by Dan Smith
Note to editor: In this story I have purposely used poor English and bad spelling to try and capture the style of Mr. Pryor.
The great Richard Pryor has been gone now for more than seven years. His comedy genius may never be matched. Yes I know that most of you only knew him as a foul mouthed-in-your face "X" rated comic, but as a storyteller he had no equal.
I like to think of myself as a fair storyteller but no one could compare me to Richard. When he took on the persona of Mudbone an aging black man from the Mississippi Delta, he was untouchable. As Mudbone, Pryor would relive stories of the old man's youth in a hilarious style. While it is almost impossible to edit those stories for print I will now try to give you a taste of one of my favorite Mudbone tales.
Mudbone: I had gone up to Detroit to work on the railroad and impersonate a Chinese man. You see, they wasn't hiring blacks and in order to work, you had to look Chinese. Most black men wouldn't do it cause they paid you in something called "yang money." Hell, I needed the work, see so I would take the yang money. Say, you know them Chinese eat with sticks? Yeah they do! Something to see, too. Eat a whole meal with sticks and never drop a bit. Black people lose five pounds of food with a fork and spoon. Anyway one day my friend, Junior, come by the house. Junior was a big boy worked at the foundry lifting engines. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he was sick. Whoo, I took one look at him and I knowed what happened. His feets was swolled up, his hands had shriveled, blood was coming out his eyes. I mean this boy was messed up. I knowed right away it was cause he had been messing with a Louisiana woman. She had put a hex on his butt. I said, "Junior "what the symptoms?" He said, "you're looking at the symptoms. What can I do." Well, I knew the only answer was to take him to see Miss Rudolph the voodoo lady. She would know how to fix him.
I had to drive him in my '33 Packard. Made him buy the gas. After a while we pulled up way out in the woods in front of this old vine covered cabin. I left Junior in the car and went up on the porch to knock on the door. When the door opened the funk rushed out and knocked me to my knees! When I was able to focus, I see Miss Rudolph standing there with no shirt on. On one breast was a tattoo of an eyeball and on the other was a pair of lips. Right then I'm just hoping I ain't got to kiss nothing. She told me to come into the house and sat behind a little table. Man, this place was a mess. Bats flying around, bugs crawling and a three-legged monkey was swinging on the curtains. As I sat down across from her I noticed that she was wearing a dried up monkey's foot on a leather thong around her neck. Right away the monkey came over and began messing with me. I figured it messed with everyone who showed up, but it sure didn't give her no trouble. I said Miss Rudolph can you do something about the monkey. She said "no, the monkey lives here, you only visiting." After I told her about Junior's problems, she said that she could fix him. I had to confess we didn't have any money to pay her. She said that would be all right just bring her a turkey on Thanksgiving. Hell, that was okay with me cause it was June and if I could get the boy fixed I would never come back. Just about then a giant tarantula spider walked down my arm onto the table. 'Bout scared me to death! I smashed it as hard as I could, but when I lifted my hand it were gone. "Miss Rudolph what happened to the spider," I asked? "Don't worry about that, but if I don't get that turkey on Thanksgiving, you will see him agin." Oh my! Come Thanksgiving I don't care where I am, she's getting a big, beautiful bird.
Miss Rudolph told me to bring Junior in. When I did she sat down on a wash pan an relieved herself. Then she told Junior to put his swollen feets in the pee. I guess he figured nuttin from nuttin leaves nuttin so he did it. Just then the pee began to boil and the monkey started screaming and the bats flying and when Junior took his feets out they was small. Too small. Junior got mad and jerked the monkey's foot off her neck and ate it and he shouldn't have done that. She did some kind of hex and that was it. These days you can see junior at the zoo. He's the polar bear with tiny little feets.
I hoped you liked that story. Others are available on Youtube and on Friday, May 31, Showtime will have a retrospective on Pryor's career starring all of today's best comedians. Hopefully they will play a little "Mudbone."
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.