How Richard Pryor Changed a Comic Trope on Police Brutality

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…

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