How Richard Pryor called out the cops
By Jason Zinoman
Police brutality has a surprisingly long history in comedy.
An officer swinging a nightstick was one of the most common images in early comic strips, and Charlie Chaplin was always running from the police, dodging clubs and bullets. Those cops were generally portrayed as clownish bullies, and their violence, divorced from any racial context, played as a kind of shtick. When they swung their clubs, you never really felt the blow.
More than anyone else, Richard Pryor changed that. He wasn’t the first stand-up to take aim at racist policing. Pioneering political comic Dick Gregory, in his 1961 debut album, “In Living Black & White,” quipped: “In Chicago, we have enough cops. It’s just a matter of getting them on our side.”