From The Vault: A 2015 Interview with Rain Pryor

The below Q&A was an interview I conducted sometime in 2015 when I was a Staff Blogger at the website, HelloBeautiful. I was asked if I would be interested in talking to Rain Pryor about her one-woman show Fried Chicken & Latkes and I immediately said yes to the assignment. I certainly knew who she was, and not just as one of Richard Pryor’s children, but as a comedienne and actress in her own right.

From what I can recall, I think it was via a video chat as I believe she was in her car! Like, that’s the image I have every time I remember doing this. But despite that, she was totally present and we had a great conversation.

Of course we talked about her show, which at the time, one of her performances had been recorded in full to be possibly distributed and shown as a film. And thankfully, I was able to view Fried Chicken & Latkes prior to interviewing Rain, and I did like it a lot.

A 2015 poster for Fried Chicken & Latkes

On stage, Rain detailed, with voices and mannerisms to match, her unique upbringing as the daughter of a popular comic (the late Pryor. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 65), but also as a biracial, Black-Jewish girl. Hence the very fun but upfront title of her show that marries two cultures together and through such recognizable attributes when it comes cultural cuisine or dishes. (Though, people of all walks of life can prepare and eat the aforementioned foods).

Rain portrayed and reenacted interactions with her mother and grandmother from her “white side.” As well as her black grandmother that owned a brothel(!) and various others such as former classmates. Fried Chicken & Latkes additionally discussed the racism and prejudices of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and family dynamics that even if you yourself are not biracial, multicultural, Jewish or African-American, you can relate to.

At its core, Fried Chicken & Latkes is the story of a girl balancing multiple aspects, opinions, and realities against the backdrop of coming of age in a post-1960s world…thus while living in the Hollywood Hills!

During my interview, I had also asked Rain a few questions about the state of comedy in 2015, Black women in popular culture, and we touched a bit on current racial tensions, as the Black Lives Matter movement was still in its nascence and developing and gathering steam and support nationwide, following the murders of unarmed, Black individuals such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Sandra Bland in Hempstead, Texas.

When we wrapped up the interview, I had felt excited and accomplished! (And I had spoken with Rain Pryor!!)

But even though I had completed my assignment and I had my transcript and notes on standby, publishing it on HB’s website was put on hold as I basically had to wait until the film had a release date. Fair enough.

However, a full version of Fried Chicken & Latkes was never released. In the years since, all I could find online were clips. And Rain had admitted that distribution discussions were iffy at the moment at best. I suppose looking back, the interview was arranged in hopes that the film would be released later that year, as it had garnered great reviews during its theatre run.

After no longer working at HB, I held on to the audio. I figured maybe one day, I’d just post it on my own! But I just never got around to it. In 2021 though, I finally made the real effort to transcribe the interview and to post it on this very blog. Seven years later (why does 2015 feel like fifteen years ago though), the interview is finally here in 2022, even though Fried Chicken & Latkes as a film is not.

A 2013 poster for Fried Chicken & Latkes

(An update: there have been talks in the last seven years to adapt the show into a feature film or series. In 2018, TV legend Norman Lear was attached to a small-screen adaptation. But nothing has materialized enough to fulfill the Fried Chicken & Latkes IMDB page).

In re-reading the interview, even though we cannot watch her show in full, so much of what Rain said is so relevant in 2022. BLM became a true global movement in spring 2020. And while Black women in Hollywood have come far, and Black television and film seem to be in a renaissance that echoes the Black Hollywood eras of the 1970s and the late ’80s throughout the ’90s (Insecure; Run the World; Harlem; Our Kind of People; The Wonder Years reboot; Abbott Elementary; Moonlight; Black Panther) specials covering the hoops Black talent go through to be treated and paid fairly are still being produced and exposed in Hollywood. Soul of a Nation did recent episode centered on Black women navigating Tinseltown. And considering the recent controversy over on The View on the subject of Jewish people, Rain’s quotes on the complexity of what it means to be, or even look “Jewish” are insightful.

Please read on below for our chat, and maybe one day, Fried Chicken & Latkes will be on a screen near us.

(Note: The Q&A goes right into my conversation with her, so, my apologies for what will read as an abrupt start! I cleaned it up as much as I could considering the film was never release but for readers to still follow somehow! And bear in mind that these are her words from 2015. Maybe consider looking up a recent interview of Rain’s as I’m sure her thoughts have expanded too!)

Q: I really liked the layered presentation of the film because it’s like stand-up, but also a personal testimony.

What made you and the director want to present it that way, instead of just speaking to the camera directly and showing clips from your past? [Like documentary-style?]

A: We wanted to make sure that [if telling a story], it would be a story that nobody knows of [when it comes to my life]. Like, it’s not about my dad. And my show deals with race.

