Sadness fell over the world of comedy recently with the death of Patrice O’Neal, age 41. Patrice was a comedian and frequent guest of the Opie and Anthony show as well as an alumni of Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. O’Neal is survived by his loving family and many loyal fans.
That is the generic slug line of every news source that reports the death of what had to be a preeminent figure in comedy, the likes we have not seen since Richard Pryor. Patrice was not the average comic in that he had a voice that was indistinguishable amongst the tawdry echoes of today’s “comedian”. I use comedian in quotations because today’s comic is not truly a comedian in the sense that men like Patrice O’Neal, Louis C.K., George Carlin, Jim Norton, and Richard Pryor. Comics today look to have a gimmick or look to trade on something trivial like their race or gender. Men like O’Neal, Chris Rock, and Richard Pryor took issues like race and gender and exposed them for what they were and offered valued commentary on real social issues. They make us laugh and they make us think.
Sure, some of the comics I mentioned do talk about race and gender but they choose to say something about it, something different. That is what will be most remembered about Patrice. His ability to be different, to say something poignant, to call society and the rest of the world out on its bull shit was legendary.That is the job of the comedian, to look at the world as it is and expose it.
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who was very taken aback by the death of Patrice, not having known him personally but just from his work. Patrice was a man who imparted pieces of himself into his act and made you feel like he was a person you knew and had spent time with. His connection to the audience was real and was heartfelt. Patrice was a part of an echelon of comics that spoke truths and did not fall into a character. He was who he was and did not apologize for it.
Like so many other comics before him, real comics, he allowed you to see the world through his eyes. His opinions and observations were profound and gave his audience truth, not fiction. So many sell fiction now as truth and even worse exploit issues for shock. When most comics mention race it is be ironic or shock someone into laughter. Comics like Patrice do it because it matters, because it is a genuine issue that needs attention and exposition, not mocking or placation.
Patrice was a man that stood for something and was a man that let his own self shine through the foot lights of every stage he performed on. He will be missed and sorely so because there are not many like him. There are not many as brave to show themselves for who they are and far too few who are genuinely funny and articulated enough to make us laugh, think, and now cry with his passing.