Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

One of the great things Richard Pryor did was take the “bad words” and make them funny. I may be wrong, but I think that the more you laugh at words like “motherfucker” and “nigger” the less powerful they become. Pryor was so funny, all he had to do was say those words and their socio-linguistic[1] hegemony started to crumble. The more we laugh at the things that make us uncomfortable, the less power those things have over us.

Frank Zappa was a tireless crusader for the idea that words, in and of themselves, cannot hurt you. For the same reason that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, so also words can’t hurt you, only people can hurt you. If a word hurts you by itself, then that pain comes from inside you; it is but a dagger of the mind.

To extend that even futher, at 29 I still refuse to believe there is any qualitative difference between the word “shit” and the word “crap.” That whole “swear word” thing never worked for me as a kid, and it still doesn’t. If I train myself to say “crap” rather than “shit” or “fuck” when I stub my toe, the meaning and intent of the word hasn’t changed, only its linguistic garb. To say that one word is safe and another is not, when they both mean the same thing and convey the same image, is ludicrous. Another particularly vexing example is the phrase “that sucks,” which is somehow permissible to most people, even though the unexpurgated version of the phrase involves direct reference to either fellatio or cunnilingus [2]. That was the phrase’s intent and origin, yet stripped of its object it somehow becomes harmless.

Well now that I’ve set off all your pr0n filters, I guess I’ve made an effective tribute to Richard Pryor. I’d also like to say that, while Pryor’s films were rarely box office smashes, they have an easy amble to them; I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Brewster’s Millions, The Toy or his Gene Wilder buddy flicks. Or his best work as a screenwriter, Blazing Saddles, which he co-wrote and was supposed to star in, were it not for the studio’s fear of what Mel Brooks charitably termed as Pryor’s “sniffing habit.”

1.) Not sure if that’s a word, but let’s preted it is because it sounds really cool and pretentious.
2.) Somehow those terms are safer than “blow job” and “rug munching.” Perhaps because they are entirely devoid of all humor.