Because we’re in such a tense time, the director thought that the [stand-up presentation] would be appropriate. Because you don’t get to see two Jewish women talking about raising a black child. Ever! [Laughs] And the way in which my mom thinks about stuff, you don’t ever to hear that perspective. So I believe that’s why we chose to present it that way.

Q: And speaking of the women [portrayed in your show], what I thought was neat was that, everyone wants to hear about what it’s like to be Richard Pryor’s daughter. But what I got from Fried Chicken and Latkes is that it was kind of felt like a love letter to the women in your family. Like yes, my dad was Richard, but my mom [Shelley R. Bonus] was there, my grandma was there, both from my Jewish side. My grandma from my Black side. So, I suppose I’m curious to know, what was it like to actually talk about these people in your life for a change?

A: You know what, for me, it’s so natural! So, it was easy. It wasn’t weird, you know? It was like, duh! That’s how I looked at it. Of course, I’m going to talk about them. Everyone already knows about dad. So why waste time talking about dad!

Q: That’s what I was thinking! It was so cool to hear about the rest of the family!

As you got older, did you feel less alone as a Black-Jewish girl?

A: It wasn’t until I did my show in 2001, for the very first time, that I actually met more women that were Black and Jewish. So, I didn’t think I existed [until then]. That was really difficult.

And, look, I live in an all-Jewish neighborhood but it’s very orthodox and I still feel like I don’t exist. Because it’s a European mentality, that’s why. It’s not an Israeli mentality. Like in Israel, people would assume I was Jewish but also assume I was Palestinian because of how I look. Whereas European Jews don’t see that. They see white. [The white skin].

Q: Interesting. So it’s like, even though they see White, it’s not an ethnic white? Like, I’ve met people who are white but don’t see themselves as white. For example, I had a co-worker of mine who is from Jordan, and she admitted to me one day–I’m sure it was in relation to whatever we were talking about–that she didn’t see herself as “white.” [Basically, as Caucasian]. 

A: She’s like, I’m from Jordan!

Q: You never, at least I hadn’t, heard that feeling expressed before. [From someone that otherwise looks white].

My next question is: did you hesitate at all in making this film? Like, of course, you’ve been performing the show for forever, but just the prospect of turning the show into a film...

A: Yes, because my feeling was that it would come off as very mea-culpa. So, I was like, if anything, please make sure it’s just not a “poor me” story. I didn’t want it to be this sad thing. I’m a very active, pro-active woman in my life, so if anything, please show that I’m a warrior as opposed to, “My life was horrible. I grew up like this.” That was the fear. [Laughs].

I did. I had tremendous hesitation at first, like, “Should I do this? Or not?” But in talking to the director and saying this is what I want and being on board with that, that became our intention. Not to make it, “Poor Rain.”

Q: I never got that impression! Like, you acknowledge kind of being in your own little bubble, and watching everybody else. Maybe it’s just the way you said things. But the show never came across like you felt sorry for yourself. 

A: Thank goodness!

Q: Yeah! It was all very, this is just life as Rain.

A: Right!

Q: Were there any segments or parts while performing Fried Chicken & Latkes that felt healing for you? Past or present?

A: No. No. No. Not at all. What’s funny though is that that part where I talk about my dad, and I start crying, I still cry when I see that. I’m still in touch with how that hurt. That part gets me emotional.

Q: Moments like that made me think of asking, because even though it’s a sore spot, maybe in some odd way I thought might’ve been healing in the form of the show. [But such sadness and feelings] I suppose you just deal with it day by day.

A: Yeah.

Q: Now, I also got some questions about our popular culture landscape…

A: Go ahead!

Q: I definitely want to hear your opinion on this. I would like to know how you honestly feel about the state of black women in comedy. Because last month, there was the SNL 40 special and there was a joke or “question” made during Jerry Seinfeld’s Audience Q&A skit, by Ellen Cleghorne, a former SNL cast member, about black women and the lack of Black women across platforms and fields.

I was curious to hear from you, regarding the black women in comedy thing, and from a pop culture standpoint, is it really something that we need to be concerned about? Or, is this exclusive to SNL?

Fast-forward to the 3:49 time-stamp. It’s actually kinda cringe and this whole clip makes celebrity culture look rather cheesy and trying too hard! (Minus Larry David!) And peep what celebrities have since been “cancelled.” Oh boy.

A: No, I think it’s something we need to be concerned about. it Because you’re either labeled urban or not. I’m in the “not” category. I’m not urban enough to be in urban rooms because I’m talking about social issues. I’m not talking about the black experience of growing up in the hood. I’m not talking about the black experience in terms of dating the n-word.

So, I do. It’s also like, you’ve got to be a lesbian. We just get categorized. No! The reality is–first of all, we come in so many different shades and have so many different experiences. And that needs to be represented. Period. And not just in stand-up. In television. And be represented within our own culture, as black women.

Q: Not so one-note. Monolithic.

