Showtime’s new series, “I’m Dying Up Here,” takes a brilliant look back at the comedy scene in Los Angeles during the 1970s. The show is executive produced by Jim Carrey and stars Melissa Leo as Goldie, the owner of the hottest comedy club on the Sunset Strip. As the series is getting ready to make its television debut on June 4, AXS had the chance to speak with Brandon Ford Green, the entertainer who plays one of the most beloved stand-up comics of all time - the great, Richard Pryor.
“I remember reading the script for the first time and knowing within a few pages it was something special,” he tells AXS. The hour-long drama tackles the ups and downs of what it really takes to make it in stand-up comedy. Aside from Pryor and Goldie (whose character is loosely based on Mitzi Shore, owner of The Comedy Store) there’s also Dylan Baker, who stars as Johnny Carson. The rest of the show mainly revolves around fictional characters based on the book by William Knoedelseder.
Weaving fantasy and reality together is not the easiest task, but Green’s dynamic portrayal of Pryor is one of the things that helps blend both worlds together beautifully. When it came to preparing for the role, the actor said, “I rented everything on Pryor I could get my hands on, went home and locked myself in my apartment for two days. I read as many articles and watched as many interviews online as I could find. I tried to not only get his mannerisms but to also figure out who this guy was at his core. He was an extremely complicated man.”
So, which film was his biggest inspiration for the character? “The one that’s closest to my heart is ‘Harlem Nights,’” he said. “My dad took me to see that when I was a kid. Pryor was my father's hero.” He shared, “My dad would act out his routines for me when I was younger and I always thought he was just saying crazy stuff to make me laugh. Until I got a little older and he started playing Pryor's vinyl albums for me. I was obsessed with Eddie Murphy back then and my dad taught me that if it wasn't for Pryor there'd be no Murphy.”
Green says that recreating those scenarios from the golden age of comedy was a dream come true and that playing such an icon is a massive responsibility. “You'd be hard-pressed to find one comedian working nowadays who wasn't in some way influenced by what Pryor brought to the table,” he explained.
“Before that time, comedy was clean, family-friendly and safe. Lenny Bruce was the one that paved the way back in the ‘60s but in the early ‘70s they took what he started and just ran with it. Blue comedy more or less started to become the norm and still is today.”
“He was an artist. Plain and simple,” Green says about Pryor. “And to get the opportunity to portray someone who was a trailblazer and a hero, not only to his generation but to every generation since, is nothing short of - and I hate to say this because I think the term is overused but I feel it applies here - a blessing.”
You can see Brandon Ford Green/Richard Pryor make his appearance in episode four. To find out more about what the actor is up to, you can follow him on social media at @thatBFGguy.
Make sure you tune into Showtime to watch “I’m Dying Up Here” on June 4 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.