Richard Pryor

The Absurdity of Racism

In his early days as a comic, Richard Pryor would joke about his childhood in mid-20th century Peoria and its unofficial color line. “Peoria’s a model city,” he would say. “That means they’ve got the Negroes under control.” His experiences in Peoria were unique, but also exemplified the second-class status forced on many Black families in the Midwest.

Pryor’s parents, a pimp and a prostitute, divorced when he was young. He then lived with his grandmother, Marie Carter, who owned three houses in the city—two brothels and a nightclub. While there is hardship embedded in his story, Pryor was acutely aware of the absurdity inherent in it and its broader context, especially that his skin color could deny him the same rights as a white person. Pryor’s comedy career pushed boundaries to expose that absurdity and made him one of the most influential comics in history.


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