Patrice was a misogynist. By definition, that means he was dismissive, disrespectful, and demeaning toward women. I think at times he was all of those, and I think that was a major shortcoming of his for much of his life. In that sense, he never fully became the person he could have been.
Here’s why I miss Patrice O’Neal, and here’s why you should too: Because if I truly believe that about him, then Patrice would have wanted that said. Even a day after his death. Even at the time when it’s most uncomfortable, and most inappropriate, to be fully honest about him.
Patrice believed it was never the wrong time to be fully honest, if you were willing to deal with the consequences of your own honesty. And so I honor him by admitting that while he had some of the most insightful thoughts and revelations of his generation (think about how big a deal that is for a second), he also had a number of opinions that were simply dead wrong - especially when it came to his thoughts about women.
If you want to disagree with that, you have every right to. But even if you agree, I still think you lost something when Patrice died yesterday. Because I love and miss Patrice O’Neal. And the fact that I knew he was a misogynist makes me love and miss him more.
Let me say that again, and then explain. The fact that I knew Patrice O’Neal was a misogynist makes me love and miss him more.
Now, “misogynist” is a loaded word. It can overpower the words around it, and it often becomes the focus of whatever sentence it’s a part of.
I understand that. But go back to what I said, and if you can, don’t focus on the word “misogynist.” Focus on the word “knew.”
I knew. I knew some of Patrice’s thoughts were, in my opinion, stubborn and ignorant.
Okay. So how did I know? Because he was caught whispering it to a friend when he thought there were no cameras around? Because he made a joke once he looked around and made sure nobody would challenge it? Because it slipped out once when he let his guard down, and it offered a window into his mind?
No. I knew because he wanted me to know. I knew because his entire adult life, hundreds of times every year, he told as many people as he could exactly what he thought. He lived the life he lived, he evaluated what he saw around him, and he did his best to tell us what he thought about it all.
There are two kinds of people that are trying to understand the world around them. Most of us are trying to understand the world so that we can understand it better. We gather up all the information we can, we develop opinions and theories, and then we keep them to ourselves. We try to understand the world so that it gives us an advantage. Otherwise, what’s the point of us doing all the work?
For whatever reason, Patrice O’Neal was the second kind - the kind that is much more rare. Patrice was trying to understand the world, but he wanted to understand it so that we could understand it, too.
That’s why for him, it made sense to express opinions even when most people - certainly most women - understandably found them offensive. That’s why he said what he thought was true, even as he realized it was likely hurting his career.
Because him understanding the world wasn’t enough - he had to get the word out, too. For him, figuring out how the world worked - but not telling anyone - would be like learning to play football, practicing every day, but never playing a game. For Patrice, being smart was never the point - being able to connect was.
He understood: You could build the greatest invention ever made, but if you built it on a deserted island, then you better be able to build a boat, too. Patrice was a brilliant thinker, but his true passion was building boats. He was obsessed with finding a way to get his thoughts to a place where others could see them, too.
When he met someone else that was fully honest, he loved it, because it was like getting to hear about a different island. And that helped him figure out what was right and what was wrong about what he’d thought up until then.
If Patrice sensed you weren’t being fully honest (and most of us weren’t), he was brutally honest with you - but not without cause. If you never came into contact with Patrice, then whether or not you were lying to yourself didn’t affect him.
But Patrice wanted to understand his world, and one of his tools was listening to what the world looked like to someone else. So if you talked to him, that meant if you weren’t being honest, you weren’t just hurting yourself anymore - now, you were throwing him off the scent of truth.
That was maybe my favorite thing about Patrice O’Neal. Patrice had no opinion that could be changed easily. But he also had no opinion that couldn’t be changed. For Patrice, it was never about him being right - it was about him knowing the truth.
In many ways, Patrice was not a humble dude. But in the most important way, he was. He was never more important than truth.
If you ever saw him live, you understand. It was easy to sense arrogance during his sets - the tone that said “I know the truth.” A lot of people heard that and stopped listening. But if you stuck with him, you heard the rest of the message: “...and you have a right to know it, too.” Understand the difference: Patrice never thought he was better than anyone - just more right.
I won’t go on too long about his stand-up, since I already wrote about it when he first had his stroke last month. But there was a different feel to his sets. It almost felt like he had gone exploring, and he was back, and reporting about what he’d seen. And he wanted everyone to feel like they’d been there, too. Every set felt like him saying, “This is everything I’ve found so far - I hope it helps.”
For audiences, I’m sure it was cool to hear about everything he’d seen. But for me, and for many comics of this upcoming generation, it made me want to explore. It made me want to spend my life telling people everything I’ve come up with so far, and hoping it helps.
That’s why it doesn’t bother me that I didn’t agree with all of Patrice’s beliefs. I didn’t cry yesterday because Patrice’s beliefs are gone. I cried because his willingness to share them is. He was willing to be seen as wrong. He was willing to be wrong, if it meant the rest of us would figure out what was actually right. Do you realize how rare that is?
THAT is why every comic lost something yesterday. That is why if you’ve ever had a gut feeling that something was bullshit, but just couldn’t quite prove it - you lost a friend yesterday. A fellow soldier, in the war to understand everything that’s happening around us. We lost one of the best.
I know this is too long. But I want so badly for people to get it. To get why it sucks that Patrice died.
As I look for a way to sum up what I’m trying to say, I’m realizing how obvious it is. Why I loved Patrice because of his flaws, not in spite of them.
All of us are flawed. Patrice was one of the few that enjoyed it. He loved being imperfect, because that meant he was alive, if that makes any sense. He loved that he got to be a human being. For him, life really was a roller coaster. And he loved being on the ride. These last few years, he was trying to keep more of life’s change in his pocket. But that’s tough to do when you’re holding your arms straight up the whole time.
The fact that he’s not on the ride anymore...it just sucks. I know that’s how it works. I know those are the rules. Believe me, I get it.
It just sucks, that’s all.
I’m glad he was willing to share, because we can all be better explorers for it. And shame on us if we take points off because he took a few wrong turns. You can’t take a wrong turn unless you’re leading.
I’ll shut up now. But I miss Patrice. And I want you to understand why you should, too.
I hope this helps.