Publication Type: Individual PaperAbstract: He could say almost anything and not be offensive.
This paper, part of a project that examines the cultural impact and legacy of
Richard Pryor (1940-2005), focuses on his performance as host and creative impresario of his short-lived variety show on network television in 1977. The paper begins with a critical -biographical profile that attempts to place Pryors oeuvre in a broader social context. The paper proceeds to argue that his work in one of the most controversial and heavily censored television shows in network history was a prism that reflected a socially conscious critique of white power. The censors at NBC disagreed with Cicely Tyson, a friend and film co-star, about Pryors ability to offend. Several of the scripts were labeled offensive and never were aired. Others were heavily edited. Although it lasted for only four airings, Pryor and his multiracial crew of actors and writers managed to defy convention and to introduce new standards of comedic performance and racial representation. Kristal Brent Zook (1994) has noted that television is a discursive space for blacks because it can serve as a vehicle for intertextual and autobiographical dialogue. Pryor recognized this inherent power and attempted to use it. I want to do something significant, he stated. This paper uses a combination of media and performance theory and a critical Afrocentric perspective to examine how Pryorfor a brief whileoutwitted NBCs posse of censors to produce a provocative, entertaining social critique amidst the white noise of network television.