This is an amazing set featuring Richard Pryor as you've (in most cases) never heard him. Rare routines from his start in the 60s and mvoing on to his on the verge stardom with "Craps After Hours" (1971), his Wattstax monologues from the following year, and some variations of "The Wino&The Junkie" and other early classics.
The 1966 "performance" at the Hungry I when Pryor was 25 is so bad you feel embarrassed for him as he bombs on the stage. He tells some really corny jokes about growing up in Peoria (hardcore Pryorologists will recognize this bit from his 1964 TV debut on Kraft Summer Music Hall). Then he takes pictures of the audience and does some bizarre improvs on a gay Batman and Robin and a Japanese mime. However, he does a good job in handling a heckler.
By 1968, the transformation is so astounding that you wonder if Pryor made a Robert Johnson-type deal with the devil to improve his skills. "War Movies" is largely the same material he did on a well-known July 1967 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show filled with wild voices, sound effects, and characterizations. "Rumpelstilskin" is a comic reenactment of his actual debut in that play in 1946 as a child in Peoria. "Hippy Dippys" is an amusing tale of a young Pryor and his Fat Albert-type group of friends ("You guys are facetious!"). "Faith healer," a religious satire, is the earliest version of what would be Pryor's classic "Our Text For Today" some seven years later. But the real classics here are HANK'S PLACE and PRISON PLAY (aka Black Ben the Blacksmith). The former is an amazing and affectionate look at characters who seem to populate every ghetto juke joint in America (Pryorites note the "Mr. Perkins" character that apparently foreshadows MUDBONE of "Is It Something I Said" fame) and PRISON PLAY is beyond description-Pryor's imagination gone wild and a sheer work of genius that is a treasure to behold of Pryor's storytelling, acting, and social commentary abilities.
Disc two is the wild man side of Pryor. The ghetto juke joint classic "Craps After Hours" in it's entirety. More street observations than characterization here, and he's done better versions of some of this same material (Black Preachers, I Spy Cops,the title cut,) elsewhere. While more hardcore and profane than CD 1, this is not for the faint of heart. Even the midly religious will find "Jesus Saves" a blasphemous and uncomfortable listen (although comfort was never Pryor's concern).
Highlights here are "Whorehouse 2," which contains the classic moment filmed in "Live and Smoking" (1971) where Pryor makes a passing comment about his mother's prostitution, drops his head sadly and takes a drag of his cigarette before giving the routine a blistering conclusion. It's less poignant, but oddly comes off as amusing without this visual. A two part "Wino and Junkie" captures an early version of this routine in all its brilliance.
Overall, the title is fitting. Pryor started out as a poor Cosby clone and wound up doing what expanded from standup comedy to one-man theater that made you think as well as laugh. I would say that aside from the DVDs of Live in Smoking, Live in Concert, and Live on the Sunset Strip, this CD and "Is It Something I Said" are pretty much all you need for Richard Pryor. Enjoy.