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Comedienne Rain Pryor Talks Race, Stereotypes and Bill Cosby

by Dayvee Sutton /  / Updated 

Rain Pryor learned many of life’s gritty realities pretty early in life.

Pryor grew up watching her father, Richard Pryor, on stage and witnessing his struggles off it. She gives credits her ability to find her own voice to her parents' activism. The comedienne has hit the road again with her one woman show, “Fried Chicken and Latkes” where she takes the audience on the journey of growing up biracial during a time of social transition in the United States.

Pryor moved from “Holly-weird” to Baltimore where she currently lives with her husband and daughter, and co-hosts a morning talk show weekdays in New York City. She sat down with NBCBLK for a candid discussion about race, stereotypes and Bill Cosby.

Century City Premiere of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil"
Richard Pryor and Rain Pryor during Century City Premiere of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" at Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)WireImage

NBCBLK: In your show you said you wrote a letter to President Carter about the state of racism in America?

I literally did write a letter to President Carter and got a letter back: “Well...we thank you...we understand your concern...” (she laughs) It was about the KKK. I remember I was watching [TV] and the KKK were beating somebody up, back in‘ 75. It hurt me because I thought that if they are only going after black people and I happen to be this mixed race child, which half of me do they beat up? So what half of me do they take and how do you protect that?

NBCBLK: That’s pretty deep thinking for a kid.

My parents were militant, so my mom thought she was a black militant. My mom is blonde hair and blue eyed and literally at one point in my life wore a blonde afro wig to make a statement and a dashiki to school, to be like, “I’m her motha!” (she laughs) This is my child. And then my dad who is this iconic figure talking about the black experience, you know it kind of just was there. I grew up with this knowledge of so many real world things.

NBCBLK: Growing up with a famous dad, what was the biggest difference you now realize in the way you were raised than others?

I didn’t realize there were poor black people. I thought there were poor white people, because that’s what I saw, so I thought they were the disenfranchised. I didn’t realize they were the unlucky ones. The unfortunate. (laughs)

L-R: BRIAN ROBBINS;HOWARD HESSEMAN;RAIN PRYOR
HEAD OF THE CLASS - "First Date" - Airdate: January 18, 1989. L-R: BRIAN ROBBINS;HOWARD HESSEMAN;RAIN PRYORABC Photo Archives / ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

NBCBLK: Besides what you saw on television, did you personally experience any racism? Did your dad’s fame protect you from any of that?

A little. I had no idea what biracial was. But then as I got older and in school, I was more upset in having to deal with black people, being light skinned, than I had been with white [people] or any other ethnicity. Anytime that I’ve gone into any other group they’ve thought I was that. I went to Mexico, they spoke Spanish to me.

NBCBLK: You were able to make your own name in entertainment. I remember “Head of the Class.” But in your show, you said you escaped the industry?

Well Hollywood is tough. And I just had enough of it. In auditioning, it was black casting agents who were like, “You’re just not black enough.” And “You don’t look like Halle Berry and you don’t look like Lisa Bonet.”

But, it’s funny because now I get “Oh my God, you’re so beautiful and your hair is so great.” “We love the natural hair.” But it took forever. I’m like “Now? Really!?”

NBT's TEER Spirit Awards Gala
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 18: Rain Pryor attends the 7th Annual TEER Spirit Awards at National Black Theater on June 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)Donna Ward / Getty Images

NBCBLK: The conversation about race and racism has heated up in this country again. What has been your role in the conversation?

Not only do I have a solo show that talks about race, and of an era, I consider myself a community activist. When I first moved to Baltimore, I taught in the schools and I brought August Wilson with me. We were doing “Gem of the Ocean” and I was teaching my black kids about their history because they’re not learning it. They didn’t know about the Emancipation Proclamation, and I’m like we need to break this down!

NBCBLK: You’re parents fought on the ground level for Civil Rights and they seemed optimistic that change would eventually come. Did any of their optimism rub off on you?

It did! I think you have to live that way. There’s so much negativity. I believe ‘conscious thought creates the reality that you’ re in.’ So if you think in terms of ‘I hate’ and ‘I don’t like’, then you’re going to create that world around you. So my whole thing is I try to create a different kind of consciousness, which is based on historical context. Because if you know where you come from and why you think the way you do, then you can change your whole destiny.

Bobby Bank

NBCBLK: The issues surrounding Bill Cosby have resurfaced, but this time it doesn’t seem that they’ll go away. As a child of an iconic comedian, what are your thoughts on the state of his legacy?

It’s sad when a legacy is destroyed. However, as a true African people we have to face our corruption. If we don’t face our corruption, it comes out. Until Cosby says, “I have to face my corruption", whatever it is, he cannot change it. It doesn’t matter what legacy is how you choose to show up in the world.

So, if you show up correctly, these things don’t happen. It doesn’t matter if you gave money to [black colleges]. This is one of those times where he needs to step up and face it. Period. No matter what it is or what it isn’t. Face it. And face it like a true strong black man that you’ve told us you were in the first place.

NBCBLK: I heard some people say, maybe his children should step in. Step in to, at least, convince him to stop touring and lay low for a while.

I've tried to get daddy! The best part of my dad is his business and his corruption was out there. But as his child, I have to choose how I show up in the world. Do I show up as the Richard Pryor, as the tainted part of his legacy? Or do I show up as the best parts of his legacy? So that, as the adult child, that's where you step [and take] ownership of your heritage.

NBCBLK: Do you think that his legacy could ever be restored?

Our blood line carries the legacy. Richard Pryor’s children, myself, my brothers and my sisters carry that legacy with us. It’s up to us on how we’re going to continue to honor the best parts of who our dad is. It’s like, you’re not going to find me a party sniffing a line of cocaine. Ain't gonna happen.

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