The comedy albums of Richard Pryor -- Bob Cannon picks the must-have discs from the late comedian

By Bob Cannon
December 16, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

For someone so prolific, Richard Pryor has surprisingly few titles on disc. Most of his early work was chopped into hit-and-miss Laff Records albums like Insane and Black Ben the Blacksmith, only some of which are still available in their original form. Luckily most of the material has been repackaged into a few winning collections. Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974) (Rhino, 2005) These two discs restore Pryor’s Laff routines to their original state, and trace his transformation from a slightly naughty Cosby wannabe (”Rumpelstiltskin”) to raunchy comic icon (”Whorehouse”). Evolution includes his hard-to-find second album, ”Craps” (After Hours), where you can almost hear a new comedic barrier fall with each track. He was good here, and on the path to becoming great.

…And It’s Deep Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992) (Warner Archives/ Rhino, 2000) How can one man be so funny for so long? Rhino’s nine-disc boxed set includes Pryor’s genre-shaping, Grammy-winning ’70s albums, audio versions of his three concert films, and over an hour of outtakes. Along the way, we hear him grow from a stand-up who offered inspired observations into a performer who turned his own flaws into transcendent comedy.

The Anthology 1968-1992 (Warner Archives/Rhino, 2002) If you don’t want to drop $80 on Deep, here’s the best-of version containing early pieces like ”Super Nigger,” two Mudbone monologues, and confessions about his heart attacks and ”freebasing accident” (”Catching on fire is inspiring”). Most heartbreaking: a 1992 performance by a weakened Pryor riffing on MS (”This f—s with your johnson!”) — a reminder that his comedy wasn’t always pretty.

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