily—that he wasn’t being true to himself. That led to his greatest work, which—the documentary implies but never comes right out and says—was on stage. There is no Richard Pryor movie that allows his genius free reign, and lots of them are crap. (He thought so, too: When Johnny Carson asked him what Moving was about, he replied, “About two hours too long.”)
But oh those stand-up routines—the most powerful, honest, soul-baring, and flat-out hilarious there have ever been. And maybe that’s why a documentary film—or even his own autobiographical film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling—can only go so far: Pryor revealed his entire life one story at a time, and the best way to understand his life is to simply listen to his stand-up catalog in chronological order. (A new box set, No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert, out June 11, offers a pretty complete look, including his excellent concert films.)
Which isn’t to say that Omit The Logic isn’t worth your time: The Richard Pryor that lived on stage was the most joyous one—the one whose jokes didn’t just mask dark feelings, they actually mitigated them. This doc goes deeper into his real-life miseries (apparently too far—initial cuts were reportedly much too depressing): It includes a post-suicide-attempt interview in which he says that his attempt was actually successful, that “That person’s dead… He was a horrible man.” And then there’s the trail of jilted friends, lovers, and business partners that Pryor seemed to cast aside on whims, not to mention the story of his final years spent wracked by multiple sclerosis.
But even all of that—not to mention cocaine purchased by the kilo—doesn’t serve to undo any of the legend. Everyone interviewed for Omit The Logic seems both awed and disappointed by Richard Pryor, with the former outweighing the latter by a significant margin. (It should be noted that only two of his ex-wives and one of his many children appear; the others might have had harsher stories.) It’s a fascinating, sad, but ultimately uplifting look at a man who was absolutely perfect at one thing, and flawed at many others.
- Omit The Logic was directed by Marina Zenovich, who made Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, and Pryor’s final wife (she was numbers four and seven) exec-produced.
- Right at the top of the doc, Dave Chappelle calls Pryor “the greatest of all time,” and Robin Williams says seeing Pryor was “like saying you saw Coltrane play.”
- There are some great old interviews in Omit The Logic, including appearances with Dinah Shore and Barbara Walters, but they’re frustratingly quick snippets. Off to YouTube to see more!