A keen sense of Pryor knowledge (The Globe and Mail)

A keen sense of Pryor knowledge

The Globe and Mail, February 24, 2006

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Lisa Marie Presley, Adam Cohen or Lucie Arnaz? You don’t think of them, you say? Well, that partly proves my point.

It can’t be easy foraging a career in showbiz when you’re the offspring of a name that will last through the ages. Sure, certain doors may open to you. But once in, you must constantly face unfair comparisons to the transcendent performer who is your parent. Rain Pryor, 36, knows all too well the benefits and pitfalls of being the daughter of arguably the greatest standup comic of all time, Richard Pryor.

“You grow up in the public eye and it’s hard to have any form of a private life,” she says on the phone from Maryland, where she is performing Fried Chicken and Latkes, the one-woman show she is bringing to the Chutzpah! Festival’s opening-night gala tomorrow.

One critic called her show “autobiographically naked,” which only makes sense, given that her father’s brand of comedy let everyone in on his (and therefore her) life. Much of the comedy in the show stems from characterizations of her mother and grandmothers. She’ll also adapt the lyrics of famous tunes like Cabaret to send up her life story in song.

While there’s lots of laughs and singing, her show has its share of poignancy and drama. But she insists she isn’t embarrassed about emotionally exposing herself. “My life has always been an open book,” she says. “One of my dad’s gifts was talking about his life and his truth. So for me it’s very normal.”

Richard Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986. Rain, now a national ambassador for the disease, still feels the pain of his passing in December. He never got to see his progeny’s production, which has been running – and evolving – for three years, although she did perform parts of it for him.

Fried Chicken and Latkes will continue to grow before its off-Broadway debut later this year as Pryor workships it for her uyltimate goal, a run on Broadway. The show, as the title suggests, is about growing up the daughter of an African-American father and Jewish mother. “I the seventies and eighties, being black and Jewish wasn’t typical,” she says. “My parents getting together was taboo back then. Here was this mixed child in the world living in Beverly Hills where there was mostly white.”

Dating was tough in high school because she was part black, yet today she is constantly asked about her ethnic background. “I get, ‘Are you Brazilian? Are you Latin?’”

Pryor visits Vancouver after four nights in London and before heading to Australia for most of March. Reactions are varied outside America because, as she says, other countries deal with discrimination differently. “Some places are in denial that they even have racism … In Scotland, there’s no black Jewish people there, period. There were some Jews there, but being black and Jewish was like going into a bar and ordering non-alcoholic beer – it just doesn’t exist,” she laughs.

Yet, as unique as her story is, you don’t need to be from a showbiz family to get it, she says. “I think everyone can identify with wanting to fit in and the growing pains that happen. And I think everyone can relate to the parent issues that I talk about. And talking about death, it’s a universal story, even though it’s my story.”