Tag Archives: California

Cecil Brown with Mason Pryor

13 Jan



CounterPunch – An Open Letter to the San Francisco Chronicle Book Editor

12 Nov

“…now that I have published a book myself, I don’t get even considered for a review in your funky newspaper…”

~Cecil Brown

Originally publicized in late October of 2013, this an open letter from Cecil Brown to the San Francisco Chronicle’s book editor concerning the exclusion of those in the African American community as well as the neglect for self-published books.


CounterPunch – How Whites Are Stealing Richard Pryor’s Legacy

12 Nov

“…I would have the humiliating experience of publishers asking me to assist white authors on their books about Richard Pryor, while rejecting my own…”

~Cecil Brown

Dive deeper into Cecil Brown’s experience of seeing Richard Pryor’s past and legacy being swarmed by white authors, publishers, and producers.


Lecture at Stanford University

3 Oct

TheBlackBardPoster_SmallDigital Humanities scholar finds remnants of Hip-hop Poetics in Early American Poet, George Moses Horton.

Professor Cecil Brown (U C Berkeley scholar)  will lecture on George Moses Horton, an African American slave poet, who lived from 1798 to 1883. As a slave, Horton sold fruit to the students and learned to “spout” oral poems to the students for their girlfriends.

By extemporizing, he recited poems that students would write down, he was able to buy his way out of freedom, but his master wouldn’t depart with him. Professor Brown maintains that Digital Humanities can reveal the hidden treasuries of one of the most brilliant poet of Early American Culture.

The talk will be  on Thursday, Oct 10, 1 PM
Wallenberg Hall (Building 160)
Fourth Floor 433A
Stanford University


Pryor Lives! – An Interview with Author Cecil Brown

9 Sep

A short Interview with author Cecil Brown concerning his new Book, Pryor Lives!

BayView Interview With Cecil Brown

7 Sep

Cecil Brown is Interviewed by The Minister of Information JR, of San Francisco BayView National Black Newspaper.





2 Jul

From the San Francisco Chronicle

Staying cool and melting down

One night at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles in 1973, Richard Pryor was in the middle of a routine about black people and religion: “Black people didn’t have a God — we just worshiped nature … then the white man said, ‘Why not worship me?’ ”

Pryor took in the fact that his audience was largely white and said apologetically, “Now when I say ‘white man,’ I don’t mean everybody.” Then he paused, then laughed and added: “But you know who you are!” Loud applause and congratulatory hoots. Out of the back of the room, a heckler shouted out, “You better be glad I have a sense of humor!”

Pryor came back quickly: “Yeah, I’m sure glad you have a sense of humor, because I know what you white people do to us.”

The audience went crazy. They hooted and hollered and grabbed their stomachs. The heckler shut up and disappeared from the room. Forever.

This was trademark Pryor. He knew how to handle hecklers.

The recent debacle involving Michael Richards (“Kramer” on “Seinfeld”) using a racial epithet to describe two African American audience members critical of his act at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles three weeks ago demonstrates how race continues to bubble up in the most unexpected places.

During the late ’70s, I observed Pryor well, because I was writing a novel about his art. At the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, I spent many nights watching the young comics who couldn’t handle hecklers and, thus, would have their show destroyed by them. Often, the hecklers would be other comedians whose purpose would be to teach the comic a lesson. Being able to handle hecklers was a rite of passage at the Comedy Store, and Pryor was one of the priests. The comic creates his audience, and he taught the comics — including local heroes like Robin Williams.

When comics reply to hecklers, they must do it just right or they fail. When Pryor did it right, he was brilliant.

Except the time he melted down at the Hollywood Bowl in 1977, at an event called “A Star Spangled Night for Rights,” a benefit for a gay organization. As he pranced up and down the stage, he erupted, “While the n — in Watts were out there burning, you guys were up in Hollywood doing whatever you wanted to be doing,” And then he turned his backside to the audience and said, “Kiss my rich, black ass,” strolling off to howls and boos.

As with the Richards incident, Pryor’s career was in jeopardy. And so was mine. I had just co-written his movie, “Which Way Is Up,” and there was talk that it might not be released.

Both Richards and Pryor gave a textbook performance of how not to handle a crowd.

Freud said there are two kinds of jokes: the harmless and the hostile. One kind of hostile joke, or as Freud called it, “tendentious joke,” is basically an ethnic slur. It is a form of verbal art that pits one group against another using cultural stereotypes.

In order for a joke to work, it must have two parts: a facade and a substance. “Freud carefully distinguishes between the technique of the joke, which constitutes the joke’s envelope or facade, and the substance of the joke, its underlying thought,” said Elliott Orning, an anthropology professor at UCLA, in his book “The Jokes of Sigmund Freud: A Study in Humor and Jewish Identity.” Words that have double meanings allow the underlying thoughts — inhibited thoughts — to escape the censor. It is the escape of getting inhibited ideas to consciousness that brings the teller and his audience the deepest pleasure and psychological reward.

In order for an ethnic joke to work, the comedian must present a facade, or a persona, so it does not appear that he is personally making the attacks. In Richards’ case, he dropped the facade and spoke as a person who uses ethnic slurs to attack individual members of his audience.

Like the social dramas they are, comic routines make us aware of the folklore that undergirds our historical events, of the underlying thoughts of daily American life.

We don’t know yet what will happen to Richards.

But in the end, Pryor’s career didn’t suffer because of his Hollywood Bowl outburst. “Which Way Is Up” came out to great success — and I got my name on the screen.

Cecil Brown is the author of “Dude, Where’s My Black Studies Department?” and a novel, “Days Without Weather,” about the experiences of black entertainers in Hollywood.