Patrice Malcolm Oneal (December 7, 1969 - November 29, 2011), usually credited as Patrice O'Neal, was an American stand-up comedian, radio personality, and actor. He was known for his cutting, often confrontational crowd work during which he often played couples against each other. Originally from Boston, he was a resident of Jersey City, New Jersey in his later years.

Early life

O'Neal was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 7, 1969. His mother, Georgia, named him after Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the Congolese independence movement and Malcolm X. He was raised by his mother and never met his father.

At the age of 17, O'Neal was convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year old girl and sentenced to 60 days in prison, served during his summer break, so as not to disrupt his schooling. The act, which occurred when O'Neal was still 16, would have been legal in most states, but Massachusetts lacks a close-in-age exception, and has an age of consent of 16. O'Neal said his humor helped him to negotiate the harsh realities of prison.

O'Neal was a star football player at West Roxbury High School, ending his career with 3 letters in varsity football and a state championship his senior year. He turned down football scholarships in order to attend Northeastern University on a public housing grant, majoring in Performing Arts.

Career

O'Neal began his comedy career in his native Boston at an open mic at Estelle's Bar and Grill in October 1992. In the late 1990s, he moved to New York City, where he became a regular at the Comedy Cellar, before relocating to Los Angeles, in the hopes of finding greater fame. "I tap danced like you wouldn't believe... trying to get something," he said in a 2008 interview with Ron Bennington . "I'm telling you, if I'd have had a gun back then, I would have shot myself." His inability to achieve success on other people's terms motivated him to prioritize his own integrity first. "At the end of the day I just want to know that I was true to myself." Later in his career, Patrice would walk away from successful shows like The Office, Arrested Development, Web Junk 20, and a writing position on the WWE. "I'm a professional bridge-burner," O'Neal stated in an interview.

Unwilling to yield to the demands of American club owners that he change his often confrontational act, O'Neal relocated to the United Kingdom to work on his comedy there. He worked harder as an outsider and a foreigner to gain the respect of his peers. "It took about 5 months... for them to go 'Ok, this guy's not playing around,'" he told Bennington. It was also during this time that he caught the eye of British comedian Ricky Gervais, still early in his stand-up career. Gervais frequently mentioned O'Neal as a favorite comic. He returned to the New York area in 2002 when he got the offer to do his first half-hour special for Showtime. Later that year he joined the cast of The Colin Quinn Show and then Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. The following year, he recorded a Comedy Central Presents special.

O'Neal had many guest appearances on television. His first television appearance was on The Apollo Comedy Hour where he performed his Malcolm XXL bit. From there, he moved on to appearances on Showtime at the Apollo, FNight Videos, and a brief stint as a writer for the WWE. He appeared in guest-starring roles on MTV's Apt 2F, Assy McGee, Ed, Z Rock, Yes Dear, Arrested Development, Chappelle Show and The Office. O'Neal was a regular on the Fox series The Jury, and he starred in the Comedy Central animated program Shorties Watching Shorties, along with Nick DiPaolo. He supplied the voice of Harold Jenkins on Noggin's animated program O'Grady High and was featured as Jesus in Denis Leary's Searchlight. In 2005, O'Neal filmed a half-hour One Night Stand special for HBO, and shortly thereafter became the first host of VH1's Web Junk 20. O'Neal left the show after two seasons, expressing concerns that the show's audience was too different from his own. In 2006 and 2007 he joined Opie and Anthony's Traveling Virus Comedy Tour, playing large outdoor concert arenas across the country.

Since his move back to New York in 2002, O'Neal became a recognized radio personality as a regular guest and occasional co-host on the Opie and Anthony program. Along with Bill Burr and Robert Kelly, he filled in as co-host for comedian Jim Norton while Jim filmed Lucky Louie. From 2006 to 2008, O'Neal hosted a call-in relationship advice show on XM Radio, which ended when the satellite network merged with rival Sirius. Initially promoted as Bitch Management, the show was titled The Black Philip Show, a reference to Dr. Phil. Dante Nero co-hosted, and a rotating cast of female comedians played third mic. The show aired until the station suspended much of its Saturday night programming when they were unable to reconcile budget concerns with the new management following the merger. O'Neal had also appeared as a guest on other radio shows such as Alex Jones along with numerous political talk shows on the Fox News channel.

