African-American Comedians Richard Pryor and His Influences Research Paper

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Richard Pryor was one of the most influential comedians of the 1970s and 80s. He rose to prominence in the early1970s, bringing a style that echoed elements of Dick Gregory and Redd Foxx, while serving as a counterpoint to Bill Cosby. Pryor's use of harsh language was heavily influential on the trade, and his style fit well with the social attitudes of the 70s.

Pryor grew up in the 1940 and 1950s in Illinois and had a troubled childhood in a racially-segregated part of the country. This influenced Pryor significantly, and by the time the civil rights movement gained steam he was in New York working on his standup. An early influence was Dick Gregory, who approached social issues in his comedy, and sough to change stereotypes of black people that existed in white America. A further influence during the 1960s was Bill Cosby, whose approach was more inclusive than confrontational, and Pryor was also influenced by Redd Foxx's bawdy humor, which undoubtedly resonated with Pryor given his upbringing in a brothel.

As Pryor's style coalesced, he found himself blending the social commentary of Gregory with the harsh language and bawdiness of Foxx. Cosby's influence was found in Pryor's desire to contrast Cosby's inclusive approach to shaping the image of African-American comedians by adopting a confrontational style.
Pryor was able to do this because by the 1970s social attitudes were changing in America that allowed for such an approach to work -- white audiences had more exposure to black culture and were more willing to embrace the dirtier side of life than they had been when Pryor started in the early 1960s. Furthermore, the stand-up medium was more conducive to thought development, which allowed Pryor to engage his audience on a higher level than other elements of black culture, including film and music, could at the time (Haggins, 2007).

As Pryor rose to prominence, his style began to influence other comedians, sowing the seeds for his lasting legacy today. As Rain Pryor (2013) notes, comedians develop personas over time, cultivating them through a variety of influences. Usually, the influence of prior comedians is strong in new comics. It is not surprising, then, that once Pryor found mainstream success his influence spread to later African-American comics like Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock.

Pryor was also influential on comedy as a whole. In the 1970s, he worked with many famous comedians who….....

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