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I cant promise you that I won’t be a dick.
May 14, 2012 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Patrice O’Neal (RIP previously) didn’t just want to be famous, he wanted to be as good as Richard Pryor. To hear his fellow comics tell it, he was—a brutal truth-teller who spared no one, starting with those closest to him. (Print friendly version)
posted by Potomac Avenue (62 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The 2007 web series, “The Patrice O’Neal Show, Coming Soon!couldn’t find a sponsor because there wasn’t a group it didn’t offend."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2012


Here's a clip from that Charlie Sheen roast; his comic timing is just spectacular.
posted by eugenen at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2012


Sorry for the double comment - here's the entire thing.
posted by eugenen at 11:35 AM on May 14, 2012


Not surprised at how awesome he was at the roast; I always thought he was a flamer.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:54 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder if I'll be allowed to say this in a post about a "brutal truthteller who spared no-one" with a "searing need to make people own up to themselves" who is being celebrated for asserting the truth as he saw it, no matter how bullying others considered that to be.

it wasn’t unusual for him to lay into a cashier at Marshalls about her bad attitude; Brown would return from her shopping 40 minutes later to find the duo strategizing about ways the cashier might pursue her dreams.

he casually eviscerated a young publicist nearby (“Shut your hole,” he said,

The other woman introduced herself as a friend of Eddie Brill’s ... He’d stared at her nipples and said, “Well, at least one of them is happy to see me!” The woman explained that she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

At the Cellar, he derided Lisa Lampanelli so viciously that she avoided the table altogether.

One moment Patrice is patiently explaining to a heartbroken 20-year-old that he needs to sort through his pain because “sorrow carries over to the next relationship,” and the next he’s berating a female caller for what he considers her inflated sense of self: “Tell me why I shouldn’t call you a bitch, bitch?”

On “O&A,” the porn stars and Penthouse Pets dreaded being booked with Patrice. He’d badger them for not having opinions and zoom in on every little thing—including a tiny pimple on one girl’s butt.

Could women really deny that they wore sexy clothing at work to turn men on? Didn’t all men have “rape-y” thoughts? O’Neal was determined that his comedy be something scary and exciting that he and the audience were creating together



Wow. A celebration - no, a paean, an absolute fanboy fellation - over someone who saw bonding over toxic misogyny as something "scary and exciting" that he wanted "create" with an audience.

This attitude is sick. Yeah, he was a misogynistic bully, but he was so AMAZING as a comic. So clever, so funny, so smart. He made us think, he made us laugh, he made us cry! Get a sense of humor, ladies!

All of those female comics who talk about what a fucked up ultimate boy's club the comedy world is? This sort of thing is exactly what they're talking about.

Nobody cares that the man walks around viciously demeaning and bullying women with impunity. Yeah, we'll bring it up but only to demonstrate that it's not really the IMPORTANT thing anyone should worry about it. The important thing is how AWESOME and transcendent and exciting and scary he was and the misogynistic bullying was only just a part of that! See the big picture!

To be perfectly honest, I think his ability to bully people and "dominate" people and conversations is so much of what the fanboys admire.
posted by cairdeas at 12:08 PM on May 14, 2012 [35 favorites]


To be perfectly honest, I think his ability to bully people and "dominate" people and conversations is so much of what the fanboys admire.

I think Patrice O'Neal was very funny and very smart. I also think cairdeas was 100% correct in this assertion. I'm not a fan of Lisa Lampanelli at all, but hearing that he repeatedly made her cry just because "that's what was done" made me heart-sick.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 12:22 PM on May 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Wow. A celebration - no, a paean, an absolute fanboy fellation - over someone who saw bonding over toxic misogyny as something "scary and exciting" that he wanted "create" with an audience.

The article makes plenty clear that he was not a nice person (including by enumerating the incidents you list). That doesn't mean he wasn't also incredibly talented and funny and interesting -- not for those things, but perhaps despite them, or maybe his misogynist assholishness put his talent in a different light.

People contain multitudes. The article was fair, I thought, and attempted to grapple with the problematic aspects of his personality while acknowledging his tremendous gifts and the things he added to the comic landscape.
posted by eugenen at 12:32 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or maybe if we valued treating women with respect and dignity more than we valued comic timing, we would see a very different article and MeFi post.
posted by Catchfire at 12:37 PM on May 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, y'ever notice how guys who "tell the truth" and "tell it like it is" never tell complimentary truths? Even when they are true?

"HEY! THAT SWEATER! IT MAKES YOU LOOK GOOD!"

"THAT SONG YOU PLAYED ON THE GUITAR SOUNDED LIKE SHIT, BUT IT SOUNDS WAY BETTER THAN THE LAST TIME YOU PLAYED IT! YOU'RE IMPROVIN'!"

"Brutal truth-tellers" are uniformly lying, self-serving sacks of shit. It's right up there with "curmudgeon" as a self-congratulatory term bullying assholes use. There's so much truth in the world that you can be a dedicated "truth teller" and say all sorts of shit. Good, bad, indifferent.

But of course, for some reason, only the nastiest, shittiest parts of anything are really true, right? Oh, wait, no. That's a fucking lie. Well, ain't that some shit?

Just tellin' it like it is.

(Why, yes, I'm working some shit out here myself. How kind of you to notice. Now to RTFA! O'Neal was a nasty, cruel man and very funny.)
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [41 favorites]


Yeah, he was a misogynistic bully, but he was so AMAZING as a comic. So clever, so funny, so smart. He made us think, he made us laugh, he made us cry!


He was though, and he did.

Get a sense of humor, ladies!

