Which Way is Up? Artist Fellow Kevin Epps Gets Down with Richard Pryor

Today's guest blogger is 2011 de Young Artist Fellow Kevin Epps, whose film Fam Bam had its world premiere at the de Young last fall. As part of the Museums’ goal to continue its relationships with Artist Fellows and their collaborating partners–in this case the African American Art and Culture Complex–Epps will curate a two-part Filmmaker’s Lounge series featuring movies by local filmmakers.To celebrate Black History Month, Epps has selected films that draw from his memories of growing up in San Francisco’s African American community. The series kicks off this Saturday, February 4 with Which Way is Up?, starring Richard Pryor.

Which Way is Up? Poster

Richard Pryor. Let’s see… where do I start? He's considered by many to be the greatest comedian—ever. He's my favorite. I've watched almost every film, literally listened to almost all of his recorded shows, and frequently watch YouTube clips of him. My introduction to Richard Pryor began at a very, very young age. My moms, my uncles, my aunties, everybody that I knew at that time in my little world, although they were not necessarily comedy fans, they were all definitely Richard Pryor fans.

We were forbidden to watch him because of our age and most definitely because of his foul mouthhis sometimes vile comedy was laced with humor and made you cry laughing! But I, my siblings, my cousins and other underagers couldn’t escape the Richard Pryor effect. It was all in the air, everywhere, like the release of a Michael Jackson album. It was the main attraction. We listened and learned and laughed at the way he told jokes with a vivid, creative and brilliant imagination. I remember those records of his live performances playing over and over and over and over again.

He was a colorful character on screen as well. One of my all time favorites is the cult film Which Way is Up?, which we'll be showcasing for Black History Month. Pryor plays three different roles in it so it's a never-ending overdose for Richard Pryor addicts. In addition to showing the film, I am equally excited to have in person and in conversation one of the writers of the film, UC Berkeley and Stanford professor and writer Cecil Brown. In his youth, Brown was a protégé of Richard Pryor and had a chance to run with and be a part of his personal entourage.

So laugh-in Black History Month with Which Way Is Up? (1977, 94 min.) this Saturday, Februray 4 at 3:30 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium. Don’t miss the second film in the Filmmakers Lounge series, What’s Going On: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye, which will be screened on February 19.

All film screenings are free.