Written By Earl Douglas with Andrew Fargnoli
“There’s a context to my existence,” Patrice O’Neal—the controversial, polarizing comedian and deep thinker who died three years ago today, Saturday November 29th —once told an interviewer. O’Neal loved context and it was critical to his comedy. Context made everything make sense. While Patrice wanted people to laugh, he knew was doing something wrong if everyone was laughing. In his comedy album Mr. P, O’Neal tells the crowd, “It’s not fun if everybody’s laughing”. On a whole, O’Neal seemed to be operating in the essence of comedy—that not everything was funny to everyone, jokes could make people uncomfortable, and there’s comedy in disagreement—and he thrived off this.
Although he called himself a ’boutique comic,’ Patrice O’Neal was the most aware comic of his generation. Rarely has there been a comic so wired into the orbit around him, with the ability to improvise things with such fine observation, be lighting fast AND funny; it was a joy and marvel to witness. Watch the first ten minutes of his Comedy Central special Elephant In The Room or his spot on the Charlie Sheen roast. Unscripted, on point, in the moment, yet disciplined enough to get back to the matter at hand. Laugh out loud funny too.
With Patrice, it never felt like an act, but like an ongoing conversation. He could riff on any topic in any venue and often off the top of his head. He was constantly in the moment and made you think and laugh (often out loud) at the same time. Patrice could hang just as easily on any of the Fox News show host as he did on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. Whether you leaned right or left, it didn’t matter to him. He was so free within his own skin, and multidimensional in analysis, you respected his opinions even if you necessarily didn’t agree with it. Can you imagine what Patrice would say about George Zimmerman, Ray Rice, or Adrian Peterson? Darren Wilson and The Ferguson protests? Obama’s immigration policy? The passing of Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Joan Rivers? Bill Cosby? The producers of the various talking head shows would been killing each other to book him. His brand of philosophical, topical, yet universal brand of comedy was not only ahead of its time then, and its all but the vanguard now.
Would it offend and outrage? Of course. But because he had such a strong sense of context, rationale and most importantly conviction behind it, the notion that Patrice O’Neal would be doing some sort of ‘I apologize’ press junket would be unfathomable.
There is a reason why Patrice was beloved by Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, Dane Cook, Colin Quinn, Seth Meyers and Sherri Shepherd and other comedic greats. Why Bill Burr cried on Conan O’Brien when promoting the Patrice O’Neal benefit concerts. There’s a reason why we are still talking and remembering the man three years after his passing. He was THAT dude.
Patrice O’Neal left behind a legacy that we are still drawing from and a void we are still trying to fill. So today, we celebrate Black Saturday by sharing 26 ways to enjoy just how brilliant Patrice O’Neal was on stage and in life. These are in no particular order, enjoy any of them or all of them.
Rest easy Patrice. We miss you.
(list by Andrew Fargnoli)
The list is not meant to be exhaustive, or in order of importance, but it’s a good start to putting O’Neal’s legacy in perspective. And it’s also a really great way to spend your weekend.
The Comedy of Patrice O’Neal
1. Elephant in the Room. O’Neal’s Comedy Central special, premiering in February 2011, features, among other things, O’Neal doing some crowd work, his disappointment in Obama not bringing about white slavery, his perspective on Natalie Holloway, and Harassment Day, a workplace holiday that will take place on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (which is coincidentally also the Tuesday before O’Neal’s death)–and this is all within the first half. Order Patrice O’Neal – Elephant In The Room from Amazon.com.
2. Mr. P. O’Neal’s only comedy album, recorded in the nation’s capital, came out after the comedian’s death and, according to Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, who did a profile on O’Neal for New York magazine, “many working comics believe it will rank as one of the top 25 comedy albums of all time.” And it’s hard to disagree. O’Neal owns the audience and his material. It’s compulsory listening for O’Neal fans, in particular, and stand-up fans, in general. Order Mr. P [Explicit] from Amazon.com.
3. Unreleased. Think of this as a companion album to Mr. P. It features outtakes from O’Neal D.C. Improv appearance that comprise Mr. P. Get this and Mr. P and never stop laughing and missing O’Neal. (In fact, both Mr. P and Unreleased can be purchased here, with proceeds going to O’Neal’s family. Use the code LoveForPatriceCombo to get $2 off, and if already have Mr. P and want to get only Unreleased, use the code LoveForPatrice.)
Patrice O’Neal on Television, In Video, and In Films
4. Hannity and Colmes. In-studio O’Neal battles it out with the hosts and talking heads about the reactions to Don Imus’s controversial comments about Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team that got him fired in 2007. Watch part one (Patrice shows up at 2:10) and part two and as it spills over into part three.