I didn't see that attitude in this article though, which I thought was very honest about his flaws. I have heard it elsewhere, especially online though, and it's a shame that male fans say dumb shit like that. To pretend like his comedy was "just funny" and not somewhat unfair and mean is wrong on its face. Comedy can be a powerful sort of rhetoric, and there were some jokes that simply went too far. But compare him to other "offensive" comics like a young Eddie or an old Rich Voss (or Lisa Lampenelli!) who make stereotyping jokes but clearly don't really mean it, and instead of pandering to a mainstream sense of superiority, you'll find real rage and bitterness and depression and horror unearthed. Which, for him, was the same as introspection.

He could be a bully, but so could Diogenes, or Bukowski, or Menken, or Foucault...The article compares him to Socrates, but his talent wasn't for building positive visions of beautiful truth. It was laying bare the animal lies at the heart of our culture. I still miss him, even though the one time I saw him live, I was made almost physically ill by the hatred you could feel boiling off him, especially towards women, who felt it too.

He was a poisoned man, but unlike most folks like that, just unpleasant assholes, he laid bare the flowers that grew from that wasting away, like Baudelaire wrote about:

Folly, error, sin, avarice
Occupy our minds and labor our bodies,
And we feed our pleasant remorse
As beggars nourish their vermin.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Talent or not, his behavior really does demonstrate how poisonous and acceptable misogyny is in contemporary comedy. Him saying “Tell me why I shouldn’t call you a bitch, bitch"? Replace that with almost any other epithet toward any other historically despised group and tell me he thrives as a comic.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:50 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I completely agree with cairdeas. Before I knew anything about Patrice, I heard comics on Marc Maron's podcast praise him to the skies. It made me interested in him. And then I actually heard the interview that Marc did with him. It was dripping with misogyny and ugliness. His comedy makes people worse people. The valorization of his brand of comedy makes me think less of the whole comic community. Sometimes I think of stand-up as a noble talent, and sometimes we'd be better off if the whole form died out entirely; it's comedy like Patrice's that makes me feel the latter way.

his talent wasn't for building positive visions of beautiful truth. It was laying bare the animal lies at the heart of our culture.

"Laying bare" a bunch of misogyny is not praiseworthy or even particularly a talent. Jokes about how women should be sexually harassed and how men cannot possibly stay monogamous don't reveal "the animal at the heart of our culture." They help make our culture that way.
posted by painquale at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Bunny, fair point, but actually I think there are and have been some great ingenious comics who say both virulently racist and homophobic and etc etc stuff as well. Adam Corolla (or Lisa Lampenelli! someone listen to her jokes maybe) on one hand, Sam Kinison on the other. In the end I'm glad comics get a pass to say a bunch of impolite shit. The stupid, shitty ones that ape their attitudes without the art are the price of freedom.

Painquale: I would argue that jokes that involve exposing one's own misogyny are both good for society and for the individual soul that encounters them. And that jokes that blindly and deceitfully promote a furthering of sexist attitudes do the opposite. I do not think it's obvious which kind of comedy all of Patrice's jokes were, and I don't know if I ever will.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:02 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


And then I actually heard the interview that Marc did with him. It was dripping with misogyny and ugliness.

I wasn't very familiar with O'Neal's work and had pretty much only seen him on that roast he did shortly before he died. But when I listened to his Marc Maron interview I was glad I'd been spared his brand of "humor". I believe the guy was malevolent to the core. He hated women and hated himself in spite of the macho bluster. I think death must have truly been a release for him
posted by fuse theorem at 1:07 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think there are and have been some great ingenious comics who say both virulently racist and homophobic

Always as commentary. Never because they actually are racist or homophobic -- I would defy you to locate a successful comic where, for instance, him being a virulent antisemite was a big part of his success and appeal. Perhaps O'Neal wasn't, in fact, a man who hated woman, but, at this moment, I see no evidence of that. Quite the opposite.

Comedians don't get passes to be bullies. They get passes to examine bullying.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:08 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't have much to say, except that I believe when someone gets up in public and admits their faults with a due amount of humility and shame -- funny or not, offensive or not, entertaining or not, ugly or not -- it teaches a positive lesson, and that lesson is very different from the one taught when someone gets up in public and admits those same faults without humility and without shame.
posted by davejay at 1:18 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would defy you to locate a successful comic where, for instance, him being a virulent antisemite was a big part of his success and appeal.

Woody Allen? I kid. But like half of Eddie Murphy's early career was homophobic jokes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:27 PM on May 14, 2012


Woody Allen?

Was he antisemitic? That must have been quite a trick.

But like half of Eddie Murphy's early career was homophobic jokes.

Ugh. That was awful. But I think people may have given him a pass because he was so obviously closeted.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:32 PM on May 14, 2012


Always as commentary. Never because they actually are racist or homophobic -- I would defy you to locate a successful comic where, for instance, him being a virulent antisemite was a big part of his success and appeal. Perhaps O'Neal wasn't, in fact, a man who hated woman, but, at this moment, I see no evidence of that. Quite the opposite.

Bunny Ultramod, your specific request is probably impossible to satisfy, because antisemitism is held differently by the public-at-large than misogyny or racism. (And racism against whites, differently than whites-against-blacks, for that matter.)

But I can easily answer that, if allowed to pick another example: True mysogynists who were successful comedians: Andrew Dice Clay, Adam Corolla, Sam Kinison. There is no irony in their monologues; no "insightful tell" revealing to the audience the errors of their thinking.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:33 PM on May 14, 2012


True mysogynists who were successful comedians: Andrew Dice Clay, Adam Corolla, Sam Kinison.

