Pryor Experience

UP FRONT

Comedian is chip off her father's block

October 02, 2005|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

Imagine growing up black and Jewish in Beverly Hills, Calif., during the 1970s and '80s.

Now imagine making jokes about growing up black and Jewish in Beverly Hills in the '70s and '80s - talking about things like walking into a beauty salon called "The Great Big Nappy Hair" and ordering a "Jew-fro."

That's the kind of in-your-face humor few performers other than, say, Richard Pryor, could get away with.

So it's definitely a point in her favor that Rain Pryor, the veteran stand-up comic's 36-year-old biracial daughter, is a chip off the old block.

The younger Pryor, who followed in her dad's comedic footsteps to a life of her own on stage, will be at Morgan State University Nov. 19 to talk about the confusions of race, religious identity - and (as if that weren't enough) the zany experience of growing up as Richard Pryor's kid as well. That has given her a uniquely hilarious perspective on the subject of race and family in America.

"My show is about coming to terms with both sides of who I am rather than being forced to choose one or the other," says Pryor, whose famous African-American father and Jewish mother divorced when she was 6 months old.

"In the era I grew up in there weren't a lot of kids around like me; it was an oddity, and the way the world viewed racial issues was very different from today," she adds. "The only things of color in my neighborhood back then were the cars people drove."

Pryor lived with her mother during the school year but spent holidays and summers with her father, where she got to know her five half-brothers and half-sisters. (Her older sister, Elizabeth, is the only one who's also biracial, though she and Rain have different mothers.)

In her act, Pryor finds many commonalities between blacks and Jews.

"For both of them, it's all food and family," she jokes. "The difference is, a Jewish family will guilt you to death when you get out of line, whereas a black family will just kill you."

She also had to absorb some of the bitter lessons from the history of both peoples' suffering.

"You get it from both sides," she recalls. "I found out about the Holocaust around the first time we had a cross burned on our lawn. I was 5 years old, and I was terrified."

It's those sort of memories that give a laughing-to-keep-from-crying bite to Pryor's act that recalls the mordant humor of her dad.

"I practice Judaism and I go to church," Pryor says matter-of-factly. "And I guess I [ticked] off both the blacks and the Jews, because I ended up marrying a German-Irish Catholic."

Pryor's show has been called funny, poignant and irreverent. But mostly it's just true, a provocative yet bracing tale of psychic survival related with gusto by someone who isn't afraid to tell it like it is.

Pryor performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Murphy Fine Arts Center, 2201 Argonne Drive. For ticket information, call 443-885-4443.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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