Patrice O’Neal: Killing Is Easy
February 21, 2021 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Patrice O’Neal Died Too Soon to Become ‘One of the Greats’—Or Get Canceled [Daily Beast] The first thing we hear O’Neal say in the documentary is, “I don’t mind a little racism.” It’s the setup for a joke about modern-day slavery, but at the same time, it’s a telling window into his comedic persona. O’Neal loved to shock audiences upfront with an aggressively honest admission and then try to win them back with laughs.

A new documentary, co-produced by Bill Burr, tells the story of the late stand up comedian - Patrice O’Neal: Killing Is Easy [US only]. posted by riruro (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 


Framing Patrice O'Neal as racist is bizarre to me. Scanning through the documentary, I don't see context for what he was talking about when he said, "I don't mind a little racism." It does talk about him growing up Black in an incredibly racist Boston, having his pants pulled down in public by police frisking him at gunpoint, getting kicked out of a largely white summer camp for grabbing a white kid who called him the N-word.

Part of his schtick making people uncomfortable and defending the right to talk honestly about race. In this clip he says, "I love a little racial [humor]," and goes on to make a joke "about modern-day slavery," in which he says, "I'm mad at [Obama], because I thought I'd have a white slave by now." Maybe a provocative way to talk about race in 2011, but I don't think it's racist. I don't know his whole canon and there seems to be more discussion about his misogyny in the 2012 MeFi post, but opening this article by suggesting Patrice O'Neal might be cancelled for being racist feels weird and click-baity.
posted by little onion at 8:34 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


People keep trying to make “fetch” happen.

Maybe if the public don’t like your act, you’re actually not good at your job. Maybe it isn’t society that has failed to catch up with your vision, maybe you’re not up to the requirements of the age you live in. Maybe you’re not a misunderstood genius, maybe you’ve been thoroughly understood and evaluated as not-genius.

At some point They’re a comic whom other comics love and they can’t understand why the public don’t embrace this boundary-pusher is it’s own warning sign.

Some people still don’t find Andy Kaufman funny.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:36 AM on February 21 [19 favorites]


Well, he’s not wrong about Radiohead.

There are so many people doing comedy that even getting to be a comedian’s comedian means you’re pretty damn successful. Even getting to be a comedian’s comedian’s comedian means you’re doing much better than other people who think they are funny enough to do it for money.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:02 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


At some point "They’re a comic whom other comics love and they can’t understand why the public don’t embrace this boundary-pusher" is it’s own warning sign.

Oh, they understood. Because that kind of success is not who or what O'Neal was, or wanted to be.

My friends and I have a term for what happens when a comedian who's known for edgy material voluntarily softens it, moves into family-friendly programming and becomes a much more prominent public figure. The term is "Sagetization," after Bob Saget, who went from a scorchingly funny 9th Annual Young Comedians Special to straight-manning for the Olsen Twins and mouthing bad jokes on America's Funniest Home Videos for many years.

Saget is far from alone in that, of course, and it is not completely a pejorative. Many, many comedians, including many of the greats, have said "I would like some commercial success and some money now" and gone the network sitcom / family movie mainstream route. And if it works for them, and they get what they want from that, good for them. But as the documentary describes, and as O'Neal openly admitted within it... he couldn't do that, he couldn't and wouldn't become a genial entertainer. He repelled many people with both his personality and his material and greatly enjoyed doing it. He was an asshole, but he was an honest asshole, and that's how he insisted that he do things.

Not many can commit to that, much less for very long. And those who do either burn out fast and/or become legends among their peers.
posted by delfin at 10:05 AM on February 21 [11 favorites]


but opening this article by suggesting Patrice O'Neal might be cancelled for being racist feels weird and click-baity.

I thought the article was saying he was incisive on race in a good way? The misogyny is what would have got him in trouble.
posted by atoxyl at 11:20 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


Maybe if the public don’t like your act, you’re actually not good at your job

I read the article a few days back and thought it was a weird framing, because Patrice O'Neal may not have been a household name, but he wasn't some performance artist out there just pissing people off for kicks; he was a pretty successful comedian that people paid money to go see, laughed along with, and he had a pretty dedicated online following?

Like him or not, he was pretty good at his job.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 11:52 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


who went from a scorchingly funny

We'll just have to agree to disagree on what "scorchingly funny" means.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 12:46 PM on February 21 [5 favorites]


he wasn't some performance artist out there just pissing people off for kicks

According to the article, that's exactly what he was:
“I’m a complete misogynist,” we see him tell a club crowd at another point. “I just think men, we’re better!” he adds. “And I’m not saying it like no ‘rah, rah’ shit. We’re just better.”