Living in the New York area, O'Neal performed at comedy clubs in the area, including headlining appearances at Comix comedy club and Caroline's. He was also popular in Montreal, making five appearances at the Just for Laughs festival, including one of the most memorable in fest history: a one-man, one-week show at Théâtre Ste. Catherine in 2008. O'Neal had also been slated to do five sold-out, one-man shows at Les Katacombes at the 2010 Just for Laughs Festival, but he was refused entry into Canada at the U.S. border and the shows were cancelled.

In February 2011, Comedy Central aired his first hour-long special, Elephant in the Room. He eventually began a web series and podcast called The Patrice Oneal Show - Coming Soon! showing various episodes as of May 15, 2007. He performed with a five-person group--Bryan Kennedy, Dante Nero, Vondecarlo Brown, Harris Stanton and Wil Sylvince--touching on many fictional scenarios. The show was produced by For Your Imagination and can be found on O'Neal's website. He guest-starred in another For Your Imagination-produced show, called Break a Leg, playing Adult-Sized Gary Coleman. O'Neal voiced Jeffron James in Grand Theft Auto IV, on an in-game radio show, Fizz!.

On September 19, 2011, Patrice was one of the many roasters at the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. This would be his final television appearance before his death two months later. O'Neal's final recorded interview was with Jay Mohr on his "Mohr Stories" Podcast #17, uploaded October 27, 2011, shortly after news of his stroke.

Shortly after O'Neal's death, BSeen Media announced the release of his first album, Mr. P, to be released February 7, 2012. It was recorded at the D.C. Improv. Although announced after his death, the album had been completed before his illness, with the comedian's full involvement.

Illness and death

On October 19, 2011, O'Neal reported being unable to move his legs, the first signs of a stroke. He was rushed to Jersey City Medical Center, and later Englewood Hospital where doctors performed surgery to remove a blood clot. He lost his ability to speak, and later his ability to move, for a time communicating by eye movements, before losing that ability as well. Doctors warned that if he survived, he would likely remain permanently paralyzed and unable to speak.

Initially the family made efforts to keep news of O'Neal's illness quiet. On October 26, 2011, it was announced to the public on The Opie and Anthony Show that O'Neal had suffered a stroke a week earlier At 7:00 AM on November 29, 2011, he died due to complications from his stroke. O'Neal had struggled with diabetes and weight issues for several years. He is survived by his longtime partner, Vondecarlo Brown, whom he often referred to as his wife; mother, Georgia; stepdaughter, Aymilyon, and sister, Zinder.

O'Neal's funeral was held on December 5 at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City, and was attended by notable comedians including Chris Rock, Colin Quinn, Nick DiPaolo, Artie Lange, Dane Cook, and Wanda Sykes.

Reactions and tributes:

On November 30, a dozen comedians gathered to eulogize O'Neal on The Opie and Anthony Show, a radio program that O'Neal had appeared on over 100 times. These comedians included Jim Norton, Bob Kelly, Louis CK, Joe Rogan, Bill Burr, Colin Quinn, Amy Schumer, Dave Attell, and Jim Florentine, among others. The channel dedicated its programming that weekend to the comedian by airing a 16-hour special entitled A Tribute to Patrice O'Neal featuring some of his best appearances, along with memories from some of his fellow comedians.

Always known as a comedian's comedian, O'Neal was one of the best loved acts by his peers. Many comics reacted via Twitter. "The best comedian in the world has died," proclaimed Norm MacDonald. Dave Attell tweeted "Patrice O. was and is one of the best comics I have ever had the pleasure to watch perform." Ricky Gervais, a long time vocal fan of O'Neal's, said "One of my favourite stand up comedians. So sad. RIP." Denis Leary called him "one of the funniest men who ever walked this earth" and Bill Burr concurred, saying he was "the most purely funny human being I've ever met." Doug Stanhope remembered O'Neal as "one of the best ever. Inspiring every time I heard him on anything." Dane Cook, a fellow Boston native echoed "He was 1 of the best ever." Dozens of other comedians echoed similar sentiments on Twitter. Comedian Jon Stewart paid his respects through his "Moment of Zen" bit, in his show The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, stating: "Sad News. Once again in comedy we lose somebody, who's too funny, too soon." This statement was followed by a clip of O'Neal's stand up special Elephant in the Room.

