In a world of curses and gifts, being the child of a celebrity can certainly be a mixed blessing. On one hand, there are the perks of fame and materialism, if one is into such things. However, those same perks can also become minefields, enticing parent and child into areas from which it may be very difficult to escape.
In her one-woman show, Fried Chicken and Latkes, Rain Pryor—daughter of legendary comedian Richard Pryor—tackles the highs and lows of growing up. The show, which runs Jan. 27-28 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, does not just look at class-related issues; being half-Black and half-Jewish, Rain also examines aspects of race while being raised in one of the poshest areas in California.
Recently, Rain spoke with Windy City Times and Identity about her childhood, her show and, of course, her iconic father.
Windy City Times: Tell me about your show.
Rain Pryor: The show is about my life growing up Black and Jewish in the 1970s and '80s and it's about the racism I had to go through. I also introduce people to my family, including my dad, my mother and my grandmothers. [ The show ] definitely shares their points of view about it was like to either have a Black and Jewish granddaughter or daughter. It's also about how I became my own person and identified with both. I don't have to choose between the two.
WCT: On a scale of 1 to 10—with 1 being 'not at all' and 10 being 'extremely'— how surreal was it to grow up Black and Jewish in Beverly Hills?
RP: Ten [ Laughs. ] When you think about that era, being Black and Jewish was, like, taboo. There weren't many people like me around. European Jews at that time were not accepting that someone could be dark-skinned and Jewish.
In my show, I describe Black Jews, including people from Tunisia, Morocco and Ethopia—with skin darker than mine and hair thicker than mine. But at that time, it was hard for people to conceive that someone could be [ both ] , and that was out of fear. These are people who fled Germany and Poland because they were being persecuted for being Jewish. They were protecting their culture and it was hard for them to see outside of the box.
I was just a child then, of course, and really didn't understand. Now, I do. Look ... who else would end up having dinner with [ Nation of Islam leader ] Louis Farrakhan? I got to talk to him about being Black and Jewish. As a Black woman, I understand his perspective, although I don't always like how he puts things. As a Jewish woman, I also understand the other perspective. But there are ways to bridge the two together.
WCT: What actually motivated you to enter show business?
RP: You know what? I've always been a performer since the time I was born, I think. With my dad being the greatest comedian of all time ( as far as I'm concerned ) and my mom being a performer, all I knew was show business. My grandfather was Danny Kaye's manager for 35 years. I didn't grow up in a household of doctors or lawyers; I grew up in a house of artists.
WCT: Now I'm trying to imagine Richard Pryor as a doctor.
RP: Yeah, it's frightening. He tried it in a movie [ Critical Condition ] and it didn't work. [ Laughs. ]
WCT: How would you describe your comedic style?
RP: I would say it's a cross between Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler and John Leguizamo. It's a combination. I'm not a 'set-up, punch, set-up, punch' stand-up comedian. I'm like my dad in the sense that I tell stories. I also sing [ in the show ] .
WCT: Is there any topic in comedy that's off limits?
RP: For me, yes. There's smut and there's real smut, and real smut is off limits.
WCT: What about the movie The Aristocrats?
RP: That's real smut. You pull that out when you have nothing else and you're dying. [ Laughs. ] It's embarrassing to me; I'm still a prude in some areas.
WCT: You recently came back from Hawaii. I saw on your Web site that Hawaii was your dad's favorite place to vacation. Is that part of the reason you went there?
RP: Yes. I went to our place where I spent a lot of my childhood with him, Hana Maui, and did my own service on behalf of my brothers and sisters with people who actually cared about him and who got to see the real Richard Pryor. It was also [ a chance to get away from ] the Hollywood B.S. and that horrible funeral that was here for him.
WCT: Why was it horrible?
RP: It's like the person who gave the service was a cross between Last Comic Standing and Disney on Crack. Her language was foul and wasn't representative of who my dad was and it wasn't respectful of his family.
WCT: Tell me one thing about your father that people didn't really 'get' about him.
RP: My dad was a really kind and gentle man. He was also a magical man. His children and the people of Hana got to see that. He opened up his home to people there— something you can't really do in L.A.
Many of the people who were around my dad and who are trying to keep his legacy alive are sycophants, and they always want something. Rarely did they ever get to see the pure soul of this tragic, magical genius. I got to see both sides of him—and yell at him for both. [ Laughs. ]
WCT: If you had to describe your relationship with him in one word, what would it be?
RP: [ Pauses. ] Extraordinary. He was the love of my life.
Centre East presents Rain Pryor's Fried Chicken and Latkes on Jan. 27-28 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Tickets $37; ( 847 ) 673-6300 or visit www.centreeast.org .
— Last bad movie you saw: 'I want to say Rent, but it's because I love the stage show. I'm a theater purist. I don't think the movie captured the subject matter in the same way as the stage show, even though the film has most of the same people.'
— Favorite female singer: 'Billie Holliday. She lived her songs.'
— Favorite guilty pleasure: 'Traveling. I love London, Scotland—and Baltimore. I like the people in Baltimore and the culture in Scotland.'
— The worst thing about L.A.: 'The people. [ Laughs. ] It's a very vapid city. It's full of actors and wannabes. It's full of takers, not givers.'
— Favorite of the five senses: 'Touch. It's stimulating, it's sensual and it's healing.'