HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. PRYOR. Sorry, a little belated, as it was the 1st of the month. Mine is tomorrow. I am honored to share your birthday week. We get name checked on E! – it happens at the same time, along with Woody Allen and Walt Disney, but I like you the best. What can I say to thank you? How can you put laughter and salvation and the transcendental power to forget race, even for just a moment, the truth of the human condition made hilarious because of its fearlessness, the eternal power of your voice and the gratitude that I have for all you gave me and the world – in a box? Is there one big enough? I need a big ass bow on it and shit. Not one you stick on, but actually get a ribbon and tie on, with your finger in it making the bow old school correct. Do you want some Gevalia coffee or the flowers that they would send you once a month or maybe a vase with marbles in it? A huge ass Hershey’s chocolate kiss?
How can this girl send you a gift that is worthy of my love? Because my love is big. There is nothing that I can think of in the material world valuable enough that would represent the size of this love. So here it is.
I will hang onto the receipt in case you want to exchange it for something else. I don’t know, you might prefer D.L. Hughley’s love, or Gene Wilder’s love. I am just leaving you some options. I wouldn’t be offended in the least.
Mr. Pryor, I met you one time at this big benefit for some shit. The Hollywood players love the benefit even though we are not sure to whose benefit they be for, but they do benefit those that need publicity, so there we are. You took my hand and you looked me in the eye. We said nothing and that moment was everything. Paul McCartney kissed me that night too, told me I was a pretty girl, and I was elated, but I forgot about him when I saw you. I remember running to get to you, and then I was before you, my knees shaking, and hands sweating, thinking of how if you hadn’t done what you had done, the work you gave the world, the man you are – I wouldn’t exist, not in the way I do now, not in the way I wanted to, needed to. I might not even have lived. Thank you for my life, along with all the other things I am trying to thank you for.
I saw your movies, the first one “Live at the Sunset Strip,” changed my life, my destiny. It was the first time I realized who I was, and what I would be. I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up because I never saw anyone that made me want to grow up, and then there was you. You were telling your tales, making motherfuckers helpless with laughter in the aisles. Black people, white people, everyone, right at the time when we all had a hard time sitting together, we came to see you, because you were beyond race, you disarmed us, we couldn’t hang on to our guns because we were trying not to pee from laughing.
Historically, you were the bridge between the Civil Rights Movement and the America that wanted finally to be itself. The stories you told were the ones that united the Black Panther and the ‘honky,’ the feminists and the pimps, the playas and the fools, the us and the them. There were no more race war/battle of the sexes when you took the stage, there was just you, sweating like Muhammed Ali, because you were a fighter, but also a lover too, as you stopped our fighting, and started us on the idea that we could love each other. Because we laughed at the same things, we realized we had a lot more in common with each other than we thought. I count you among the others that brought change to the world that so badly needed it, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks – fuck it – Ghandi. You the man Mr. Pryor. As important as any founding motherfucking father, any “Give me liberty or give me death” fool. You should have money with your face on it. It should be a big ass bill too. Like the $1,000,000,000,000 bill should have you on the front. Even that wouldn’t be enough.
Thank you for the truth you told, the bravery that you had, the big balls and the brains to make the ways you almost took yourself out, killed yourself, fucking funny as fuck. How did you make the fact that you were dying from freebasing, even set yourself on fire, burning like a KKK cross running down the street – funny?!!!!!! The poet you are, the genius you are, the beauty you are – is worthy of shock and awe. You gave birth to the kind of comedy that is real, that is life, that loves the listener, loves the laugher, that has no bullshit, no front. You had the courage to be vulnerable, which nobody had, certainly not stand up comics – maybe the dude that sang “When you come to San Francisco, wear flowers in your hair,” whoever the fuck he was. He was vulnerable, but who gives a shit?
You were talking about the things that hurt you in life, your lovers, your past, your addictions that were taking you away from yourself, big Jim Brown who helped you and loved you and made us all wish we were Jim Brown because you held him in such high regard and you made his voice and character so full of heart and help, your monkey that the dog ate, and the dog that was sorry about it, who would stop chasing you for that day, just to mourn the loss with you, and we could laugh and cry with you. Mudbone, who broke the stereotypes that were so long held by white people about the Black man, who was a character not a caricature, who was a man not a cartoon, who was not blackface, but a man with a Black face. Mudbone was a genius and a player, a hustler and an honest man, a joker and a sentimental fool. You changed the way we viewed race. You changed the way we laughed. You changed the way America looked at Americans. You gave us new glasses. We could see ourselves as we actually were, just human and no different from each other, regardless of what color we were, who we loved, what we did, who we were, who we thought we were.
I owe a great debt to you, because I carry on what you did so beautifully, and I try to think “What would Richard Pryor do?” Many comics follow in your footsteps, but you got the huge shoes to fill. I got some big feet though, and I think I can do it. I am like a nasty Bigfoot Cinderella. Whenever I go on stage, I thank you, silently, in the dark velvet of the wings, because you gave me the blueprint of how to tell the truth and make it funny. You taught me to be a teacher and I am there at school every day. Sometimes I get a shiny red apple on my desk. Humbly, my wish is to be the one who goes forth and continues your work. I want to carry your torch and I will not set myself on fire. People who love you have said it. Seinfeld said to me once, “You are like Pryor at his best.” It was a compliment I couldn’t even get my head around. Who knew, that this little, confused, sad, ugly, crazy, unwanted, unloved Korean American girl from the cloudy side of San Francisco could one day be compared to you? “I have a dream” are the only words that come to mind.
Happy Birthday Mr. Pryor. I am out of words. All that comes now is love and tears, and one last thank you.