Many entertainers outside of the comedy community reacted as well. Director Kevin Smith said "I shared some air & some air time with the man on O&A & he was always funny & thoughtful. He WILL be missed." Author Chuck Palahniuk tweeted "We lost a great comedian yesterday." Rapper Talib Kweli said "Super funny and I had the pleasure of meeting the man. We will miss you." The Roots drummer Questlove mourned "so grateful I got to see Patrice Oneal do his last NYC gig. Man, this is so devastating. He truly was one of my favorite comics." Nick Cannon called him "An amazing comedian and an even better person." Actor Charlie Sheen paid his respects through his blog, saying: "The entertainment world as well as the world at large lost a brilliant man today. Patrice had that rare "light" around him and inside of him. I only knew him for the few days leading up the Roast. Yet I will forever be inspired by his nobility, his grace and his epic talent. My tears today are for the tremendous loss to his true friends and loving family."

Comedians Nick DiPaolo & Artie Lange paid tribute to O'Neal on their radio show by recounting stories of the late comedian, "As a standup comic, guys like Nick and Patrice are like Babe Ruth, and on a good day I'm maybe Robin Yount," said Lange.

Comedy Central aired O'Neal's special "Elephant in the Room" on November 30 in the wake of his death.

Comedian Louis C.K. dedicated his comedy special Live at the Beacon Theater to O'Neal's memory. He later commented on Twitter that O'Neal had been his favorite living comedian.

Rolling Stone ran a four-page article about Patrice's career and passing in the February 16th, 2012 issue.

Comic style

O'Neal's comedy has been described as conversational. Except during televised appearances, he seldom performed standing up, preferring a relaxed, philosophical delivery.

Although he would perform prepared material, the wording of this material and the order in which the bits were performed varied greatly from show to show, and was interwoven with a great deal of crowd work, creating the illusion that his performance was improvised, and reinforcing the sense that he was having an individual conversation with the audience.

O'Neal was also known as a provocateur, often inciting audience members to call out, or even leave the club. "I've seen him give people money to leave," recalls Gregg "Opie" Hughes. At times he would encourage people to call out to the stage in order to set up a punchline. "Ladies, how would you keep your man if you lost your vagina?," O'Neal would ask of his audience. When the women would invariably reference oral and anal sex acts, the comedian would respond "See, I gave you the chance to talk and you qualified yourself as a series of holes." O'Neal would frequently project his self-admittedly misogynistic ideas onto men in the audience to create uncomfortable situations in order to get laughs. "What's your daydream about how to kill her?," O'Neal asked an audience member sitting next to his wife in his Elephant in the Room special.

In contrast to the observational monologues that are common in most stand-up, much of O'Neal's act consisted of absurd arguments which were internally logically consistent. For example, O'Neal would begin, "It's unfair that I can't harass you women in the workplace," and then build his argument with analogies like "Having women work with men is like having a grizzly bear work with salmon dipped in honey."

Filmography

Television:

Year(s)

Title

Role

Notes

2002

The Colin Quinn Show

Various

2002

Contest Searchlight

Himself

2002

Chappelle's Show

Pit Bull

1 Episode

2003

Yes, Dear

Tow Truck Driver

1 Episode

2003

Ed

Andre Stangel

Uncredited

2003

Arrested Development

T-Bone

1 Episode

2004

The Jury

Adam Walker

Recurring

2004

Shorties Watchin' Shorties

Baby Patrice

Voice

2004-2006

O'Grady

Harold

Voice

2005-2007

The Office

Lonny

3 Episodes

2006

Web Junk 20

Host

2 Seasons

2008

Assy McGee

Blind Anthony

Voice

2008

Z Rock

Guest Star

2011

The Roast of Charlie Sheen

Himself

Film:

Year(s)

Title

Role

Notes

2002

25th Hour

Khari

2003

Head of State

Warren

2003

In the Cut

Hector

2006

Scary Movie 4

Rasheed

Uncredited

2010

Furry Vengeance

Gus

2011

Elephant in the Room

Himself