I think we're making the same point: That misogyny is acceptable in comedy in a way that other nakedly hateful behavior isn't.

But for homophobia, perhaps. Potomac Avenue might be sadly right about that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:37 PM on May 14, 2012


I would argue that jokes that involve exposing one's own misogyny are both good for society and for the individual soul that encounters them.

I'm honestly wondering what about the following is good for society and the "individual souls" who encounter it. When people say it's "*funny* that is their personal taste, but to say it's "good for us"? How so?

"What's your name? Jeanie. Now Jeanie no disrespect, but if I work with you, I should be able to walk in and go, "Oh, Jeanie, beautiful titty meat you have going on." ... And it's not the cleavage, the cleavage is the space in the middle, I'm talking about the meat, the titty part. And I'm not being foul, just... so I can go through the rest of the day without pretending that I don't see. Let's work out a deal. Don't get me fired!"

"Having women work with men is like having a grizzly bear work with salmon dipped in honey. And the salmon get to walk through, comfortable, with honey, and fish, and "Good morning grizzly bears!" And the grizzly bears can't even growl! "OMG human resources!!! The grizzly bear just did grizzly bear stuff!!!" And I can't even go hey, good morning fish. I can't touch, like oh look at that. I'm just gonna get a little bit of that fish, get that honey. [Licks fingers] Fish and honey man, that's my favorite. Usually I kill fish and eat them but I just want to rub a little bit of that. That's oppressive! You shouldn't even. And there's cameras everywhere, you can't even do weird stuff behind her back."

"I think there should be a holiday, for lack of a better word, harassment day... and this is why it should be harassment day, because women get to be inappropriate sexually all the time. You get to be inappropriate and when I say inappropriate, I mean say hello to me too close."

posted by cairdeas at 1:38 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know...I find Patrice O'Neal's work legitimately disturbing in a way that transcends most garden-variety racist and sexist comedy. Most of that stuff is easily dismissed with "That's a stupid racist joke" or "Yeah, whatever," but a lot of O'Neal's stuff actually makes me look at my own attitudes toward race, sex and gender with a critical eye. That doesn't happen with people like Andrew Dice Clay or Howard Stern or anyone like that.

I'm not saying he's a good person or that I share his values, but I do think his comedy was insightful and thought-provoking, even though I disagree with most of his conclusions. I'd also agree with fuse theorem and Potomac Avenue, who argue above that his misogyny stems in large part from self-hatred.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:42 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's as simple as saying the late Mr. O'Neal was misogynist. I mean, obviously he was.

But it's also obvious from the reaction of at least some women -- including his fiancee's 12 year old daughter -- that he could also be enlightened and sensitive when dealing with individual women.

A while back, in the post about John Derbyshire's derptastic "talk about blacks white parents need to give their kids" article, I mentioned some good friends of mine who very definitely harbor problematic views about blacks as a category but who make an exception for me and my kids. Simply dismissing my friends as racist wouldn't be accurate. Or perhaps it's better to say calling them racist and leaving it at that wouldn't help us a whole lot in combating their more troublesome beliefs and behaviors. I think something similar was going on with the late Mr. O'Neal. I think sometimes he was virulently and poisonously misogynist. I think other times he was using the stage as a confessional.

And I think when he wasn't being misogynist, when he was at his best (watch that Roast clip), he was what a top tier comedian should be: evocative of the trickster archetypes of old, making us confront ugly truths about ourselves. (Note: not including the "women are seductresses, men are all near-rapists" bits of his act in this analysis -- that bit is squarely in the virulent misogyny category.)

So I'm glad cairdeas and others have brought up his misogyny. If I'm going to like him -- and I do -- I had better remain painfully aware of the fact that his act was not all unbridled truth-to-power and shocking people out of their complacency. Some parts of it were offensive in the wrong way, and we should all be mindful of that when we enjoy the parts we do enjoy.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:44 PM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm honestly wondering what about the following is good for society and the "individual souls" who encounter it.

In my case—not that particular bit, per se, but other parts that address his opinions on men and women and the way that they relate to one another—it provoked self-examination. I didn't think, "Oh, he's so right!" but more like, "God, am I like that? I hope I'm not like that...but if I do recognize something like that in myself, how do I deal with it? Do I acknowledge it, try to repress it or what?"
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:47 PM on May 14, 2012


This attitude is sick. Yeah, he was a misogynistic bully, but he was so AMAZING as a comic. So clever, so funny, so smart. He made us think, he made us laugh, he made us cry! Get a sense of humor, ladies!

this attitude exists, 100%. those fans exist and that is what they think. So I want to be clear that what I'm about to say is not a refutation of that fact. I just want to talk about why it's here on metafilter, and where I think the article is coming from, which I think is seperate.

I think that people can't figure out why they still laugh at shit that is that foul. not everyone laughs at it, and there're certainly a million reasons not to laugh at it at all. but some of us still do, despite disagreeing with it on a total level.

and it's not because he's "telling it like it is." the shit he says about women is almost totally bullshit. I mean, he's a straight up unapologetic misogynist. but I think people find something honest in that he's putting awful thoughts people really have on stage. Not because he's making jokes for horrible misogynists, but because there are horrible misogynists in his audience who hide it and he's calling them out, even if he agrees. He's calling them liars and worse than what they actually think they are because they're lying about the fucked up shit they actually think. It doesn't make a lot of sense that this makes us laugh. It's completely baffling, to me at least.