A: Yes! It’s like, c’mon already! This is 2015. And we’re still dealing with post-traumatic slave syndrome. Let’s work through it!

Q: And to bounce off of that question and answer. I suppose this is a two-parter. As a Black-Jewish woman, is it ever possible to view the world as one or the other? Can you ever view it as a black girl or a white girl? Or is it always fundamentally from a biracial, Black-Jewish point of view?

A: It’s amazing you say that. So in my blood, because we believe in the Jewish tradition, you carry on the line of your mother. So, therefore, no matter what, I’m Jewish. Now, my spiritual practice is truly African. So I consider myself a Black woman with Jewish heritage that stems from the first Jews being Black. So I consider myself Black.

Am I biracial? Yes. Is my mother blonde-haired and blue-eyed? Of course, she is. But the scope of my nature and spiritual beliefs are Black.

Q: Like when you say, Black, it’s not just literally about a skin tone.

A: No. It’s my soul. My people. My everything. It’s like food. I don’t exclude it. I am technically biracial. But the truth is, the first Jews were Black. So I am Black, and I don’t have to decide or put myself in some category or turn myself inside out. Can I code-switch? I sure can. But I don’t feel the obligation.

Q: I was so curious! I hope I wasn’t rude in how I asked. Because I think that’s how other people see it, like “pick-a-side.

And in slightly referring to SNL again, but in a different way, what’s the hardest thing about stand-up, like, as a comedienne?

A: For me, the fact that I cross all racial lines. As I said, I’m not an urban comic. I’m not Sommore. I’m not Monique! I have yet to see a woman that’s like me that also isn’t urban. I sit right down the middle because I grew up a certain way. I can’t talk about certain experiences! I didn’t grow up like that.

And people for some reason, in our culture, people have adopted my dad as the Black comic. Like, he changed the voice of the Black comic. But what my dad did, he not only shared his experience, he wasn’t urban. If you listen to his comedy, by today’s standards and style, he wouldn’t be considered urban.

Everybody came to his shows. Did he share the Black experience as it related to the 1950s and ‘60s? Of course, he did. But it was a different era. So that’s what I mean. There’s this label we have in stand-up about what is…I don’t know it’s weird. I just wish it would frigging go away! So that everyone who comes to a show isn’t waiting for that comedian to share that experience in order for them to laugh.

I don’t want to have to say the n-word, I don’t want to have to say n*ggas and bitches in order for you to laugh. And then that’s the punchline? Because that’s not a punchline. My dad used those words in context to the era and it was more so like punctuation.

Q: [To switch gears, just because I don’t want to forget!] There was a quote in which you said, “Unique wasn’t in yet.” Do you feel like it is now?

A: I think it’s becoming more so. I think people who look like me, that don’t look like Halle Berry and Lisa Bone, have a little more ethnic features or whatever it is, I think we’re becoming more in style. It’s like, natural hair’s in style. Macy Gray did it, and everybody was like, “Oooo, it’s okay to do that now!” And I’m like wait, I grew up in the era where that should’ve been acceptable! [Laughs]

Q: For the readers who will eventually see the show, was there anything that connected your two grandmothers from your Jewish side and Black side?

A: It was just me that connected them. And food. They were cooking all the time. So I think that was it. That was the extent of it. And then they had me.

Q: Of course, your show touches on topics of great concern. From bullying, racism, sexism, the differences in cultures. In 2015, we’re in this really odd place with racism especially. But maybe before 2015 and ’14, did you feel that there was progress from how you grew up in the 1970s to how in the decades since, people treat these topics?

A: To be honest, no. No. Everyone just hid it. Now, we’re in a culture in which it’s like, okay, we have to be politically correct and that made people more volatile than ever. 

There was freedom in somebody who harbors the word “n*gger” in their soul and can say it as opposed to someone who harbors it and can’t fucking say it–excuse my French–and get angrier.

Politically correct-ness has screwed everything up. It’s made [things] worse.

Q: What are some of your favorite parts of the show?

A: You know what my favorite part is? I got two favorite parts.

When we moved to Beverly Hills and [my grandmother] didn’t want anything to do with it and then she became one of them. I think that’s hilarious! Because that’s her. That’s truly her. 

The other involves my mother and talking about how she thought the Beverly Hills school system was liberal but they’re really full of shit! 

Q: Last question. What is your hair routine?

A: Girl, I wash my hair maybe once or twice a week! I’ll give you the products I use: I use Cantu conditioner. I also use this Cantu curl thing and twist my hair at night. And then I let it go.

But I didn’t know until recently how to twist my hair. So I would everyday wash my hair and put conditioner in it in order to get it to curl. And now I twist and wash my hair once or twice a week if I have to.

I also use Jane Carter hair shine. It’s like an oil, and it smells so good. I put in my hair daily. You can actually put it everywhere. You’ll love the smell! I’m a big fan of her products, as well as Cantu.

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