Richard Pryor offers up his one of his last great stand-up shows in Live on the Sunset Strip, which is probably the most well-known of his comedy routine videos. It came out after the infamous incident where he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine. That was a national news story so the audience is waiting for him to discuss it, so he does his usual schtick for the first hour, then goes deep with material on his issues. It’s a great example of comedy as therapy.
Shot by Haskell Wexler, a cinematography and director in his own right great who also worked on films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Medium Cool and many John Sayles films . You see Pryor at the end of his stand-up career, working in the medium that he was one of the alltime greats at, before going on to a long film career and an untimely death. The last 20 minutes are what really makes it an amazing routine that goes really dark, really fast. There’s also a great bit about his reaction to a trip to Africa.
It’s weirdly edited, with some cutaway shots of the audience that may not be from the same night. The cutaways are really the only flaw, as they sometimes feel removed from what Pryor is actually saying—over-the-top laughter to jokes that weren’t that kind of humour. There’s a case to be made that one of the reasons he packed in doing stand-up comedy is there wasn’t much further to go when you’ve laid your soul out there on stage for everyone to see. You’re not going to top it, so why bother?
It was directed by Joe Leighton, who was primarily known for his stage work on Broadway. It ended up being the third highest-grossing stand-up performance ever released.