28 December 2007

Pryor Precedent

Great article in the Times today about Chris Rock and his upcoming New Year's show. I've been thinking about Rock lately in light of Dave Chappelle's mostly MIA status. It reminds me of an interesting Rock/Chappelle moment from when a good friend of mine was in UW-Madison's course Black Music and American Cultural History (which was created by the visionary Craig Werner, who taught the summer session of the class that I took, once told me I'd done a nice job on an especially tough midterm, is buddies with my friend Eric over at Streaming Media, and gave a killer introduction for Michael Eric Dyson when he spoke at Madison this fall [the gem, when mentioning that the intro to Dyson's new Know What I Mean? was written by "a guy you may have heard of" named Jay-Z: "That's a pretty good blurb. The best blurb I ever got was Michael Eric Dyson."]).

My friend tells me that someone in the class made the comment that Dave Chappelle seemed like "the new Richard Pryor. " The TA responded that Chris Rock "would be sorry to hear that," since that was a role he had aspired to. It made me realize that while I'm a fan of both of these heirs apparent, I know embarrassingly little about Pryor beyond some superficial stuff: that honky sketch with Chevy Chase, Silver Streak, the cameo in The Muppet Movie, the mention in "Chocolate City" (a song Werner introduced me to), and one of the documentaries--the one where his wife tells the story about the time she tried using the n-word.

As I was doing a little research on Pryor and Chappelle v. Rock, I learned that Pryor himself had actually answered the question (his ruling: Chappelle). I also learned a hell of a lot more, mostly from an excellent article by William Jelani Cobb at seeingblack.com (not to be confused with this Cobb, who I occasionally read). Cobb's distinction about Pryor and Chapelle's primary "concern[] with humanizing Black folk" is key to the debate, if there even is much of one given that perhaps the most appropriate judge has already ruled and, as Cobb points out, is sadly no longer available for comment.

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