Anyone who’s had the chance to see comedian and competitive Roast Battler, Ms. Pat onstage knows that she shares it all. From the antics of her kids to the time she got shot in the chest, few things seem off limits. Yet there are stories that even she hasn’t brought herself to share onstage. But now in her autobiography Rabbit, some of those stories she “hasn’t been able to make funny” are finally out in the open.
Ms. Pat (birth name: Patricia Williams) came to stand up comedy after a caseworker told her that there was a humor in the way she related stories; she was encouraged to dig deeper with her jokes after fellow comics noted the stories she told between sets were funnier than some of the short bits she did for audiences. But even as her act got more personal, there were still gaps to fill. “You can’t make everything funny on stage,” she told me during our release day conversation. “It took me a long time [to joke] about getting shot, to make it funny. Chapter Five, (in which she talks about her history with abuse and sexual assault) I can’t tell onstage. It’s a technique. You have to take out what doesn’t work and see what you can draw people back to.”
The book gives her an opportunity to show readers and fans of her work a closer look at her circumstances, on her own terms. For example, “in a book, you can tell the whole nitty gritty of every detail and it doesn’t have to all be funny. On stage, you must be funny every minute. So in the book, I could reveal a lot that I couldn’t say on stage. You know, I can make jokes about being shot in the nipple or being a teenage mom who didn’t know how to breastfeed. But in the book, I could go into detail about what that was really like.”
That detail is in so many ways representative of Ms. Pat’s revealing onstage persona. I asked her if she thought this openness made her easier to roast in Roast Battle scenarios, or harder. Her answer surprised me: “Guess what? I don’t like to be roasted, I don’t like to be talked about. I grew up being talked about.” Comedy gave her a way to answer those criticisms and slights head-on. “I learned how to jawn. I had to learn how to snap back.” This telling of her story is but another way to frame her narrative on her own terms, to snap back at critics and those who might dismiss her backstory.
Rabbit is honest and introspective, giving the reader the opportunity to learn, in Pat’s words, “my whole reason for surviving, my whole reason for wanting a change in life. It starts you from the beginning. From the broken foundation I started on, to today where I am.” Among those stories include the encouragement from her third grade teacher who inspired her, the sexual abuse she endured from her mother’s boyfriend, and taking on her mother’s funeral arrangement as a sixteen year old mother of two. Readers will learn deeply moving and inspiring things about the seemingly fearless woman who graces stages around the country with a smile and a hearty laugh. But as much as readers will learn about Ms. Pat, she was shocked to learn even more about herself throughout the process.
Williams worked with a co-writer, Jeannine Amber, who found her through a 2014 appearance on comedian (and friend to the Interrobang) Ari Shaffir’s podcast Skeptic Tank. Enthralled by her story’s complexity, frankness, and hilarity, she approached the comic at an appearance at Union Hall days later and talked her into collaborating on a book. In a statement, Amber praised Ms. Pat for her vivid portrayal of her circumstances:
“Every moment of Pat’s life is a movie unto itself, and she remembers it all in vivid detail. Deciding which anecdotes not to include became one of the greatest challenges of this book. In the end, I focused on telling the story Pat most wanted to share, about how she made it out of the hood and turned her life around when all the chips were stacked against her. I hope I did her journey justice.”
With a memory that sharp and a style so open, I asked Ms. Pat if there were any folks who would be surprised to read what was in the book’s pages? Her immediate response? “My first kid’s father is hot. ‘You only talked about the bad times!’ [he said.] I said, ‘I took you to the skating rink!’ I don’t think he’s happy at all.” But she was also quick to reflect on what such an instance showed her about her relationships with him, as well as her mother. “I had no idea I was still protecting the people that hurt [me] so badly. I would say [to Jeannine], ‘Don’t make them look bad.’ This book helped me to let go.”
In choosing to let go, Ms. Pat hopes to share the lessons from her extraordinary story with others and suspects her own journey might be relatable to more people than just those who have been in her exact circumstances. “I hope people take away from this book, don’t be afraid to share your story. You’d be surprised how many people have been through what you’ve been through.”
Rabbit is available now in bookstores nationwide from Dey Street Books. Order it on Amazon now.