This fall we saw the publication of books about two comedy giants – the biography Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by Henry David and the autobiography Still Foolin’ Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys? by Billy Crystal. The following films, some of their finest and funniest, are perfect companions to these biographies.
Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder were an unlikely pair, but they worked magic in several films. In Silver Streak (1976), Pryor has a supporting role to Wilder’s lead as a man who may have witnessed a murder aboard a train. What in some ways is a typical comedic cat-and-mouse caper is brought to new heights by Pryor’s performance as a criminal who helps Wilder evade police. Pryor’s talents were on equal display with Wilder in director Sidney Poitier‘s (!) Stir Crazy (1980). The pair have menial jobs that require them to dress like woodpeckers, and when another pair of criminals dressed the same way rob a bank, it’s Pryor and Wilder who are arrested. Their stint in jail and subsequent escape is comedy gold. And if you’re only going to see one of Pryor’s stand-up performances, let it be Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), which includes the infamous “Pryor on Fire” segment about his accident with freebasing cocaine.
While Billy Crystal’s comedy and film work is less edgy than Pryor’s, it’s not any less funny. Crystal and Meg Ryan reinvented the romantic comedy with Rob Reiner‘s When Harry Met Sally (1989), which answers the question whether a man and a woman can remain just friends. If rom-coms aren’t your thing, check out the black comedy Throw Momma from the Train (1987), which finds Crystal as a professor with a wife (Kate Mulgrew) he can’t stand, and Danny DeVito (also the film’s director) as his student who hates his mother (Anne Ramsey, in an Oscar-nominated performance) who joke about killing each other’s wife and mother, respectively. At least, Crystal thinks it’s a joke…. Finally, check out some of Crystal’s earliest work in the television series Soap (1977-1981), a spoof of soap operas that followed the antics of the Tate and Campbell families. Crystal played Jodie Dallas, one of the first openly gay characters on television. Although the character was criticized by both religious and gay rights groups, it remains a groundbreaking event in the history of television.