I think writers should watch more Richard Pryor. I watched part of Live On The Sunset Strip back in college--or rather part of it. I actually didn't think it was that funny. Looking back on it now, a large part of the problem was that I came up on Eddie Murphy Raw and Def Comedy Jam. In other words, I watched it wanting to laugh from beginning to end.
Yesterday, I rewatched Sunset Strip on a lark, and thought on it, and realized that one-way of watching the film is not to think of Pryor as a stand-up comic, but as a theater dude doing a comedic one man show. Sunset Strip is really funny, don't get me wrong. But there are moments of great seriousness. It felt like memoir.
The chief tool is Pryor's vulnerability, and a Niebuhrian humility. (Can you tell I read the Irony Of History in the last year? Can you tell I really like that word?) Pryor is not so much commenting on the world, as he's commenting on how the world (God?) keeps inverting his own assumptions. He goes to prison talking black pride, but comes out thinking "Thank God, we got prisons." He picks up a hitch-hiker in Africa and is offended by his odor, but then finds that the African is so offended by Pryor's odor that he asks to be let out the car. He talks about trying to do how his "scary black guy" doesn't actually work on all white people.