These are my thoughts on Patrice O’Neal as a performer. Patrice suffered a stroke last week, and it’s unclear whether or not he will recover. To combat my feeling of helplessness, I wrote this.
Patrice live is different than any other comedian I’ve ever seen or known of. I don’t know how to explain it, except to say that calling what he does “stand-up comedy” is doing it a disservice. It’s not stand-up comedy. Not in the way that every other comedian performs. It’s closer to a conversation than it is to the “stand-up” that most people imagine.
Read: Onstage, he is not a stand-up comedian. He is Patrice O’Neal. If you haven’t seen him live, then you have never seen what he does. No one else, by definition, can do what he does. Because onstage, he is not a comic. He is Patrice O’Neal. It is its own thing.
I’m not sure I can put into words the impact it had on me to see Patrice O’Neal live. It broke barriers in my mind. Before I saw him, comedy was something in my mind, and it had a ceiling to what it could be. After seeing Patrice do 7 shows in 4 nights (while waiting tables at the DC Improv), I woke up that next Monday with a new definition of stand-up comedy. It had a new ceiling, and new walls. As in, no ceiling. And no walls.
Stand-up comedy was, for me, a different thing after I saw Patrice O’Neal that week in DC. Forever. Literally, he changed my definition of what is possible, when it comes to a live performance.
Maybe if I hadn’t seen him, I would have had the same revelation a year later, or five years later, when I saw another comic, or when I saw a play that broke the fourth wall in some crazy way. I don’t know what would have happened to me if Patrice didn’t exist - all I know is what did happen. And when I saw Patrice O’Neal perform for the first time live, it was like the scene in Pleasantville when things started having color again. He was revelatory - in the most powerful sense of the word.
Revelation (noun): the act or process of disclosing something previously secret or obscure, especially something true
Given the place that stand-up has in my life and my own personal growth, I’d say seeing him perform that weekend was one of the 30 most transformative events in my life. And that’s not hyperbole, or I would have said top 10. I’ve had a lot of things happen in my life. One of my best friends dying, a permanent injury in a car crash, my first hard break-up. Lots of things define our existence - a comedy show shouldn’t be anywhere near the top of that list. Not the list. Not the list of everything.
But - for me - simply seeing Patrice O’Neal perform is up there. Think about that. A silly little comedy show. Dick jokes. Just a dude talking. A human being connecting. Trying - passionately, unapologetically - to make others understand his reality. To make sense of the world around him. To bring everyone with him.
One of the 30 most impactful things of my existence. I’m telling you, he was doing something different than everyone else. It was a different thing. The man was on a search, and his shows were a check-in, to let everyone know what he’d found so far.
He has made missteps along the way, both on the stage and in his life. But that’s what you have to do when you’re making your own path. That’s what you do when you’re searching for something nobody else has found yet.
Man, I hope he makes it. Not for his lady. Not for his daughter. Not for his friends. I feel for them, but I don’t know them. I know me. And I want him to still be in my world. I want to hear more check-ins. I want to compare more notes.
Selfishly and helplessly,