The late, great Richard Pryor was what his friend and fellow comedian, Mel Brooks, might call “a stand-up philosopher.”
Comedian as philosopher?
Richard Pryor On Thinking
Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century, gave us this imperishable concept, quoted by Peter Kaufman in his “Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking”:1
“To understand is to know what to do.”
Comedian Richard Pryor said the very same thing in his own way:
“I believe the ability to think is blessed. If you can think about a situation you can deal with it. The big struggle is to keep your head clear enough to think”.
Philosopher and comedian with the same simple insight.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was born to wealth in Austria.
Richard Pryor grew up in poverty in a Peoria brothel, son of a prostitute who abandoned him when he was ten.
Richard knew Hard Times.
He taught the lessons of Hard Times in his stand-up routines.
Through the voice of his classic character, Mudbone.
Fans clamored for Mudbone long after Richard tired of playing him.
Mudbone, the seasoned old street charmer out of Tupelo, Mississippi, whose timeless rap on Hard Times can guide us through these Hard Times of pandemic and recession:2
“I lived through Hard Times before. Hard Times was way back. They didn’t even have a year for it. Just called it Hard Times. It was dark all the time. I think the sun came out on Wednesday. If you didn’t have your ass up early, you missed it. So I happened to be out there one Wednesday and the sun hit me right in the face. Grabbed a bunch of it and rubbed it all over me…cheer you up inside.”
Mudbone recounts how his dose of sunshine seduced a young beauty.
The Uncertainty Of Life
Mudbone reminds us of the brevity and uncertainty of life in Hard Times and at all times:
“You didn’t have to come to this mother—--r and you sure can’t choose how to leave ‘cause you don’t know when you gon’ go. So don’t take this s--t serious. You better have some fun and plenty of it. ‘Cause when the s--t is over and you ask for a recharge, it’s too late.
So all I can say is keep some sunshine on your face.”
So what can we learn from Mudbone on Hard Times?
To remain cheerful in the face of pandemic and recession. That cheerfulness connects us to others. That Hard Times like Good Times come and go. And this too shall pass.
And from Wittgenstein and Pryor on understanding and thinking?
Listen, learn and be informed about the pandemic. Then if you think and understand you will know what to do.