And I think there's value in looking at why that is. I think this writer tried his hardest. I think the OP found something valuable in his effort, and something worth discussing. I think that's why it's here, because I hate so much of what he says, but he makes me laugh and I am at a total loss as to why. He'd hate me. I'd hate him as a person. But I only encountered him as a person who's heard his professional material, and I don't know why I laugh at this shit. I'm glad this post is here.
posted by shmegegge at 2:40 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's as simple as saying the late Mr. O'Neal was misogynist. I mean, obviously he was.

But it's also obvious from the reaction of at least some women -- including his fiancee's 12 year old daughter -- that he could also be enlightened and sensitive when dealing with individual women.


Replace "misogynist" with "racist" and "women" with "people of color" and you've got the boilerplate defense of a lot of people who were active, if not vigorous, defenders of segregation and Jim Crow.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:47 PM on May 14, 2012


I think people (including myself) are willing to give Patrice more of a pass on the misogyny than we'd give to other comics partially because it seemed to come from a place almost bordering on mental illness. He was a regular on Tough Crowd when I worked there, and the regulars on that show kept being invited back because people liked working with him. Now, Colin Quinn is, in person, one of the easiest people in the world to get along with, but he wasn't the only one making those decisions. Liz Stanton and Laurie Kilmartin kept him coming back too. There was the way he'd act to individual women (and he worked with Kilmartin on other projects as well) and the way he'd go off on his vicious rages towards women as a group. I think lord_wolf has it pretty much dead-on above.

And that doesn't excuse his misogyny at all. But it's like... I think Rich Vos is funny. I've had him tear into me personally for a bit at the Cellar, and laughed throughout. But when he's misogynistic, my reaction is, "dude, what a dick." When O'Neal would go on one of his rants, my reaction would be more of , "dude, what the fuck happened to you to make you like this?"

He was a person clearly in deep, deep amounts of pain. It almost certainly would have been better to give him therapy rather than a microphone to help him deal with the fact that he seemed psychologically incapable of living in a world with women in it in any healthy way.

I don't know. I guess I just lump him in the group of fundamentally flawed people who I otherwise like, with Ray Bradbury and Bill Clinton and who knows how many others. Maybe I shouldn't. I don't know.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:57 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I read this article a few hours ago on a subway, and since then I've wondered why I couldn't get the awfulness of this man out of my head. At first I didn't want to type a comment registering my Disapproval, because what would be the point? I'm a white woman from Mississippi, and a feminist. There is no way that his comedy could be less intended for me. (Well, maybe if I were from Minnesota.) Then I figured it out -- there are two reasons that this guy got under my skin.

The first is that my dad is, by nature, breeding, and years of practice, an insult comic. It's not his day job, but it's what he's known and loved for. He made me capable of understanding humor as a weapon and a shield, by necessity. Some of my first memories of him, at age four or five, involve practical jokes he was playing on me. And yet, he is a gentle and loving man, and I still have him with me. That 12-year-old is only going to have a little bit of what he could have given her.

The second reason is that he shares a family name on my father's side, rare spelling and all. If this has any meaning, it is not a nice one -- I know my family had slaves. So that punches my "sit there and take it" button, all right. I can find him loathsome all I want, but anything I have to say about it is going to lack authority because of about 150 years of missing context.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:14 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


>>Get a sense of humor, ladies!

> it's a shame that male fans say dumb shit like that.

More than a shame. It's not thought provoking to the people who need it most.

I couldn't listen long enough to hear anything funny. Shmegegge, you said you're baffled why you find some of it funny. I'm curious which thing you might have found funny. (Or anyone else found funny for that matter.) Perhaps some detail there would allow analysis of how the particular machine (joke/rhetoric/story/whatever) works. Since explaining kills humour, this is the perfect context for it.
posted by Listener at 3:29 PM on May 14, 2012


I think that's why it's here, because I hate so much of what he says, but he makes me laugh and I am at a total loss as to why. He'd hate me. I'd hate him as a person. But I only encountered him as a person who's heard his professional material, and I don't know why I laugh at this shit. I'm glad this post is here.

I feel the same way. I tend not to like posting negative character attacks on Metafilter, but I watched his Elephant in the Room special and sometimes laughed despite myself, so felt I needed to publically distance myself from this guy, maybe just for my own psychological benefit. This kind of humor preys on the most subhuman and culturally-mangled parts of ourselves that we should try to dissociate ourselves from. Someone who is talented at bullying you into dredging up the part of you that laughs at the oppressed... that is one of the worst people in the world.
posted by painquale at 3:36 PM on May 14, 2012


My favorite bit of O'Neal's is actually this one, about Michael Vick and those tear-jerking ASPCA commercials. It gets at racial issues a little bit, but it's not really very controversial, and to my mind it's a pretty good bit of observational comedy.

The stuff about men and women...I don't even find it funny, although it does make me uncomfortable.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:38 PM on May 14, 2012


That it's Lisa Lampenelli he made cry makes the whole thing trickier, though. Lampanelli is mean, mean, mean. Mean to everyone. Will call people out for their looks, including the color of their skin. This is how (some) comedy works. I get a little uncomfortable with people getting mad at a black comic because his successful act makes white women uncomfortable.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:43 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing about Lampanelli bothered me too. I love how she can dish it out and take it -- I've seen her on roast shows -- but I wish I knew what it was about. What was the topic and what was the joke? Did he take her in a fair fight? If he did, that's a hell of a thing to have managed. If he didn't, then it's about as funny as the time Russell Brand called up an old British actor and insulted him for having a granddaughter with whom he, Brand, had had sex.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:48 PM on May 14, 2012


I get a little uncomfortable with people getting mad at a black comic because his successful act makes white women uncomfortable.