5. Webjunk 20. Fellow comedian and friend of O’Neal’s, Robert Kelly described the show as basically Tosh.0 but three years earlier, and it basically is, but with Patrice at the helm. Tosh’s show is currently at six seasons and O’Neal’s show could have survived just as long, but O’Neal simply didn’t want to do it anymore, despite the fact that more money was thrown at him to continue. Here’s behind-the-scenes footage of O’Neal on set. (By the way, the YouTube channel that hosts this clip and Hannity and Colmes one too, is dedicated to O’Neal, which fans will recognize in the name CultOfBlackPhillip, a reference to O’Neal’s advice show on XM.) You can also watch clips on vh1.com. Bonus: Watch Patrice O’Neal compilation from I Love The 90s.
6. The Green Room with Paul Provenza. O’Neal appears with Roseanne Barr, Bob Saget, and Sandra Bernhard, people O’Neal acknowledges are way more famous than him (which he proves with the audience applause at each comic’s introduction at the top of the show), and O’Neal more than holds his own. In an indictment of the industry, O’Neal admits, “I was hilarious until I started doing comedy.” It’s a really insightful roundtable and O’Neal discusses, among other things, how he went from using the audience to get what he wanted to “loving the people again” as he did when he started comedy.
7. Tough Crowd. Track down any episode this show hosted by Colin Quinn with O’Neal as a guest and you’ll see O’Neal in his element. Here are a few to click around through.
8. The Roast of Charlie Sheen. A reluctant O’Neal agrees to roast Charlie Sheen, a man he doesn’t know personally but respects for how he’s conducting a standoff with the industry, and closes the show to devastating effect, railing on everyone from Shatner—telling him that Captain Kirk is an asshole—to the guy’s whose last name’s difficulty isn’t worth learning for Patrice, and he mostly leaves Sheen unscathed, telling him he admires him and what he stands for, but not his body of work. Here’s Patrice’s segment but watch the whole thing.
9. The Patrice O’Neal Show: Coming Soon! A show about the making of a sketch show, this video series lasted two seasons. Each brief episode features O’Neal and team attempting to produce sketches. Viewers see only bits of what the would-be sketches, so convincingly executed that reviewers of the DVD set of the first season, which contains commentary from O’Neal, are certain that they’ve purchased a DVD of previews and not the actual show and aren’t sure where they can find the actual show.
10. Backyard BBQ. In this home footage, O’Neal sits around with friends and other comics—Godfrey, Turae Gordon, Keith Robinson, Hannibal Buress, Harris Stanton—and discuss how to save Godrey from the industry and O’Neal’s reaction to Buress opening for him. “Hannibal looks like he tells knock-knock jokes,” Patrice says. “He hit ’em hard.” In a tweet, Buress noted this was the last time he saw O’Neal.
11. O’Neal’s Films. “You may recognize Patrice from his many speaking roles in movies,” roastmaster Seth McFarlane says in his introduction of O’Neal at the Charlie Sheen roast, “but only if you’ve sat in front of him in the theater.” Truth is, O’Neal was in some movies, not ton: 25th Hour, Head of State, In the Cut, Scary Movie 4 (from which he was deleted), Furry Vengeance, and Nature Calls.
The Essential Interviews
12. Unmasked with Ron Bennington. In this remarkable interview with Ron Bennington, O’Neal comes across as optimistic and upbeat in this interview with a fired up audience to witness, though he does admit about the comedy and entertainment industry, “This game is long and lonely.” He’s candid about the uphill battle to remain true to himself, and flourish careerwise. It is in this interview where Patrice talks about the need to be “righteous” in his comedy.
13. Mohr Stories. Now known as the “last interview,” O’Neal stopped by comedian Jay Mohr’s podcast. It’s part O’Neal taking advantage of the platform to speak his mind and part Mohr giving O’Neal an industry pep talk about taking on more projects, and he seems to be getting through to some extent. By the end, O’Neal seems marginally keen on doing an audio podcast himself. After all, he bought all the necessary equipment after going on his first podcast. (Oneal’s fiancée, in her interview noted below, confirms that O’Neal’s podcast was all set up.) You can also hear it here.
14. WTF with Marc Maron. According to O’Neal’s own count, he appeared on two podcasts, and WTF was one of them. Maron interviewed O’Neal for episode 95. Patrice spoke his mind to Maron who didn’t always seem to know what to make of his guest. When O’Neal passed, Maron rereleased the interview with a grief-stricken intro.
