A while back when Richard Pryor was appearing on the "Tonight" show, host Johnny Carson made the point that the comedian had such drawing power that he was scheduled to perform in two different auditoriums in Los Angeles in the same week.
Indeed, Pryor had enough appeal to sell out the Kennedy Center for four night last fall and then return several weeks later for sold-out concerts at Capital Centre.
Meanwhile, his records sell briskly. And now the merchandising of Pryor has gone a step further in the film, "Richard Pryor -- Live in Concert," now playing at area theaters.
The 90-minute movie is nothing more than a film of a Pryor performance at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, Calif. Much of the material is on the comedian's latest album, "Wanted: Richard Pryor (Warner Bros. 2BSK 3364)."
However, the film has something missing from the album, the hilarious visual effect of Pryor going through his routines -- making outrageous faces, jogging, lying on the floor and gesturing obscenely at the audience.
Unlike other films in which Pryor has dramatic roles, this production does not offer the comedian another avenue to explore his bountiful talents. It might have been interesting to see him in conversation with family or friends. As the film shows him, he's just a performer, not a complete personality.
Nevertheless, the movie is reaffirmation of Pryor's exceptional comic ability. He is still one of the funniest, filthiest-talking, most unpredictable men around.
All the recent Pryor routines are there: his marital problems, his children, sexual monkeys, Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks, hunting, his father's strict sense of discipline.
Some people may be bothered by his frequent use of profanities. But Pryor has only taken the language and storytelling style found in many barbershops and pool halls and put them in escalated form, on center stage in large concert halls and auditoriums.
Moreover, an increasing portion of America's population talks the same way.
The larger question, some have posed, is whether Pryor is creating a stereotype for himself. Will we eventually look back, they say, on his use of scatology as a defense mechanism against the expectation that black comics play the fool while not insulting other blacks or catering to middleclass manners?
Probably not. Pryor has other comic styles as alternatives. Remember that as a beginning comedian, he was a young version of Bill Cosby. But now he wants his comedy to flow out of his own background and life style, which happens to be partly characterized by the frequent use of profanity.
To be sure, Pryor's employment of scatology is only a means to an end. Perhaps the frequent use of profanity by large numbers of Americans as an optional expression to clean-cut, middle-class wit is more the subject for wonderment.