Fear not, ThatFuzzyBastard, because he was way more vicious to black women than to white women. (See his bit on why white bitches are more pleasant to date than "warlike" black bitches.)

I wonder though. Why would a woman objecting to bits like "Why men kill their girlfriends" make you uncomfortable? Is it racist to object to anything a comedian says or does, if he is one race and the person objecting is another?
posted by cairdeas at 4:07 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


That it's Lisa Lampenelli he made cry makes the whole thing trickier, though. Lampanelli is mean, mean, mean. Mean to everyone. Will call people out for their looks, including the color of their skin. This is how (some) comedy works.

Lisa Lampanelli is mean, mean, mean to people who buy tickets knowing that she will attack them. I have no idea what she's like in real life, but from the nearly context-free mentions in this story, it sure sounds like O'Neal was being mean to her outside the confines of a performance. Just doing it because he was a profoundly unhappy person who didn't like anyone.
posted by Etrigan at 4:19 PM on May 14, 2012


cairdeas: Personally, everything about Patrice made me uncomfortable, including my own reactions to him. There's no way he wasn't totally purposefully employing that racial dynamic in his act as well. When I saw he, he focused on one white woman with her arms folded for the entire show, saying awful things about her (almost using her like the way Jim Gaffigan uses that high pitched voice who is shocked by all his jokes and argues with his premises). By the end, she was laughing, but surely was slightly unnerved by the whole thing at the least.

He used his race and the race of his audiences (he played in primarily white rooms) as a way to get away with saying more fucked up shit and making it funny. In some ways, a dirty trick. In others, a useful trick. Who knows?

Anyway, Lisa Lamenelli:

The thing about Lampanelli bothered me too. I love how she can dish it out and take it -- I've seen her on roast shows -- but I wish I knew what it was about. What was the topic and what was the joke? Did he take her in a fair fight?

He basically just called her fat and ugly but in an incredibly incisive way. It was totally a fair fight, and she acknowledged that she at a certain level she actually cannot take what she dishes out. Check out her interview with Marc Maron where she discusses Patrice.

She also claims that her type of insult comedy is different because "she doesn't mean it." She claims that "cripples (and the like) love it" when she calls them out in the crowd and makes fun of them. And they probably do. She is "just joking." But to me, that's much less like truth than Patrice talking disgustingly about titty-meat. He really does think about shit like that. When I hear him say it, I hear him making fun of how disgusting he is, how disgusting he thinks all humanity is. And perhaps that viewpoint is immoral. But he made art of out it, not just jokes.

Thank you to those folks who hate Mr. P for your comments, I was nervous about posting this because I thought it would inspire invective instead of discussion but everyone who has criticized him has been very insightful and I hope it's clear how right your statements are, even to those who love him. I know that there are women that like him, but I feel like his entire existence just appeals to dudes more, whether as a justification of a bunch of shitty sexist behavior or a critique of what it means to be an American male (and black, but I can't speak to that)... Maybe we should just forget him. But I can't, and I can't shake the feeling that we have a lot to learn from his work.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:20 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would defy you to locate a successful comic where, for instance, him being a virulent antisemite was a big part of his success and appeal

Dieudonné M'bala M'bala. It's shocking how many audiences seem to enjoy the antisemitic flavour of his jokes.
posted by Dasein at 4:33 PM on May 14, 2012


I'm not enormously fond of Lampanelli's comedy either. Because she has dated several black men, she consistently behaves like it gives her license to say whatever she wants to about black men. Worse still, it gives other comics license to make thinly veiled racist comments that pretend to be humorous digs at her. The whole "black men like to date fat white women" that became very en vogue in comedy a few years back can be traced directly to Lampanelli.

Every shock comic plays on a very simple trick in comedy, which is that people often laugh when they are made uncomfortable. It's a near-instinctive urge. It's an attempt to diffuse an uncomfortable situation by suggesting that it is not serious. It can be a useful trick, but, as is the case with a surprising amount of comedy, it can also be a gimmick that people hide behind.

A lot of comics make use of a very uncomfortable frisson created by people being shocked by what they say and a certain percentage of people that get a thrill out of hearing forbidden things spoken. And this can be used for both good and ill, depending on how good the comedian is. Unfortunately, because contemporary comedy is so absent of any ethical conversation (the default viewpoint seems to be a barely thought-out combination of "anything that gets a laugh is allowable" and "comedians get to say awful things because it is their job to push boundaries"), these tricks and tools are more often used to support a miserable status quo of contempt and disgust. There is no boundary being pushed when you call a woman a bitch on stage and mean it. You're just reenforcing a boundary that already exists, and one that gives you a little more power than them.

This guy wanted to be Richard Pryor? Pryor stopped saying "nigger" onstage because people pointed out that his use of it was supporting the hateful use of the term more than it was challenging that use (he noticed that white audience took a weird thrill in his use of it). I would like to think that Pryor would have come to the same conclusion about the word "bitch."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:34 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dieudonné M'bala M'bala. It's shocking how many audiences seem to enjoy the antisemitic flavour of his jokes.

Hm. I should have specified American audiences. I was not familiar with this comedian before you brought him up. After some Googling, he does seem very troubling.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:37 PM on May 14, 2012


Anyone whose death moved the great Louis CK to tears is OK in my book.
Patrice's voice and spirit will be missed and I feel sorry for the folks who pass judgement and condemn him as worthless on material that is quoted without context.

He was harsh and cringe worthy, but to believe the comments above that his "air finger quotes" misogyny, homophobia, bullying and sexism is what fuels what's wrong with our world today is just a silly as the fundie right wingers who claim video games and heavy metal music are going to bring society to an end.

