Bookshots: 'Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him' by David Henry and Joe Henry

Bookshots: 'Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him' by David He

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Title:

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

Who wrote it?

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.

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.

Image of Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him
Author: David Henry, Joe Henry
Price: $6.00
Publisher: Algonquin Books (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 400 pages
Naturi Thomas-Millard

Review by Naturi Thomas-Millard

Naturi is the author of How to Die in Paris: A Memoir (2011, Seal Press/Perseus Books) She's published fiction, non-fiction and poetry in magazines such as Barrow St. and Children, Churches and Daddies. At Sherri Rosen Publicity Int'l, she works as an editor and book doctor. Originally from NYC, she now lives in a village in England which appears to have more sheep than people. This will make starting a book club slightly challenging.

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Comments

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast November 7, 2013 - 2:19am

"not sure anyone else could be Richard Pryor."

I can almost hear Chris Rock cussing you out for that Naturi ;)

But I get what you mean - Pryor is one of a kind. Though I would like to see Tristan Wilds take a stab at it if they ever make a movie bio of Pryor's life.

 

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones November 7, 2013 - 5:53am

There's only one man for the job when it comes to playing Richard Pryor in a film: Dave Chappelle.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life November 7, 2013 - 7:06am

I'd say you gotta go with an unknown. Commence the search!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 7, 2013 - 7:39am

Chappelle is a good choice. Rock if he could find his serious side. Maybe one of the Wayons? I actually SAW Pryor once, when I was going to school in Peoria. Man, he's one of the funniest men ever. Eddie Murphy is a close 2nd though. I remember listening to RAW—LISTENING to the album, not watching it on tv. I was laughing so much I couldn't keep making out with this girl in my friend Eric's basement. Pryor was a genius.

Turi's picture
Turi November 7, 2013 - 8:18am

Hmm, Dave Chappelle could work, but I agree that an unknown would be the best bet.

Cath, I adore Chris Rock, but that voice--eek!

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones November 7, 2013 - 9:08am

If you've ever seen Chappelle live, you'd realize he's the perfect candidate. The movement, the mannerisms, Chappelle worships Pryor. Richard, damn, you're lucky, Pryor was the best.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 7, 2013 - 9:39am

yeah, he shot by in a corvette, i think, with pryor on the plates, if my memory is correct. it was parked outside Jumes, this nice steakhouse and hotel. i was like, "Wait, was that Richard Pryor?" i knew he lived in town, but had never run across him. STIR CRAZY is a classic.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 November 7, 2013 - 10:20pm

Donald Glover? He has a more wholesome image than Pryor, but that could actually work to his advantage (playing against type).

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast November 8, 2013 - 1:12am

I'm going with Robin Williams. Or Meryl Streep, if she were looking for a fresh challenge.

So Richard - you can honestly say that Pryor is more fun than sex?

Debra Wells's picture
Debra Wells from New Jersey is reading "A Place At The Table" by Tom Colicchio November 8, 2013 - 3:21pm

I am a big Pryor fan, know most of his work and being twelve years younger than he was, I was aware of many of the twists and turns in his life.  Your review is great in format, is succinct and makes me want to buy and read this book.  I do hope that the authors will follow through with a movie, and Chappelle would be my first choice to portray this great artist.

Ryan Peverly's picture
Ryan Peverly from Ohio is reading The AEgypt Cycle by John Crowley November 8, 2013 - 7:21pm

Why has no one mentioned giving Pryor the "I'm Not There" treatment with multiple actors playing him? Wouldn't you love to see Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Steve Harvey and the ghost of Bernie Mac play him at different points of his career? God, the thought lights my pants on fire.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast November 11, 2013 - 1:04am

Ryan you are a genius.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 11, 2013 - 2:26pm

at that moment, Cath, YES! hard to believe. 

@ryan, i love that idea.