Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling
Richard Pryor, Debbie Allen, Billy Eckstine, Michael Ironside
Written, directed, and produced by Richard Pryor
Columbia Pictures 1986
98 minutes

If there ever was any doubt as to Richard Pryor being a very talented man, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling put that to rest. The late comic produced and directed this very autobiographical movie in addition to co-writing it. Right at the beginning of Richard Pryor’s Jo Jo Dancer you know you are in for a well-done, sometimes funny, sometimes pathetically sad, as close as you can get to the real Pryor, story.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling begins with a blackout and a stand-up comic doing jokes. You then see Jo Jo Dancer swearing off drugs and then lighting up. Like Pryor, Dancer gets third degree burns to half his body. This is when Jo Jo has an out of body experience (and you can see Richard Pryor’s burn scars) and a life flashing before your eyes experience that is Your Life Is Calling. The movie also asks the question if you had a second chance would you be able to use it though, as Jo Jo finds out maybe you should not use it right there and then, and, as Jo Jo’s spirit finds out you better be careful the advice you give does not turn on you.

This comedy biographical drama has many brilliant moments. Richard Pryor shows a great talent for alternating from comedy to drama at the drop of a punchline such as when he goes into a gangster’s office to get the money for his first gig, totally unaware he is dealing with the mafia and his starter pistol weapon is only going to get him killed. It also becomes obvious that the reason Jo Jo Dancer and Pryor did drugs is because they are very sensitive men with a very thin skin when it comes to how people treat them.

The weirdest scene in Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling is when Jo Jo is on stage doing a bit about doing acid, freaking out, and not wanting to die. The low point here is the scenes involving Debbie Allen. Allen is not that good an actress and she does not have much to do with the very incomplete character presented here. This, in many ways, is probably because Pryor was more aware of Dancer’s past than his immediate present. It is also the flaw in Jo Jo Dancer: you know it could have been better than it already is and it is pretty damn good.

The sad thing about Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling is it was not nominated for any awards when it obviously deserved at least some nomination recognition. I guess the powers that be thought it was just Pryor playing Richard Pryor but he did also direct and produce this dramatic comedy masterpiece as well as being one of the three writers on it (and you know how weird writing or any other Hollywood film credit can be).

Jo Jo Dancer is a brilliant, original, slightly flawed movie.

Check our our Richard Pryor comedy CD reviews:  Craps (After Hours)

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