CEDAR RAPIDS – Rain Pryor is a teacher, actor, director, arts administrator and singer, but comedy pulses through her DNA.
Not only is she the daughter of the legendary Richard Pryor, her mother also did standup, their friends did solo work or standup, and her maternal grandfather was Danny Kaye’s manager for 35 years.
“It’s kinda like all I know,” Pryor, 43, says by phone from her home in Baltimore. “Performing, whether it’s theater or standup, that’s all I know, that’s what I grew up with. It’s one of those things I really do think is in your genes. It’s still a craft that has to be mastered and I don’t think I’ve mastered it. I’m good, I don’t think I’m spectacular. Maybe one day I will be, but I don’t love it that much, and that’s the truth.
“I do standup ’cause it’s a job. It’s better than teaching in the Baltimore city school system and getting told to f-off by one of the kids,” she says with a laugh.
A paraeducator, most of her teaching these days revolves around theater. She had a featured role in the sitcom “Head of the Class” from ages 18 to 20, tried her hand at drug counseling, then went back to her showbiz roots in musical theater and jazz vocals. Her autobiographical show, “Fried Chicken and Latkes,” has toured and played off-Broadway. She’s the artistic director of Baltimore’s Strand Theatre, which gives voice to female casts and crews, is married to a cop and has a daughter, Lotus, 4.
She’ll be bringing her take on life to Penguins Comedy Club in downtown Cedar Rapids at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, discussing everything from racial issues to motherhood and teaching in the ‘hood.
“I bring all of it onstage, my parents and everything. I talk — I just talk and hopefully, you find some of it funny,” she says. “I’m not a joke teller. I don’t set up-punch, set up-punch, set up-punch. I’m definitely a storyteller, in that sense of comedy.”
She hopes audiences walk away knowing much more about her.
“What I hope they get out of it is a lesson on the human condition, on the way that they think, a perspective. That’s really what I like to impart,” she says, “and getting to know me as me. They’re seeing me. It’s the one place where you’re totally yourself. Some comedians have their comedian persona. I just bring myself. I don’t know how not to do that in the standup world. What you see is really what you’re getting.”
She says she learned from the best, including her late father, who died in 2005. The Peoria, Ill., native stirred controversy with his pointed topical observations on racism and social issues onstage and in recordings in the ’70s, yet endeared moviegoers in such hit films as “Silver Streak,” “The Wiz,” “Car Wash” and “Brewster’s Millions.” His cutting-edge brilliance has been cited as influential and groundbreaking by a who’s who of comedy, from Jerry Seinfeld to Bob Newhart.
Rain Pryor also speaks frankly about her father’s health problems, including heart attacks and multiple sclerosis and the widely publicized accident in 1980 where he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.
The people she finds funny are the ones who through their view on politics and race, are “willing to go to that far edge” like her dad.
“My dad just told the truth and went to that edge and nowadays we’re so politically correct, we’re afraid to go to that edge,” she says, noting she’s drawn criticism for poking fun at Michael Jackson. “I think we need to get back there to find a humor again. … I talk about it in my show. It’s OK to make fun of my dad back in the ’80s when he set himself on fire. Everyone made a joke, saying ‘Who’s this running down the street?’ when they lit a match. And now it’s not OK for me to talk about Michael Jackson? You’ve gotta be kidding me. It’s hilarious. Tragedy is hilarious. We have to learn how to laugh to get through the pain.”
After her father’s death, she decided to leave Hollywood behind.
“I got a divorce and took ownership of my life,” says the self-proclaimed hermit who likes to cook and clean. “I wanted to really have a life outside of Hollywood. I want to create my art and my craft on my terms, not on Hollywood’s terms. Hollywood has a way of sucking you into that vortex and it’s very vapid. And so I have chosen to remove myself from it and engage when I feel I can do it and be a part of it.
“And yeah, I’m not making the money I would have if I’d stayed in Los Angeles, but I don’t care. I’m happier. That’s what I choose today. Is this going to work for my peace of mind and not make me crazy, and yes, I can do that.”
- By Diana Nollen