Rain Pryor’s autobiographical solo show, Fried Chicken & Latkes, deals with her mixed-race — and mixed-up — family in a frank, touching but always entertaining way. Now in its L.A. premiere, the show is something she’s been working on (and touring) for the past 15 years. She also wrote about her family in a published memoir, “Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love and Loss with Richard Pryor.”
The 47-year-old Rain begins her show with an impassioned rendition of “Every Day I Have the Blues,” a fitting statement from a woman whose father self-destructed on drugs and whose mother, the second of Richard Pryor’s five wives, slashed her wrists in a suicide attempt. Miraculously, Rain survived that childhood confrontation with unhappiness and death to become a strong person in her own right, a singer, writer, and actress who has been able to follow her own path in life, most of the time with a smile on her lips.
Key to her happiness were the years she spent with her Jewish grandparents in L.A., absorbing their religious and cultural values, experiencing love and laughter with them. A wisecrack from those days: “Shopping in a sale is a Jewish woman’s orgasm.”
Rain plays a dozen-odd characters during the course of her hour-long show, but mainly she focuses on her bubbe, her father and mother (an ex-gogo dancer), and her paternal grandmother, who ran a southern whorehouse for many years. Rain imitates that old biddy’s voice, gait, and demeanor with uncanny — and hilarious — skill.
Race is a key factor in Fried Chicken & Latkes. As the daughter of a black man and a white woman, she saw first-hand the acts of terror committed by the KKK, who burned crosses on their front lawn and sent them threatening messages. In school, both white and black kids bullied her, insulted her. She handled it the way her father taught her to: “You put your pants on. You put your shoes on. You keep walking. You deal with it.”
Today Rain is a mother who practices Ifa, an ancient African spiritual tradition, as well as Judaism. She eats both brisket and collard greens. She is also a kind of poster girl for diversity and consonance. Above all, though, she is a gifted and charming entertainer and story-teller.