He was thought provoking, curious and took conversations places they never would have gone and there are very few people around like that.
posted by stavx at 4:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


ut to believe the comments above that his "air finger quotes" misogyny, homophobia, bullying and sexism is what fuels what's wrong with our world today

While you're quoting with air fingers, could you also put some real quotes around any comment that said this?

I don't mind if you disagree. But I would love if you disagreed with what people actually said, and responded to it, instead of hectoring them for apparently not getting that his contectualess quotes actually were not hateful in context. Can you, for example, place his long comedy routine about why it should be okay to sexually harass women at work, quoted at length, in a context where it does not seem to be a claim that women should just expect to get harassed, and that the laws against it are unfair?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:46 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel sorry for the folks who pass judgement and condemn him as worthless on material that is quoted without context.

In addition to what Bunny Ultramod said about his material, a lot of us are troubled (not "condemning him as worthless") by the stuff that isn't material, when he was just out in the world apparently being a huge asshole to a lot of people who didn't particularly deserve it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you, for example, place his long comedy routine about why it should be okay to sexually harass women at work, quoted at length, in a context where it does not seem to be a claim that women should just expect to get harassed, and that the laws against it are unfair?

Why is comedy something to be agreed upon given a stamp of approval? If a politician or court judge said such things then of course have at it.
Some of the funniest comedic premises are based on uncomfortable, wrong, painful situations....

I didn't get angry with his sexual harrassment bit in the same way I didn't get angry in a consumer affairs way when the dead parrot was being passed off in the pet shop Monty Python bit...
Or when that one white guy in Blazing Saddles is more worried about losing the railroad handcar than the loss of two human beings drowning....
Or when David Brent is a total nightmare of an office boss in dozens of ways that are horrifying if they were to happen to you in real life...

Please help me out if I am missing out on something....The examples above are classically lauded comic bits that if taken literally would be offensive.

Am I missing out on something fundamental here?
posted by stavx at 5:07 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Am I missing out on something fundamental here?

I would say yes. Firstly, there's a great deal of ironic distance in the samples you cite. We are not intended to believe that these are the actual viewpoints of the writers or performers, but instead are deliberately outrageous circumstances created to comment on them.

Patrice O'Neal, in the meanwhile, characterized himself as a truth-teller. His stand-up routines were presented as being metaphors for truth, not ironic criticisms of bad bosses, class struggle, or, um, dead parrots. When he claimed that putting women in the workplace and then expecting men not to harass them is like putting a honey-covered fish in front of a bear and expecting it not to attack, he wasn't presenting this as an ironic commentary on workplace harassment. He was defending workplace harassment as being perfectly natural, and in fact, accused woman of being inappropriate toward men merely by being women. That is a fair interpretation of that piece, because there is literally not a shred of evidence that this is not what he meant.

Why is this a problem? Because workplace sexual harassment is a problem. Because it's a hard enough world for women without some comic glibly declaring them to be targets who have earned being targets because they are women.

Why is comedy something to be agreed upon given a stamp of approval?

Because we're audiences and we get to have an opinion. It's called criticism. We're not asking that a law be passed against him. We're merely saying that his comedy has some troubling aspects -- and not of all it did, but the stuff that was troubling was, for some of us, really troubling. Do you think comedy gets a pass when it comes to criticism?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:15 PM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


First, the clip infinitywaltz linked to is damn funny.

Second, Patrice had issues. That's common knowledge, and I don't think anyone has glossed over them. But when such a huge group of comedy pros speak so glowingly of his talents, I think it's pretty hard to deny that he was a gifted comic.

Third, I've followed comedy my whole life and I've come to the conclusion that anger and humor are very closely related. That is that, often, the funniest people are, at the core, the angriest. I think that anger often leads to seeing the absurdity in things and leads to digging into things - sometimes unhealthily, like picking at a scab. Anyhow, that's just my personal observation.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:31 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about comedians being praised for "brutal honesty" and being ugh "equal opportunity offenders" is that the bigoted fuckwit you struggle to be professional around at work ends up thinking he should be praised for that, too. Because Patrice O'Neal or Nick DiPaulo or Carlos Mencia or whoever can say it so why can't they? lol just making jokes, you can't take a joke? Ugh.

At the end of the day, O'Neal was "brutally honest" about his own opinions. Being honest has nothing to do with being right. And his opinions were some straight up misogynist bullshit. I guess I respect that he didn't try to hide his misogyny? But that doesn't make it better.

(I'm sure I'm repeating stuff said better elsewhere in the thread, I'm just on my way out the door and wanted to get my thoughts down quick)
posted by jason_steakums at 5:34 PM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it's pretty hard to deny that he was a gifted comic.

I won't deny that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:36 PM on May 14, 2012


When O'Neal would go on one of his rants, my reaction would be more of , "dude, what the fuck happened to you to make you like this?"

From Wikipedia:
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.
That certainly wouldn't excuse the misogyny at all, but it might explain a lot of it.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:40 PM on May 14, 2012


Because we're audiences and we get to have an opinion. It's called criticism. We're not asking that a law be passed against him. We're merely saying that his comedy has some troubling aspects -- and not of all it did, but the stuff that was troubling was, for some of us, really troubling. Do you think comedy gets a pass when it comes to criticism?

