Monday, December 19, 2005

I Laughed ‘Til I Cried

“These two niggas wanted to have a contest to see who had the biggest dicks in the world, right. Now, see they weren’t freaks or nothing they didn’t want everyone looking. So they went looking for somewhere to have their contest. And then they got to the Golden Gate Bridge and one nigga looked at the other nigga and said: ‘Man I got to take a leak.” And the other nigga said, “yeah me too.’

So he pulls out his dick and starts taking a leak and all of a sudden one nigga says: “Goddamn, this waters cold…”

And the other nigga said, ‘yeah and it’s deep too.”

Those words are from the immortal, the irrepressible and perhaps the most important comedian of our time: Richard Pryor. The first time I heard that joke I was eleven years old. I was wearing a pair of headphones because I didn’t want anyone in the house to know what I was listening to. I knew I was listening to something that I shouldn’t have been listening to. But I couldn’t help it. I had to do it. The albums were all over the house. Sitting there playing those records I laughed so hard until I cried. I had never had that experience before.

I memorized dozens and dozens of Richard Pryor routines – I should’ve been a comedian with the way I was obsessed with those records. But learning those records were a vital part of my adolescence. They were an important part of what bonded me to my buddies: Rodney Loche and Mark Standfield. The three of us laughed so much as teenagers – I can hardly remember a time when we didn’t laugh. We all loved Mudbone – a character Richard would bring to life in “Which Way Is Up?”

Mudbone was an old man from ‘Pee-ora, Illinoy’, he was probably an old wino - well, yeah that's what Mudbone was - a wino. He spoke with a Southern drawl and cracked wise about any and every subject you could think of. My favorite Mudbone stories were from the "Bicentennial Nigger" album. Mudbone was the character that talked about a guy named ‘Cockeyed Junior’ (Cockeyed Junior would say: Nigga pick that up…and four or five niggas bend down) my stupid ass – I nicknamed the janitor at our high school (Hayward High School) Cockeyed Junior, because, well, he was cockeyed. Sorry to say, I never learned the janitor’s name – I grew too accustomed to calling him Cockeyed Junior. I remember once me and my friend Mark were in the cafeteria and one of us, I can’t remember who, threw something at the garbage can and missed. Well, here comes the janitor – and guess what he says? Hey pick that up! Well, me and Mark being as silly as we were, we stood there pointing at ourselves and looking at him, trying to figure out who he was talking to, because that eye was looking everywhere but at us.

Richard Pryor’s comedy was kind of like a gateway or a peephole into an adult world that my young mind would’ve had no idea about had it not been for him. His routines about cocaine – while funny, were often scary. They were just scary enough that I never ever ever never touched cocaine in my life. Just by listening to him talk about the pipe calling him from another room, was enough for me to say – nah I don’t want any part of it.

Sex…well that was a different story. His routines about sex were dead on. Like this:
“You ever get with a girl you really been wanting for a long time and your dick don’t move? You be sittin’ there sayin’ to yourself ‘Oh God, not now. Please let it remain heavy if not hard.”

You don’t appreciate a joke like that until that shit really happens to you.

An artist if he is a sincere artist shares his joys, pain and sorrow with the audience. There are very few contemporary artists that do that. Most artists today – especially male artists want to depict themselves as super lovers, super players, super ballers, super thugs all on some souped up nonsense. These guys work day and night trying to live up to the myth of the super black man - when they can’t. If an artist is honest with himself, he understands he – and the world around him, are not a perfect world. We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world, trying to make sense out of the perfect universe that God has created. But God, who is probably the funniest comedian of all, can be compared with an absentee landlord, who leaves you to figure out how to clean up the mess he made. The artists’ job is to paint a picture (with words, sounds, or drawing) of that mess and hold it up to society.

Richard Pryor drew a picture of our society on a canvas in a way that we can all understand. And when he drew those pictures – they made me laugh until I cried.

I’ll miss you…

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