It’s the early ’70s, and a figure stands, bathed in light, telling jokes, forever changing the landscape of comedy to come. Behind him rests his shadow, this faceless, murky image, left behind, tracing his steps.
Shadows are funny like that—these dark images that aren’t quite the original but mimic their owner in shape and stature. Rain Pryor knows this firsthand, having been born in the shadow of a father whose legacy towers over comedy long after his death.
But she isn’t running from the shadow. She is basking in it.
“I get it,” she says of her father, Richard Pryor. “It’s just hard to avoid. He was so big, so huge to everybody. I don’t even think that I realized his impact until he died. That’s when you realize, ‘Wow, this man touched everybody’s lives. He was so crossover … white people, black people; people just loved him.’”
And it is with that love that Rain Pryor embarked on the documentary That Daughter’s Crazy, which makes its New York City debut Saturday at the Best of the African Diaspora International Film Festival. That Daughter’s Crazy—the title a play on her father’s 1974 comedy album, That N—ger’s Crazy—features scenes from Rain Pryor’s Fried Chicken and Latkes, a 2012 off-Broadway, one-woman, autobiographical rehashing of what it was like growing up biracial. But it also explores some of her less-famous influences: her mother and grandmother.
“I didn’t want it to be this ‘all about me’ kind of thing,” she says. “People already know who my dad is. To be able to focus and see these two white Jewish women who raised me, talk about me and what it was like to have a black child in the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s … is really neat.”
While Pryor inherited her father’s zest for entertaining, she wants to make it clear that she didn’t inherit her father’s money. She is living her life on her talent but is fully aware that being the offspring of American comedy royalty has its advantages.
“The reason I work on the network I do now is, one, because of who my dad is, and two, the type of work I have done,” she says of her daytime television co-hosting gig, Arise and Shine, on the Arise network. “He’s known in Nigeria, so of course a head of a company in Nigeria would be like, ‘Come be a host of my TV show.’”
While Pryor is fully aware that her racial makeup is a part of her story and her upbringing, she is not consumed by it.
“I identify as a human being first,” she says. “I’m culturally and spiritually Afrocentric; however, I do not deny the fact that I have Jewish blood in me, and even though I am Jewish, I will always inherently be black. I think at one time I felt I had to pick because that is the world we live in, but now I am human, and I believe this and I walk this way in my life.”
The documentary intersperses bits from her solo show in which Pryor embodies the likes of her father—before and after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which would take his life in 2005; her Jewish grandmother; her brothel-running, black great-grandmother; and a bully childhood classmate. Although her father’s 1974 comedy album title centered on his willingness to confront any topic head on, the “crazy” part of Pryor’s documentary title isn’t that far off.
“I don’t take any s—t. I am the girl you don’t want to eff with on the train, you don’t want to eff with on the road. You don’t want to bulls—t me. I don’t have patience for bulls—t,” she says.
The show is like that—an unflinching exploration of race and how stereotypes informed Pryor’s upbringing. The documentary is a conversation about resolve and perseverance in the face of these events.
And what does Pryor want viewers to take away from this experience?
“That we exist. That people like me exist,” she said. “That not all white people are bad, not all black people are bad. We exist and we have a social responsibility to present ourselves and walk the way we say we are.”
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is associate editor of news at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.