16 Best Stand-Up Comics Turned Filmmakers

From Woody Allen to Joan Rivers, these comedians went from prowling club stages to calling the shots behind the camera

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Richard Pryor

A strong contender — and we do mean strong — for the title of the Greatest Stand-Up Comic ever, Richard Pryor personalized and revolutionized the form; ask virtually any stand-up what the incendiary comedian did for opening up the medium, and he or she will talk your ear off for hours. And while you would not characterize either of the films that Pryor directed as being particularly "revolutionary," they both contain the compelling mixtures of fact and fiction, real life and storytelling, that made his best bits so biting and unforgettable. One was a concert film (1983's Richard Pryor...Here and Now). The other was tale of a young man who endured a hard childhood to become a world-class comedian tap-dancing through a minefield of his own self-destructive tendencies.
The Must-See: You don't exactly need a decoder ring to decipher Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1989); this barely fictionalized, blatantly autobiographical drama is transparently about Pryor's own life and career. Whether growing up in a brothel or suffering a near-fatal freebase immolation, if it happened to the comedian, his onscreen stand-in must endure it as well.

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