My friend Patrice O’Neal died today. There are a handful of comedians who I’ve seen stay true to themselves (to the core) while also staying consistently funny. Patrice was one of them.
When I first met Patrice he wasn’t Patrice. He was a bouncer at a comedy club in Boston called “Bruiser”. Even then he knew who he was and how he felt about things. His intimidating size and tough looks dissolved when he smiled at me and he treated me like a little cousin even when I was an established comic and he was tossing out drunks.
When he first came to NY he came to stay in my 6th floor walk-up apartment in Little Italy. One morning he headed out the door with his packed bags in his hands. Shopping bags if I remember correctly. I told him he shouldn’t give up so quickly and should stay in New York longer. He said he WAS staying in New York. He just wasn’t staying where he had to climb six flights of stairs to sleep on some asshole’s foldout couch.
I watched Patrice develop as a comedian but he never had to develop a truthful voice. This conviction made him a phenomenal talent and it also caused him a lot of problems. He didn’t pull his punches, which is why he worked so perfectly on “Tough Crowd w/ Colin Quinn” and anywhere else he could speak his mind. I hated being on that show with him because he would never shut the fuck up.
When he headlined a benefit I put together at Town Hall in NY one year he faced an almost completely white crowd who had laughed very little at an amazing line-up of comics before him. He walked out, told the crowd straight up who they were; who he was, and then destroyed the place. People talked about him for weeks.
When he did the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen this year he again closed out the show. He told a friend he wanted to bring some love to the night. After watching the other roasters attack the tired honoree and each other, he stepped up and turned the lights on the event. He deconstructed each previous performer and punished the ones who had mocked him for having diabetes. Patrice was merciless, dead on, and again he was the one everyone remembered from that night.
I am heavy with sadness today. If you saw him do standup you know what it’s like to see a great comic speak the truth. If you knew Patrice and were lucky enough to have him smile at you and bust your balls, then you know also know what a rare human being we lost today.