The style of humor offered by legendary comedian Richard Pryor can be traced back to the ancient Greek traditions of comedy and tragedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Alan McPherson said during a lecture at IU last Thursday.\nMcPherson, a University of Iowa English professor who wrote Hue and Cry, Crabcakes and other collections of fiction, said Pryor did something few comics have done before him or since.\n"It was Richard Pryor who insisted the comic and the tragic could mix," McPherson told an audience of more than 50 people in the Fine Arts building.\nWhile bringing together a class on humor in American literature, McPherson discovered the American literary and folk traditions contained several ways to deal with laughter but few, if any, methods of coping with tragedy.\n"The challenge for us is to find some way to make the comic and the tragic come together," he said.\nThat's where Pryor came in. McPherson said the comedian helped people use laughter as a way to cope with their problems.\n"Only Richard Pryor did something special," McPherson said. "He extended our tradition and made it receptive to the comic tradition. He helped us solve our problems. He expanded the American comic tradition by bringing in tragedy with a comic sense."\nDuring the lecture, McPherson played taped excerpts of a 1973 interview he conducted with Pryor for The New York Times Magazine. One of the tapes included a riff in which Pryor recalled seeing a group of heroin junkies waiting in line for methadone treatments. By the time he reached the end of the story, McPherson said, the comedian had made it funny.\n"He expressed his feelings on something horrible, and he laughed at it," McPherson said.\nMcPherson's talk was sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive and the Afro-American Studies department as part of a series featuring screenings of several Pryor movies. Pryor's impact has been underestimated, said Associate professor Audrey McCluskey, the director of the film center.\n"He has not been given his due," she said. "He's such an influential artist. There's a whole generation now that grew up without knowing him. We as a society really benefitted from his art, and I wanted to introduce him to a new generation."\nDespite Pryor's heavy use of obscenity, junior Dolly Whitt said she enjoys his work.\n"He's a very funny and very talented man," said Whitt, who attended McPherson's lecture. "I've seen a bunch of his movies and I liked all of them."\nJunior April Freeman said Pryor's mixing of the comic and the tragic is important.\n"It makes it funnier," she said. "To be able to laugh about the tragic experiences in your life makes it funny. It's good to be able to look back and make jokes"
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