Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to 1975 when the legendary Richard Pryor graced the stage of Saturday Night Live. He was the kind of brilliant and unpredictable comedian who made you think, “Would NBC ever give him his own sketch comedy show?” Well, guess what? Two years later, they did just that!

The birth of The Richard Pryor Show was quite humble, starting as “The Richard Pryor Special?” It was a one-time sketch and variety extravaganza that aired on May 5, 1977. Pryor, a charming Emmy-winner for his work on Lily Tomlin’s 1973 CBS special, Lily, took a page from the sketch comedy book and spun it in his unique way. Picture him in a fancy tuxedo, all set to deliver his network-approved monologue. But then, here comes the fun part: he got sidetracked by a bunch of chatty oddballs, brought to life by the talented Glynn Turman, Shirley Hemphill, and LaWanda Page. They all pushed Pryor into a daydream about the kind of comedy he’d rather be doing. It was like a friendly comedy rollercoaster ride through Pryor’s imagination!

Richard Pryor had a grand plan in mind – he wanted to stir things up. His very first network special began with a friendly twist; picture Pryor amidst a group of shirtless Black men on a slave ship (even John Belushi made a cameo), and guess what? Pryor gets singled out for the ultimate punishment – working for NBC!

As the show unfolds, you’ll find Pryor slipping into some larger-than-life characters (you’ll love his hilarious take on flamboyant religious charlatans), poking fun at current events (he even throws on a military uniform to give an NBC-style response on behalf of the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin), and satisfying his fondness for portraying ornery, yet wise old Black men. There’s even a fun twist as Pryor gets into double duty, treating himself to a shoeshine and some life wisdom along the way. It’s like hanging out with a good friend who’s got a knack for making you laugh.

There was a touching moment that featured elegantly dressed Black women of all shades reciting Langston Hughes’ heartfelt tribute to Black beauty, “Harlem Sweeties.” Now, they didn’t mention Hughes as the author, which might leave newcomers a tad puzzled. But it was a sign that Pryor’s special wasn’t about slowing down for anyone.

Watch a clip from The Richard Pryor Show

And who could forget this sketch? In 1977, Pryor took the stage for his variety show in a role that turned heads – America’s first Black president. At a press conference, President Pryor was all cool and composed until a reporter from “Jet” magazine dropped a bombshell by asking if he’d nominate the radical Black Panther icon Huey Newton as the FBI director. That’s when Pryor’s character did a complete 180, going from calm to militant in a split second. He even got into a scuffle with a reporter who made fun of his mom and jokingly revealed his plans to have White mistresses in the White House. It was like watching a friendly, down-to-earth comedy sketch where the unexpected takes center stage.

Watch a clip from The Richard Pryor Show

In this lighthearted sketch, Pryor’s portrayal of America’s first Black president foreshadowed some of the challenges faced by Barack Obama. It also brought attention to the lack of Black quarterbacks, coaches, and owners in the NFL. It was like a casual conversation with friends, where they’re discussing the world of politics and sports over a few drinks.

The Richard Pryor Show, believe it or not, landed in the 86th position out of 104 shows during the 1977-78 network TV season. Not exactly a shocker, considering the show’s fearless content and NBC’s marketing efforts that seemed about as committed as a cat to a bath.

This show was like a wild child during the “family hour” established by the FCC in 1975. It gleefully ignored the vague and unenforceable rules about family-friendly programming, probably playing a small part in the demise of that experiment. But here’s the kicker – for those in the know, Pryor’s audacious but short-lived network sketch comedy venture was like a hidden treasure chest of inspiration. It’s the kind of comedy gold mine that paved the way for later boundary-pushing sketch series like The Chappelle Show or Key and Peele. It’s like finding a comedy time capsule with a side of humor!

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