How can a documentary about someone as funny, alive, honest, edgy, and brilliant as Richard Pryor can fall so flat? Marina Zenovich’s documentary on the comedian, “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic,” premiering at Tribeca, testifies to the comedian’s humor and brilliantly dark view of the world around him. But “Omit the Logic” doesn’t show the audience anything new or insightful about him. There was magic to Pryor, but we don’t see enough of Pryor being Pryor.
Sure, comedians from Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Chappelle, Lily Tomlin to Mel Brooks admire Pryor’s prodigious talent. But their observations are pat, their character testimonies not perceptive. They don’t seem to have enough space to flesh out their ideas about the man.
Comedian David Banks says, “Don’t try to find no logic, a lot of this you hear, logic is omitted.” This statement provides the title of Zenovich’s documentary–and perhaps an admission of a copout. There’s no need for logic, but there is for more delving, insight and inquiry.
In terms of Pryor’s biography, the documentary shows his tragic background but stays on the surface, failing to dig deep. His grandmother was a matriarch of a bordello, where Pryor grew up. That environment provided Pryor with fodder for unbelievable stories and an ability to make a joke out of a tragic or traumatic situation. We hear that Pryor’s background allowed him to laugh at anything, but we don’t see him struggling with this.
There is a clip, in which Pryor says: “I don’t know what it was that made me that way, I could laugh at anything, nothing was too sad that some humor that could not be found in it.” But other than this admission, we see little of Pryor coping with his hardships.
What “Omit the Logic” covers well is how Pryor’s magnetic humor was at odds with entertainment standards. An agent, who “discovered” Pryor at the Cafe a Go Go in New York, said his first thought was that “this guy is going to be a major star if I can get him to put two sentences together without fuck, motherfucker, cunt.”
But Pryor’s talent nonetheless prevails despite his propensity for profanity. He gets many breaks: an act in Vegas at the Aladdin, a show at NBC, and a $40 million seven-picture deal with Columbia. But in almost every instance, Pryor found himself censored or creatively compromised. And so, according to the witnesses, he wildly acts out in order to express his independence.
Zenovich’s 2008 “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” about another controversial figure in American entertainment, was praised for its subtle open-ended quality. “Omit the Logic,” while also open-ended regarding the creative and destructive outbursts from the subject, seems empty. It ends with an interview with Pryor, in which he was asked how he would like to be remembered. He says, “I would like someone to look at my picture and laugh and have stories to tell… [I would like to] bring joy. That’s how I like to be remembered.” While this documentary remembers Pryor, it doesn’t show enough of his brilliant humor or his motivation behind it. It needed to pry further.