@Bunny, you're right I'm sorry, of course it should and can get criticized.
posted by stavx at 5:47 PM on May 14, 2012


Patrice's last interview was on Jay Mohr's podcast, taped just days before his stroke. It's a pretty fascinating interview even without knowing that it was to be his last interview. I don't recall that he gets too much into discussions of his attitudes toward women, but in the course of an hour he opens up from being somewhat defensive about himself to candidly recognizing that he was a pretty difficult person to deal with, and questioning that maybe that's something he should work on. I listened to it as it was broadcast not knowing that he was in a coma about to die, and definitely came away rooting for the guy to succeed.

I think he was fully aware that his own worst enemy was himself. Which to me is what separates his misogyny or bullying from someone like say, Rush Limbaugh who so obviously places himself above the people that are the targets of his hatred. Even when you can't excuse the actions, sometimes the person behind the actions is deserving of a deeper look.
posted by billyfleetwood at 6:17 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't mean for my criticisms of some of the content of his work to sound like I don't think he was a talented or interesting comic, or that his life isn't worth investigation. Troubled artists are often the most fascinating.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:51 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder though. Why would a woman objecting to bits like "Why men kill their girlfriends" make you uncomfortable? Is it racist to object to anything a comedian says or does, if he is one race and the person objecting is another?

Well, because just like a white comedian making fun of a black person is different than a black comedian making fun of a white person because history, so too is there a lot of ugly history behind white women telling black men that their sexual expression makes white women uncomfortable and they should stop it. This obviously doesn't justify any of the things O'Neal said about women, white or black, but it's worth being aware that this kind of thing sounds very different depending on who you are.

O'Neal's jokes about women, like Murphy's jokes about homosexuals, have the stench of real obsession to them. But the bit quoted above about his statutory rape conviction doesn't start to capture how much was wrong with that situation, and not just on his side; based on the article, it was exactly the kind of charged race/sex situation that has gotten a whole lot of black men hung from trees, and it seems to have really festered in his mind. Again, that doesn't make the things he said not misogynistic. But it does clarify where it's coming from, and why a black man might not have to be a crazy hater to think white women were dangerous and scary.

FWIW, neither me nor my three female roomates had heard O'Neal before this article, and we all thought the "laying eggs" bit in the picture was hilarious. They've been running around all day yelling "Shut up, she knows I egg on top of your head already!"
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:09 PM on May 14, 2012


Before I knew anything about Patrice, I heard comics on Marc Maron's podcast praise him to the skies. It made me interested in him. And then I actually heard the interview that Marc did with him. It was dripping with misogyny and ugliness. His comedy makes people worse people. The valorization of his brand of comedy makes me think less of the whole comic community.

Yeah, that is pretty much exactly the steps I went through as well. I'm very much in the freedom of speech / comedy must be allowed to be transgressive / etc etc camp, but.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:25 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the whole thread, yet, I'll go back and do that. I have a multitude of comedian friends. One of them owns a comedy company that books a lot of the clubs in the tristate area.

One of the female comedians that he booked is incredible. She is one of the most hilarious comics I have ever heard, and her act never gets old.

Not too long ago she posted to her Facebook wall that she was at a club and one of the other comics asked the booker who was on that night, he named (not their real names) you, John Smith, Mark Doe, and some woman. Yep, some woman. A woman who has been on national television, who travels the US, but she is just some woman.

Misogyny is alive and well in comedy and it will remain so until male comedians get the fuck over themselves and admit women can be funny.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:44 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


there a lot of ugly history behind white women telling black men that their sexual expression makes white women uncomfortable and they should stop it. This obviously doesn't justify any of the things O'Neal said about women, white or black, but it's worth being aware that this kind of thing sounds very different depending on who you are.

TheFuzzyBastard, the problem with this line of thinking is that some black men, like all kinds of men, ARE engaging in misogyny -- ARE contributing to rape culture -- ARE sexually harassing women, etc. Your line of thinking makes no distinction at all between to objecting men who ARE doing those things and men who who aren't but have been falsely accused of it, which happens too. How could a woman object to that without "sounding bad," to you? Do you think a situation where women are afraid to say anything about the most fucked up, nastiest misogyny for fear of insinuations of racism would be an fine outcome? That is what will happen if a distinction is not made when people ARE being misogynists. And to be perfectly frank I think many men who have been falsely accused would be offended to the extreme to be compared to a man who DID go around bullying and sexually harassing women. And have what happened to them be treated as comparable to criticism of a man like that.

This is about as vicious as misogyny gets. Objecting to rape jokes, jokes about murdering women, jokes about why women deserve sexual harassment, jokes about the unsuitability of black women for relationships, and his habit, by the accounts of all his friends and his wife, of often "laying into" women in real life, etc. -- is not whining about being "uncomfortable" because of someone's "sexual expression. If you think I "should be aware" you think it "sounds different" for me to say so because I'm white-ish ... well, I note the insinuation, but I think it is not doing anything good for anyone.

I am wondering also, why the long and ugly history behind the way men have treated women doesn't make you "sound different" and problematic when telling women their expression makes you uncomfortable?
posted by cairdeas at 10:33 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The more I think about it, the more I realize that "honest" is wildly misapplied as a compliment and now has little to no meaning in comedy, and it's giving me this semantics itch. What is the deal with words just losing all damn meaning when a dude really really wants to say some hateful shit for a laugh without repercussions? Like when a comedian is called "honest" by someone who really just means "I agree with your crazypants bigotry". And what they disdain as political correctness is just decent effing manners with no relation to the actual meaning of PC, what they call a joke is just an act of bullying, what they call free speech is like, some magic concept that means they can't be called on their shit.

O'Neal was like perfectly centered on the line between legit honesty (about having an awful misogynist worldview) and praise for being "honest" by the people whose thoughts he was articulating with that shit.

