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BOOKSHOTS: The man they called 'Dark Twain'

Furious Cool - David Henry, Joe Henry



Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him


Who wrote it?


David Henry and Joe Henry. David's a screenwriter and Joe's a songwriter/singer/producer. The multitalented brothers are at work on a script based on Pryor's life.


Plot in  box:


The highs and lows of the trail-blazing black comedian, whose storytelling genius earned him the title "Dark Twain".


Invent a new title for this book:


Richard Pryor: He Didn't Start the Fire


Read this if you liked:


The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics by Phil Berger, Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences by Richard Pryor.


Meet the book's lead:


Richard Pryor, the consciousness-raising, drug-taking funnyman who forced America to face its demons while being hounded by his own.


Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:


After watching his famous characters such as Mudbone, and the early SNL skit "Word Association" with Chevy Chase, there might be an actor who could play Richard Pryor, but not sure anyone else could be Richard Pryor.


Setting: would you want to live there?


LA, Berkeley and New York in the 60's and 70's—um, shyeah!

Segregated Peoria, Illinois in the 1940's—not so much.

Hollywood, at any time—not on a bet.


What was your favorite sentence?


You can't talk about fucking in America. People say you're dirty. But if you talk about killing somebody, that's cool. I don't understand...I'd rather come.


The Verdict:


In Furious Cool's introduction, David and Joe Henry state that they weren't out to write yet another cradle-to-grave bio of the beloved late comedian, who was also a gifted actor and writer. Their aim was to craft a book that would be pleasing to long-time fans and the uninitiated (like myself).


Richard Pryor III was born in 1940, the son of a prostitute. (His grandma owned the brothel.) Less than half a century later, he would go on to co-star in Superman III, making 1 million dollars more than Superman himself. In between, we are witness to Pryor's transition from a misunderstood youth in a dysfunctional family to an accomplished artist, all while America itself is undergoing its own tumultuous changes. We witness how the people in his segregated neighborhood would become the characters he was most famous for; follow him through the heady days in the Village and LA, as stand-up entered its Golden Era. Pryor, interestingly enough, wanted to be like one of the most successful stand-ups from that era, Bill Cosby. Anyone who has seen Pryor live will know that the potty-mouthed comedian is the polar opposite of Cosby, and Furious Cool allows us to watch as young Pryor, fed by the audience's wild applause (and sometimes shocked silence), grows comfortable in his skin.


Furious Cool is not a perfect book. Though the bibliography shows it to have been exhaustively researched, the genesis of many important relationships and events seem to have been glossed over. Occasionally the writing, though well-executed, seemed episodic. Like a drug trip where you remember what happened, but not why.

However, what makes this bio ultimately sing is the authors' in-depth chronicling of Pryor's triumphs against the strangleholds of Hollywood and society itself, and his determination not to be misunderstood in a world he understood only too well.


Bookshots review written by Naturi Thomas