The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection: Uncensored is the best DVD release of the year, and it's not even a close competition. Anyone who enjoyed Pryor's distinct brand of comedy will salivate over the immense amount of material assembled in this 13-disc set. You get more than 26 hours of material, from feature films to TV specials to talk show appearances. I don't know how Time Life managed to pull this together, but as someone who grew up watching Pryor, I'm so glad they did.
Volume 1 contains all four of the concert movies – 1971's Live & Smokin', 1979's Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, 1982's Live on the Sunset Strip, and 1983's Here and Now. Obviously, all are classic performance films, but the standout might be Sunset Strip, as it finds the comedian addressing the famously tragic incident in which he caught fire. Those last 20 minutes are electrifying.
Also in this first volume is never-before-released footage from Pryor's first film, Uncle Tom's Fairy Tales. This provocative work was screened once in 1968, then never shown again. In an almost hour-long retrospective, director Penelope Spheeris (who later made Wayne's World) takes us through the controversy surrounding the project. If there's one specific section that makes The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection a must-own, this is it. An interview with the comedian's widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, is included on the same disc.
The fifth and sixth discs in this volume are TV-related. The Richard Pryor Special? from 1977 is here, as are four episodes of The Richard Pryor Show. This controversial NBC series co-starred Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, and John Witherspoon. Deleted scenes from the show accompany the episodes. Although short-lived, you really get a sense of how Pryor pushed the boundaries of what television was doing at the time. It's no wonder he made the network brass nervous.
Volume 2 is just as packed. You get four episodes of The Merv Griffin Show from the 1960s on which Pryor was a guest. They're followed on the second disc by three episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from the '70s. One thing people may not remember was that the comedian had his own children's show, Pryor's Place, that ran for a season on CBS in 1984. Five episodes of that program are on the third disc. Guests include Lily Tomlin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Willie Nelson.
The fifth disc in Volume 2 is the autobiographical 1986 feature film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, which Pryor co-wrote and directed. Although not a huge box office hit, the movie is significant in Pryor's career, as it represents him attempting to come to terms with the demons of his life, including drug abuse and a troubled upbringing. It's absolutely worth seeing.
“Last Stand-up Sitting Down” is hosted by Jennifer Lee Pryor and presents home video footage of some of her late husband's final comedy performances. His health had deteriorated to the point where he had to be seated on stage, hence the title. Even in a frail state, he still had the ability to earn huge laughs. An American Cinematheque tribute, a Dick Cavett Show appearance, and the star-studded homage Richard Pryor: I Ain't Dead Yet, #*%$#@!! follow it up.
The final disc in Volume 2 has the 82-minute Showtime documentary Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, directed by Emmy winner Marina Zenovich. Mike Epps, Mel Brooks, Dave Chappelle, and others dissect Pryor's distinct influence on the world of comedy and how he inspired a legion of young comedians. After that is a series of interviews with celebrity admirers, including Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones, David Steinberg, and more. They offer hilarious and touching personal observations about their friend.
Volume 3 is a single disc, the 2019 I Am Richard Pryor, which is part of the Paramount Network's I Am... series. This 92-minute documentary has still more friends and colleagues remembering the comedy legend, in addition to copious clips of his work.
What makes The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection: Uncensored so valuable is that the breadth of material presented gives a magnificent overview of its subject's career. You can visibly see how many areas of entertainment he conquered. That adds to your appreciation of his talent. The box set also comes with a collector's booklet with personal photos, diary entries, tour notes and more. It further illuminates the profound impact of his work.
Beautifully packaged and carefully curated, this extraordinary DVD set belongs in the collection of any serious comedy fan. It's available exclusively at TimeLife.com/RichardPryor.
The Richard Pryor Collection: Uncensored is unrated, but contains adult language and drug content.