"I feel like I'm in an old Judy Garland movie, but I can't even get any drama out of this." At the Hollywood Palladium last week, speaker Richard Pryor wasn't in an old Garland movie; he was attempting to be in the next Richard Pryor movie, which will document the first major shows he's performed since he nearly died of burns some 18 months ago. The two shows, and the upcoming film, are entitled "Richard Pryor, Live on the Sunset Strip" (the Palladium is actually about three miles away from the Strip, but who's gonna know when the film plays in Idaho?) and Pryor ran through about an hour's worth of material each night. But the first night he was clearly on shaky ground, even though he's been testing this material in the tryout room of the Comedy Store for a couple of months. Pryor opened with his scheduled finale, lost his place a few times, and, says one insider on the project, "reminded you of a kid who's giving his first piano recital." When the audience supportively cheered on Pryor, he said, "I know what you're trying to do, and I apppreciate it, but it can't help me." Finally, after losing his place once more, Pryor muttered, "I have to leave the stage. I hope you don't feel disappointed, but at least you got to see a man crucify himself."
Most of the audience didn't feel disappointed, but backstage the film crew anxiously wondered if they could salvage enough material for the movie. The next night Pryor did his show in the correct order and without incident. Afterwards, he said he'd simply been scared to death opening night. Rastar Film staffers are now confident that they've got enough material for the movie, which will be directed by Joe Layton and released in March. It'll also center around a lengthy piece of black humor involving Pryor's burning, which he's finally ready to explain in full: "Every night before I go to bed I have milk and cookies. That night I mixed pasteurized and nonfat milk, and when I dipped my cookie in it exploded." Pryor went on to nearly admit that he'd been "freebasing" cocaine with a succinct "thousands of people freebase -- I blow up." Then he imparted the chief piece of wisdom he gleaned from his ordeal: "I discovered that when you run down the street on fire, people get out of your way."