Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him. As he puts it: “It’s an illuminating look at the life and times of the greatest comedian of the twentieth century. There was only one Richard Pryor and there will never be one another.”
David Henry is a screenwriter, and his brother Joe Henry is a songwriter/singer as well as a music producer. Furious Cool is their first book. They are also at work on a screenplay based on Pryor’s life and career.
BOOKPEOPLE: Well, the first question has got to be the one that leaps forward, the elephant in the room so to speak: what motivated you to write a biography of Richard Pryor? Was it challenging to write? Were there any racial, cultural and socio-economic differences that made it difficult to connect to your subject?
DAVID & JOE HENRY: When we were in our early teens, there was no one cooler than Richard Pryor—he and Bob Dylan. We didn’t entirely understand this at the time, but their LPs were bringing us news from a world that thrived deep beneath the surface of the one we knew; one we’d only heard rumblings of. When he was alone onstage with a microphone in his hand, Richard Pryor was absolutely fearless and frightening and irresistible all at the same time. There was no one like him. No one else even came close. But we recognized him instantly as a kindred spirit.
At the outset, we both had serious doubts about our credentials to take on this project, whether we had the right to present our version of Richard Pryor in such a format and at such length. And then at some point along the way we both noticed that those doubts had disappeared. Legitimately or not, it no longer worried us.
BP: You state that the book evolved out of a movie you guys were going to make about Richard Pryor. Is the movie still in development or does the book exist as a replacement for that film?
DJH: Our work on the book has been so consuming, it didn’t leave us with much time or energy to simultaneously continue with developing the movie. It also allowed us to explore and present far more of what interested us about Richard Pryor and his world than we can fit into a three-act screenplay. But we plan to go back to it.
BP: You and your brother delved really deep into the history of and life of Richard Pryor. Is there anything you discovered that changed your opinion of Pryor for the better or for the worse?
DJH: When we began talking to people who were close to Richard Pryor, we began to worry that the things we were hearing might diminish him irreparably in our eyes. But that didn’t happen. We love Richard Pryor. His personal failings and the atrocious ways he sometimes treated the people close to him demonstrate how wounded he was as a human being. It demonstrated, too, how desperately he needed love, yet could never trust that anyone really loved him.
BP: Simply put, what is your favorite Richard Pryor album and what is your favorite Pryor film?
DJH: The film that best captures Richard’s own genius as a comedian and performer is without question the original Richard Pryor: Live In Concert, filmed in Long Beach in 1979. It is not only the greatest filmed document from his zenith period, but remains as well the greatest piece of stand-up ever captured to celluloid by anybody. Pauline Kael said that it was the greatest single performance she’d ever seen or ever hoped to see. Watch it and tell us she’s wrong.
And from roughly the same era, his seminal Is It Something I Said…?—with nearly 20 minutes of the album given over to his Mudbone character—stands as a high-water mark.
Copies of Furious Cool are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.