Words by Phelps
“What fucking airport you work at?”
Delivered with delicate nonchalance but brutal all the same, these were the first words uttered by Patrice O’Neal to the large black woman seated next to me at DC’s Improv in 2010.
On Tuesday, comedian Patrice O’Neal died from complications of an October stroke and we lost one of the true geniuses in modern comedy. He carried a wit as enormous as his 6’5 300+ frame: outrageous, direct and unflinching in his coverage of race, sex, relationships and virtually any potentially controversial topic. Never content to stand on stage and just run through jokes and stories, he gave the crowd as much as they could take in an hour and a half of masochistic revelry.
I was introduced to Patrice during long drives to north Jersey during the middle of this decade via Opie and Anthony’s XM Radio show. Goofball foils to Howard Stern, their strength was to let the inmates run the asylum and there were many tears of laughter when Patrice, Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Rich Vos, Bill Burr, and of course Louis CK would just roast each other to a crisp so often. No gimmicks, no songs or dances, just vitriolic flamethrowing from the masters. We’ve already seen a couple of these guys bubble up in pop culture, some several times (Quinn,) and Patrice was making his way. From roles in the 25th Hour, Arrested Development, Web Junk 20 (you youngsters probably think Tosh was the first web clip guy,) Tough Crowd, and a recent Comedy Central special, O’Neal was approaching a critical mass that we’ll never see through.
If you saw him perform over the last 5 years, consider yourself extremely lucky. If you didn’t, Comedy Central is starting to air his special again in his memory and we’re posting some links below. I highly recommend downloading the “Black Philip Show,” his short lived talk show in the vein of Dr. Phil.