Patrice O’Neal is one of those comics who can turn my head 180 degrees, making me see things completely anew. His one person show didn’t have fourth wall moments, he wasn’t “going to turn into the dude who touched my dick when I was 11.” But Patrice O’Neal did get personal, talking about his need to be smarter and his failings to himself with his health.
His honesty, his trust to say from his gut, to not let it clench up inside him and make knots of discomfort, elicits explosive laughs. How did he know to get his diabetes looked after again? Thank goodness for a more than good, giving and game girlfriend who told him his pee tastes like birthday cake.
Even with his ability to be blunt, Patrice can still see both sides when speaking from his gut. He’ll talk about how Jeremiah Wright scares white people because of the way black preachers’ talk, then confess to watching a white preacher and all he hears are the words of a cult leader, telling them to drink up so they go to Heaven now.
Patrice’s feeling about race are incredibly complex, asserting the need to be strong for his group, but a desire to not be defined by it. With white people you can say “why do white people all dismember hookers? why are you serial killers?” And they can reply, “I don’t.” But within the Black community, Patrice notes with some dismay that to respond to “Black people all rob gas stations”, you “have to march to prove the we don’t.” The sense of being black as a group Patrice suggests restricts the ability as a black person to be an individual as he describes why he didn’t study or learn to type (“if I didn’t have comedy, I’d be unhireable.”)
The performance I attended, was blessed with some tension between Patrice and one woman in the front row. Perhaps others would think so (including Patrice), but I think comedy is often best when it’s a little uncomfortable. Patrice seemed to feel the woman was judging him a little, and began trying to engage her. After he talked about how he felt men had to give the best of themselves to get just the worst from women, she illustrated his point somewhat by not answering Patrice’s questions about whether she had love in her life.
Unlike a lot of comedy shows which are very “we vs. the people outside of the theatre”, some of his observations began to feel like he talking about someone right there. Even when Patrice attempted to qualify it, he said it, “I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about women like you.” The frustration he felt gave a sense that anything might happen. Isn’t that what you want to feel at a comedy show?