Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Richard Pryor returned to Washington Monday night after a three-year absence, and offered the sell-out crowd in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall a performance that the Federal City's cultural pooh-bahs could never have anticipated.

Pryor breezed on stage looking smaller and, if it's possible, a little crazier than he did some years ago on the stage at the Cellar Door.

His hour-long show contained completely new material, but not far removed from what Pryor's fans have come to expect - a non-stop, scatological stream of ethnic funk that pushed the Concert Hall audience close to hysteria.

The monologue, none of it suitable for reprinting, dealt with all of Pryor's favorite topics. Sexual habits and angst, the lighter side of urban violence, dogs, children and the intake of controlled substances were bandied about with a manic, sweaty fervor.Pryor, in short, has never been funnier.

The years away from the concert tour have not been uniformly kind to Pryor. There was the matter of last winter's reported heart problems, and that notorious New Year's Eve party at his home.

Those topics were met head-on and in grand style, with Pryor falling to the floor and explaining the symptoms of a coronary in terms Linus Pauling would never understand. Monday night's performance, the first of six at the Kennedy Center between now and Sept. 7, Pryor is back. As of Monday evening, he's setting the pace for all stand-up comics.