New Biography Examines Richard Pryor’s Singular Brand of ‘Furious Cool’

He’s considered one of the best – and one of the most controversial – stand-up comedians of all time. But Richard Pryor’s influence went beyond the stand-up scene. Through his groundbreaking comedy albums, television specials, film and TV roles, he changed how Americans thought and talked about race, sex, class and addiction.

There’s a  new book about Pryor’s life and career.  “Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him” is written by Louisville screenwriter David Henry and his brother Joe Henry, the songwriter and Grammy Award-winning producer.

The Henry brothers actually set out to write a film about Pryor’s life, with the blessing of the comedian himself. When Joe prepared to release his 2001 album “Scar,” which included the song “Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation,” his record label at the time suggested he obtain Pryor’s permission before using his name.

“It wasn’t easy, and it meant that I had to find Richard,” says Joe. “He was very moved by the song, and he gave me permission.”  

An Esquire essay came out of the recording of the song, and based on that, Pryor asked Joe to write a screenplay based on his life. Joe brought in his brother Dave, a screenwriter and fellow Pryor fan. 

“We have this opportunity to work for Richard, why wouldn’t we? Let’s see where it takes us,” says Joe.

The brothers spent a couple of years writing a screenplay that has yet to be produced, but at one point Dave realized that they could also write a book — a project they could have more control over, ultimately, and a more expansive canvas on which to tell Pryor’s story.

The authors will discuss “Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him” at Carmichael’s Bookstore (2720 Frankfort Ave.) on Saturday, 4 p.m.

WFPL’s Erin Keane spoke with Joe and David Henry about Pryor’s origin story, influences, and legacy. 

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