The Comedy Is Bittersweet in 'Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic'

The focus on the dark side of Pryor's life gives this documentary the feel of an epitaph rather than a celebration.

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic

Director: Marina Zenovich
Cast: Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Dave Chappelle, Don Cornelius, Jennifer Lee Pryor, Mike Epps, Whoopi Goldberg, Jesse Jackson, George Lopez, Paul Mooney, Lily Tomlin, Damon Wayans, Robin Williams
Length: 83 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Year: 2013
Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
UK Release Date: Import
US Release Date: 2015-02-03

In the late '60s and early '70s, subversive art wasn’t merely the stuff of avant-garde visuals and protest rock 'n' roll. Comedians like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor were on the cutting edge of a new, irreverent and often “offensive” (to some) kind of standup comedy that redefined what we thought of the art form.

The late Richard Pryor, the subject of the documentary Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic, was one of these alternative comedians who was constantly urged to tone his act down for wider acceptance. The tactic didn’t work for those who did the urging, or for Pryor himself. Omit the Logic details the hilarious comedian’s rise to the top of his genre, as well as his becoming a superstar actor from his earliest big breaks that. It may surprise many viewers to learn this breakthough didn’t come during the “Flower Power” years, but rather from around the same time the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan.

However, Omit the Logic is not a comedy documentary. Instead, it is a documentary about a comedian who was extremely funny as well as influential, but did not always have a happy life behind the scenes. In fact, if anything, Omit the Logic is more likely to omit laughter, as it focuses on Pryor’s complicated upbringing, false career starts, drug use, depression, multiple marriages and divorces (sometimes to the same women more than once), his struggles with and submission to multiple sclerosis (MS), and, of course, the infamous incident in which the comedian set himself on fire, nearly killing himself and destroying his body.

Director Marina Zenovich does bring forth many of Pryor’s own sound bites in which he openly jokes about many of these incidents and, like all of Pryor’s comedy, these bits are hilarious, but in context they form a bittersweet relief.

Originally airing on the BBC in 2013 before its US debut on the Showtime network, Omit the Logic necessarily contains no new contributions from Pryor himself, as the comic succumbed to MS back in 2005 at the age of 65. To tell the story of Pryor’s adult life, Zenovich employs a series of in-depth interviews (old and new) with both those who knew him well (including some of his ex-wives) and those who were heavily influenced by him. Mel Brooks, Dave Chappelle, Whoopi Goldberg, Jesse Jackson, Paul Mooney and more all tell stories about Pryor and these tales are cut into a sequence that gives a mostly comprehensive look at the life of Pryor, both in front of and away from his audience.

While the documentary is an emotional ride, sensitively handling so many of Pryor’s largest events, the focus on the sadder side of things does make the film into something of an epitaph more than a celebration of this very funny man. True, the tragic parts of his life are necessary to be told and impact the rest greatly; however this film does leave out certain major events.

The Richard Pryor Show (1977) is given some funny coverage, but Zenovich focuses only on his refusal to tone himself down for NBC censors, his discomfort with the show, and its cancelation. On the flip side, Pryor’s 1984 children’s television show for CBS, called Pryor’s Place, is given no mention whatsoever. Yes, Pryor’s Place was not among his bigger hits, but it does give a deeper knowledge of the man. While still succeeding as comedy’s arguably most profane standup, he hosted a children’s show with puppets that dealt with social issues, which also featured a younger actor portraying the young Richard years before Everybody Hates Chris (2005 -- 2009) debuted.

Omit the Logic does go back farther than most people might expect and covers his early comedy years in respectable detail. However, once his film career is explored, not only are the sadder points given more attention, but also much of this part of his journey is skipped over. Logically, Blazing Saddles (1974) is given deep exposure, as it was both Richard Pryor’s big break as a movie writer and his biggest casting disappointment, as he was removed from the film as an actor. Yet the well known and very successful Silver Streak (1976) is given scant mention, and Pryor’s follow-up films with co-star Gene Wilder are given virtually no coverage at all.

Similarly, while Pryor’s last few years and the tragedy of his fall to MS are covered in a sobering and even beautiful fashion, his Comedy Central special I Ain’t Dead Yet from 2003 is omitted completely, as is much of his activist work.

That said, these omissions are only evident when one knows a great deal about Richard Pryor. The actual viewing experience is both educational and enjoyable and at once tear-jerking and knee-slapping. In light of this, these lacking areas may be something of a strange nit to pick; however, with such a diverse and amazing life both professionally and personally, Pryor does deserve to have as many facets of his personality covered as possible in a documentary this otherwise touching and informative.

The DVD extras here amount to expanded and additional interviews from Brooks and Goldberg as well as Quincy Jones, Willie Nelson, David Steinberg, David Banks, and Lily Tomlin. Are these extras enough to warrant the price of buying the DVD? Well, they surely are welcome when coupled with this overall good quality documentary. After all, the more Pryor we can get, the better.






Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.