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Richard Pryor Jr. talks 'Lipstick' and his famous father
NUNN ON ONE: THEATER
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2013-06-05

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Richard Pryor Jr. Publicity photo


Richard Pryor was an iconic comedian paving the way for many after him with his stand-up commentary on racism and social issues. Comedy Central listed him as the number one stand-up comedian of all time. Through his concerts and movies he entertained generations until his death of a heart attack in 2005.

His son—Richard Pryor Jr.—continues a legacy of performing with a new show in Chicago called Lipstick Goes On Last. This Peoria native, upon graduation, left Illinois to live in Los Angeles and pursued a dream of acting. He became a production associate on the film The Color Purple before joining the Navy and being stationed in Virginia Beach, Va. He sneaked off site to perform drag locally. Afterwards he moved to New York City for more acting and now returns to his roots in his home state.

Lipstick Goes on Last tells the story of a family with tons of problems. Their best friend has an in-the-closet husband played by Pryor Jr.

Windy City Times: Hi, Richard. Did you study performing?

Richard Pryor Jr.: No; I studied basics and tried the college thing for a semester but it wasn't for me so I went into the military. I moved to California because I wanted to perform and briefly got into Lee Strasberg. I was accepted there and went there. You know when you are at that age when you are immature and think you know everything? I think about turning back the clock and what could I do different. It was one of those things. My life was pretty much a learning experience.

WCT: You were in the Navy when it was the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy time period.

Richard Pryor Jr.: Yeah. Those of us that were gay on the ship had a fake newspaper called The Diva Gazette. We all had alias names so they didn't know who we were talking about in case someone got a hold of the paper. When we got to a port then we had the gay guide to know where the clubs were. We would come back and talk about who was doing what, who got some and all of that stuff.

WCT: You performing in drag at this time?

Richard Pryor Jr.: Yes that was first time that I performed in drag was in the military. I was in Scotland and the song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" came on so I started lip-synching it—I guess I was a little tipsy, the crowd separated and started watching. Then the next night they let me and my friends in again and I did it again. When we got back to Virginia I decided to try it for real and see what happens. I did it and was really good. The crowd loved me but I didn't win The Gong Show—that is what it was called. Katrina Gail Phillips—I will never forget her—was the emcee, and they asked why I didn't win because they were in an uproar. She stated the reason was my toes scraped across the floor off the front of my shoes. I had open-toed shoes on the dance floor. That was how I started.

I never just got up there and just lip-synched with a big open mouth. I hated people that over did it. I knew the words backward and forward. I was always very theatrical so I would add dynamic things to it. I would add graves and coffins so you would never know what I was going to do. I did "Wind Beneath My Wings" with a dildo!

WCT: Oh, wow.

Richard Pryor Jr.: That was my "hero" in the song. Sings, "Did you ever know that you're my hero?" I would pull it out and the dykes would be furious.

WCT: What was your drag name?

Richard Pryor Jr.: Rainey McKnight.

WCT: How did you get involved with Lipstick Goes on Last?

Richard Pryor Jr.: Well, 3 Squares Productions—which is Kathleen Lawler, Suzy Brack and Bobbie O'Connor—started this web series. They asked me to do a cameo on the show. I had previously done a film with Suzy and Kathleen on a film I did called "College Debts" where I played a drag queen in that movie. So they knew my work and when this play came about they asked me to be a part of it. I was living in New York but I signed up. I'm glad I did because it was great working with them. I am also co-producing with them as well now.

WCT: What is involved with co-producing?

Richard Pryor Jr.: Everything that nobody wants to do pretty much. [Laughs] There is enough with the acting but it is making sure everything is running right.

WCT: I imagine it gives you some control that you wouldn't have just acting.

Richard Pryor Jr.: That is true.

WCT: Tell our readers about your character.

Richard Pryor Jr.: My character's name is James. He's married to Rita. Picture it: It is the 1970s and the person he really loves is Bobby, who is married to Vicki. The time period that it takes place in allows no freedom to be with the person that you really love. So even with those desires you get married and have a family. Even though Rita wants to have a family James doesn't give in to that. He really loves her as a friend more than anything but he is in love with Bobby. There is a triangle on who do I choose when being pulled from both directions. Do I follow the one I really love or the one I have to be with?

WCT: You went through this in real life yourself.

Richard Pryor Jr.: Yes, I did. I was married and everything like that. The time when I was married I was living a total heterosexual lifestyle. I was in the church and doing what I was supposed to do. I got to a point in my life where I had to be me. You can't live your life for others.

WCT: Your character does that in the play.

Richard Pryor Jr.: Yes; unfortunately because of the '70s he is not truly able to come right out and yell and scream to the world who he really loves. Bobby is constantly there and he loves him but can't be with him. If you are fan of the '70s this is the show to see. There is some drama that goes on with these families. It could be compared to Desperate Housewives and the cul de sac they live in. Their issues become everyone else's issues. It is a boiling pot of mess!

Read the entire interview at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .


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