15. Diabetes Forecast. Shortly before his death, O’Neal opened up to the diabetes-centric publication about his struggles wiht type 2 diabetes, a condition O’Neal had for as long as he was doing comedy. It’s interesting to hear O’Neal discuss his ailment, but perhaps most interesting is the editorial note explaining that the published interview is a “slightly sanitized version” suitable for a family magazine. It’s fun to play Mad Libs with this interview, imagining where O’Neal’s language was scrubbed. Even cleaned up, O’Neal manages to be insightful and expound his comedy philosophy: “People who are funny joke about everything; there’s no inappropriate thing.”
16. BET.com. After O’Neal’s death, Von DeCarlo shares a lot about her life with O’Neal and drops some surprising facts: O’Neals diet—he was vegan at the end of his life—and one of his favorite books—Skinny Bitch. In addition to being an important, thoughtful comedian who made people double over in laughter, perhaps one reason fans who never met O’Neal miss him so much is that they feel like in some ways they lost someone they knew, a friend. DeCarlo confirms this feeling: “There was absolutely no difference between Patrice on our couch talking to you, Patrice on stage talking to a few hundred people or Patrice on TV talking to a few million.”
The Must Read Articles
17. “The Comedians We’re Afraid Of”. This profile in New York magazine by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, is finely reported and lengthy tribute to O’Neal, covering his life and death—from his early career to his funeral. Compulsory reading for O’Neal fans.
18. “A Few Words About Patrice O’Neal Who Passed Away This Week” The day O’Neal passed away, the Ibang’s own Earl Douglas (who also co-wrote the above article) wrote a beautiful piece sharing his feelings about O’Neal, and rounding up the tweets that day from O’Neal’s friends, admirers, and fans.
19. “The Comedian Who Changed My Life Is Patrice O’Neal” Von Decarlo, O’Neal’s fiancée, talks comedy shop and how O’Neal taught her she could survive by being her “natural, goofy charming self.”
20. “Remembering Patrice O’Neal” Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons recounts O’Neal’s early days in Boston, when he went by “Bruiser,” and his early days in New York City. “I watched Patrice develop as a comedian,” Fitzsimmons writes, “but he never had to develop a truthful voice.”
Patrice O’Neal Radio
22. The Black Philip Show. The Black Phillip Show was O’Neal’s alternative to Dr. Phil, an XM radio show, before the merger with Sirius, on which he gave callers advice and espoused his philosophy on relationships and life. It’s pure uncut O’Neal. The first episode can be heard here. (Dante Nero, who became cohost of the show, resurrected a lighter version of The Black Phillip Show, in part as a tribute to O’Neal, under the name The Beige Phillip Show on the Riotcast Network.)
23. Opie & Anthony. Patrice was a longtime guest and sometime guest cohost on the Opie & Anthony radio show, so it was natural that when O’Neal suffered a debilitating stroke that eventually led to his death that the members of the show were devastated. The tribute, which included calls from Chris Rock and Louis CK, along with scores of other fans are heartbreaking. O’Neal’s appearances on the show were always memorable. The Opie & Anthony Show Podcast, episode 27 “Best of Patrice O’Neal” and episode 41 “Patrice O’Neal Memorial,” available on iTunes, are fitting tributes to how great O’Neal was on the radio and in life. Also, there are countless clips and collections of appearances to be found on YouTube and it’s a rabbit hole you’ll be glad you tumbled down. Listen to Part One and Part Two
24. Brutally Honest. This fan-made documentary pieces together existing footage, photos and audio from a variety of sources, including Opie and Anthony, Tough Crowd, and O’Neal’s comedy. It’s a well-done, concise exploration of O’Neal’s career.
25. Third Annual Patrice O’Neal Comedy Benefit. Tickets for this benefit, taking place February 11, 2015, are on sale now and it’s your chance to see O’Neal’s friends—Ben Bailey, Bill Burr, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, Hannibal Buress, Jim Florentine, Jim Norton, Michael Che, and Rich Vos—pay tribute to the man described as “beyond a comic’s comic.”
26. Patriceoneal.com. This site will break your heart from the get-go. The homepage features a fedora-donning close-up of a sweaty O’Neal pontificating into microphone, clearly hard at work among a doubled-over audience. But the site is made in loving memory and there’s a lot to be enjoyed here. There’s the O’Neal-penned bio that teaches readers he gave up what could have been a lucrative popcorn career for comedy. And there’s a slew of videos, including clips from O’Neals comedy, a preview of O’Neal’s animation (and not Shorties Wathcing Shorties), and twenty-minute video of what could have been an O’Neal reality show. You’ll also find links to articles and reviews and several photo galleries, one of family and friends, which is heartening and sad, and another for fans, which is composed of pictures of O’Neal and fans. And if you have a picture of you and O’Neal, you can submit here.