About the author:
The name of Rain Pryor’s off-Broadway show, Fried Chicken and Latkes, hints at the two sides of her background as the daughter of legendary comedian Richard Pryor and Shelley Bonis, a Jewish actress and the second of Pryor’s five wives. Rain survived a chaotic childhood and became a successful actress (Head of the Class; Rude Awakening, plus onstage stints playing Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald), writer (the memoir Jokes My Father Never Taught Me) and solo performer. Broadway.com asked the 43-year-old Pryor to explain the origins of Fried Chicken and Latkes, which has been going strong since July in a three-performance-a-week schedule at the Actors Temple.
I was born during a most perilous time in American history: Races were at odds, and our whole country was at odds due to Vietnam. The idea of my very existence was foreign, so I—and my parents— fought to be seen and heard.
Fried Chicken and Latkes is derived from my being born a product of an iconic father, Richard Pryor, and a social activist/Jewish mother, Shelley Bonis, who believed my birth was going to change America.
As a child, a teen and even as an adult, I struggled at the hand of others, because the era was not ready for change—for seeing beyond black and white. In a most untypical manner, this struggle came from both the black side and the Jewish side. I simply did not fit, nor belong. Many things were brought to fruition: the coarse and kink and “bigness” of my hair, the olive-toned skin, the “you need to get your black back” (as if it went somewhere), the “you're not Jewish, because Josh (the hot white boy) only dates Jewish girls,” to the culmination of it all: “NIGGER.”
It is an amazing thing, because that very same little boy who called me “nigger” recently came to a performance of Fried Chicken and Laktes, and immediately afterwards, with tears in his eyes, approached me and said, "We need to have coffee. Obviously we have a lot to talk about."
Putting Fried Chicken and Latkes out into the universe became a catalyst for change in people's perspectives. The human race is all one race, and this journey in and of life will eventually teach that to you, if you open up and allow it. I guess that little boy, who is a grown man now, understands that Chicken and Latkes are quite tasty, besides both being fried!
I learned a great deal from both of my parents. Although there were dysfunctional moments, my mother was and is the true essence of what a lioness would be: hunting for her cubs and protecting them at all cost. My mother taught me to “stand tough,” and if I faltered or fell, to pick myself up and stand up. Never complain, but make it happen. This is also something I learned from the many women that surrounded my life, even from my great grandmother.
My dad was a genius, yes. In many ways he was the traditional dad, but on many other occasions, he was not the traditional dad. But I can honestly say that the artist I am today was and still is inspired by Dad. He told me that I “had it,” that I had to listen to my own voice and own up to it. He stressed how important it was for me to “shine within my own light” and to “go out and live in that light,” to hear my own inner voice and find my truth.
It was at these times I really understood that Richard Pryor could be a traditional dad and not just the comic genius the rest of the world saw. Even when he disciplined me, he did so from the point of view of Father Knows Best or the dad on Leave It to Beaver, a dad who was concerned, loving and who wanted the very best for his child.