He's a gifted performer, a legitimately good comedian, but shit, Dave Sim and Charles Bukowski were awesome at their jobs too.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:39 PM on May 14, 2012


That it's Lisa Lampenelli he made cry makes the whole thing trickier, though. Lampanelli is mean, mean, mean. Mean to everyone. Will call people out for their looks, including the color of their skin. This is how (some) comedy works.

The thing with roast-type comedy is that it is done (mostly) with the consent of the victim, in the universe of their onstage persona. Joke about what they joke about and it's fine. But if you go meaner than that or dive into personal issues that aren't a part of that person's public image, you are an asshole.

I get a little uncomfortable with people getting mad at a black comic because his successful act makes white women uncomfortable.

The problem is that he used the racial discomfort to get laughs. It's cheap. Would his act be funny if he looked like Norm MacDonald? I doubt it, and that's why I don't find that type of humor funny.

And, changing the subject a little, the fact that other comedians find his work funny doesn't hold much water with me. Most of the current comedians are assholes.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on May 15, 2012


I get a little uncomfortable with people getting mad at a black comic because his successful act makes white women uncomfortable.

The problem is that he used the racial discomfort to get laughs. It's cheap. Would his act be funny if he looked like Norm MacDonald? I doubt it, and that's why I don't find that type of humor funny.


No, it wouldn't. And Bob Newhart's act wouldn't be funny if he looked like Patrice O'Neal. And Chris Rock's act would get him (rightly) shunned if he looked like Woody Allen. A comedian is who he is. Saying "he wouldn't say X if he looked like Y" is a bit like saying "This horror movie wouldn't be scary if it wasn't shot like that"---true, but unimportant.

That's especially the case with O'Neal, who made a lot of hay from observing the ways his race, gender, and size affected how people interacted with him. It's especially important to note because the atmosphere between black men and white women is the basis of some of his sharpest material, like the Pepsi Can Killer bit, or his "how long would they start looking for you if you went missing" joke.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:49 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly wondering what about the following is good for society and the "individual souls" who encounter it. When people say it's "*funny* that is their personal taste, but to say it's "good for us"? How so?

"What's your name? Jeanie. Now Jeanie no disrespect, but if I work with you, I should be able to walk in and go, "Oh, Jeanie, beautiful titty meat you have going on." ... And it's not the cleavage, the cleavage is the space in the middle, I'm talking about the meat, the titty part. And I'm not being foul, just... so I can go through the rest of the day without pretending that I don't see. Let's work out a deal. Don't get me fired!"

"Having women work with men is like having a grizzly bear work with salmon dipped in honey. And the salmon get to walk through, comfortable, with honey, and fish, and "Good morning grizzly bears!" And the grizzly bears can't even growl! "OMG human resources!!! The grizzly bear just did grizzly bear stuff!!!" And I can't even go hey, good morning fish. I can't touch, like oh look at that. I'm just gonna get a little bit of that fish, get that honey. [Licks fingers] Fish and honey man, that's my favorite. Usually I kill fish and eat them but I just want to rub a little bit of that. That's oppressive! You shouldn't even. And there's cameras everywhere, you can't even do weird stuff behind her back."

"I think there should be a holiday, for lack of a better word, harassment day... and this is why it should be harassment day, because women get to be inappropriate sexually all the time. You get to be inappropriate and when I say inappropriate, I mean say hello to me too close."


I watched the clip this is from, and I would say that there is a lot more nuance going on than this transcript shows on its face. There's sarcasm in his delivery, there's a lot of nods to how inappropriate that behaviour would actually be in real life, there's a tacit implication that a lot of men do harbour sexual thoughts about the women around them, there's the direct suggestion of double-standards in overt sexual politics between men and women. I could go on.

What's good for society in this? Confronting and examining some very complex gender roles seems like it could be good for a lot of people, even when it's ugly at times.
posted by hamandcheese at 8:58 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shmegegge, you said you're baffled why you find some of it funny. I'm curious which thing you might have found funny.

On his recently (and posthumously) released album, I laughed at the bit where an audience member says he has only dated black women "but I'm not a racist or anything" and Patrice grunts, then tells another audience member (previously ripped on for being named "Tolu") to grab his spear and stab the other guy repeatedly and then lays into him for being a coward for not admitting he's a racist. Absolutely nothing in the sentences I just typed out sound funny. Absolutely nothing about it sounds okay to say, to my mind. Still, I laughed.

From the same album, I laughed pretty hard at his last bit about how it's an insult not to be willing to go down on a girl's ass if you're already down there performing cunnlingus.

I don't know what this tells you about anything, but those are a couple of the bits I laughed at, among others.
posted by shmegegge at 10:52 AM on May 15, 2012


I strongly suggest (as has been mentioned already) that if people haven't done so already and are interested, they listen to Marc Maron's WTF interviews with both O'Neal and Lisa Lampanelli to get a much clearer picture of things.

[I'm not sure how this 'premium' business of Maron's is supposed to work for older podcast episodes, but I can see both shows still listed in my regular WTF history listing, so...]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:45 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bob Newhart's act wouldn't be funny if he looked like Patrice O'Neal

Gotta disagree here. Keep the same voice, the same timing, and the same sensibilities of Bob Newhart, but have them coming from a 6 foot 300 pound black guy? Comedy gold.

Look at these spots for Norwest Bank featuring Mr. Newhart riffing on his old telephone routines. Imagine same voice and mannerisms but looking like Mr. O'Neal. You can't tell me you didn't laugh even harder than you normally would have. :-D
posted by lord_wolf at 10:05 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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