In his solo show about comedian Richard Pryor, Khalil Muhammad has figured out a novel way both of presenting the man’s life and giving a taste of his comic approach. Muhammad doesn’t portray Pryor, but rather one of Pryor’s best-known characters, Mudbone, a drunken native of Tupelo, Mississippi. In the first half of the 90-minute show, Mudbone tells an elaborate tall tale (that includes a bawdy encounter with fiery abolitionist John Brown) that is supposed to be about how he moved to Peoria, Illinois, which is where Pryor was born. Mudbone speaks in the style of mid-period Pryor – full of explicit sexual humor and profanity. “If the words fuck, shit, pussy, n….r or bitch offends you in any kind of way, just get up and go ‘cause there’s gonna be a whole lot of that tonight…”
Eventually, Mudbone starts talking about Pryor, whom he says he first met when Pryor was a child hanging out in his father’s pool hall in Peoria. Without dropping his wino character, he offers a Cook’s tour of Pryor’s life and career – how he dropped out of school at 14, got kicked out of the army for stabbing a white officer who had called him a racist epithet, began his stand-up career as a family-friendly comic in the Bill Cosby mode, But then…
“Richard booked his biggest gig yet, headlining in Las Vegas. Folks, the who’s who of Hollywood, who’s who of Shit flew into Sin City just to see him perform. They filled the room to capacity, the boy got on stage and just minutes into his act the motherfucker stands there in a daze, blurts “what the fuck am I doing here?” and walks off the stage.”
He spent the next two years in Berkeley, California and emerged “in tuned with the real Richard Pryor.”
The “real”, raw Richard Pryor was an immense success, but after a trip to Africa, he changed again. “From that moment he vowed not to call another black person a N…r ever again.”
“Pryor Truth” doesn’t end with the comedian’s death (he died in 2005 at age 65), but it makes clear his self-destruction. The frame of the piece is that we are in Peoria waiting for him to perform, but he’s a no-show, so Mudbone steps in.
Khalil Muhammad’s impersonation of a Richard Pryor character as performed by Richard Pryor is uncanny, sure to appeal to prior Pryor fans. But the choice to focus in this way, while justifiable, does not make us feel the full force of Pryor’s comic gifts and his charisma. Maybe that wouldn’t be possible. It says something that the most compelling moment in “Pryor Truth” for me was the video of the actual Richard Pryor singing the blues song “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out.” It’s not even funny.
Under St. Marks
Remaining show times
MON 22 @ 4:45 || THU 25 @ 4:45 || SAT 27 @ 8