“I love making motherfuckers feel uncomfortable,” O’Neal says after things get palpably awkward in the room. In another set, he follows up a similar bit by castigating the women in the crowd for not finding him funny. “This is how we fucking feel!” he shouts at them. “We don’t like you! Because of the way you’re not laughing at me is why we don’t like you!”
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 1:47 PM on February 21 [9 favorites]


Humor, as always, is subjective. But the specific Young Comedians special I referenced was by far the best HBO ever put out there, if the rate at which my high-school peers and I quoted it is any indication. The breakout national debut of Sam Kinison, a great Rita Rudner segment, Maurice LaMarche (now a cartoon-voice veteran and voice of The Brain on Animaniacs) nailing impressions, Louie Anderson killed, Bob Nelson's infamous football routine, Yakov Smirnoff before he was overexposed... but Saget absolutely stole the show that night. His fast-patter routine made what happened to him next (decades lost to ABC Family programming) a crying shame.

Segue-ing back. There are comedians who can turn their abrasive persona off when needed, and there are those who just can't. The former get the media deals and the movie offers and the TV pilots. The latter live on the fringes, and live or die there. But you can't get ahead in even the fringes of comedy just by spouting racial, ethnic and sexual slurs; almost anyone can do that. You need timing, you need presence, you need original material to stand out, and O'Neal delivered on all three. His desire to offend and instigate may disturb many, and by intent... but he was very, very good at doing it.
posted by delfin at 2:22 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


The comedians worth remembering seem to have at least one blind spot mostly centered around honesty. They can't see things easily in other ways. Those in their audiences have their own blind spots, centered on their own views of the world. Honesty is an imperfect way to try to be truthful, and one that's not always easy to reconcile with their own other blind spots or other personal imperfections and failures.

I remember seeing O'Neal often on Colin Quinn's Tough Crowd. He seemed to hold his own with other greats who were guests during that show's amazing (but short) run. Like him or not, to say that he was pretty good at his job (or at least regarded highly enough to be brought off the mic and onto television and film) seems fair.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:29 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]


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.

That was my comment on the 2012 FPP about this guy. My opinion still stands, only now it's expanded to include several of the other comedians who practically glorify him today.

Like him or not, he was pretty good at his job.

Sure, if his job was to create a cult following comprised of like-minded misogynists and racists. Gee, I wonder how he would have dealt with the MAGA gang? I could see him having a lot of fans among them.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:18 PM on February 21 [6 favorites]


I think "would this person have been cancelled" is a cheap and provocative hypothetical that makes little sense to entertain. In O'Neal's case especially, since he didn't have any woke principles to betray.
posted by Sterros at 3:54 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]


So, just to recap the Metafilter Axis of Evil Black Comedians, then:

                       Funny
                         ^ 
                         |
                  O      - Radiohead "Creep"
                         |
                         |
                         |
                         |
                         |
                         |
                         - Harmless
Evil < ------------------+-------------------- > Acceptable
                    W    - Saget
                         |
                         |
                         |
                         |
                         |
   *                     - JELLO pudding pops
                         |
                         v
                    Not-so-funny

O - Patrice O'Neal
* - Bill Cosby
W - Wayne Brady

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:23 PM on February 21 [8 favorites]


I saw this guy play the Top of the Kong in Cambridge, MA sometime in the late 1990s. He absolutely killed. If he was doing "I hate women" jokes back then I sure don't remember it. He had a bit about being chased down the street by a gang of racist kids, and how his mom was way too nice and insisted that he give them the benefit of the doubt, he didn't know for sure they were racists. And O'Neal said "Mom, they were skinheads," and his mom said "Well, don't jump to conclusions, Patrice, maybe they had cancer."
posted by escabeche at 8:29 PM on February 21 [7 favorites]


If you will forgive the slight derail, just want to invite you to check out Killing and Dying if you haven't come across it already. Great comic.

I will reserve judgment on (the deceased) Patrice O'Neal. I did not have an opinion when O'Neal was alive, particularly, and I don't see the point in forming one at this time. My brother keeps insisting I should check out CBC's Tallboyz to the point that he shared his screen during a video call yesterday and more or less forced a skit on my eyeballs. Anyone else familiar with Tallboyz? I don't think you could create something more Canadian in a laboratory (in all the best/worst ways).
posted by elkevelvet at 7:59 AM on February 22


Sure, if his job was to create a cult following comprised of like-minded misogynists and racists. Gee, I wonder how he would have dealt with the MAGA gang? I could see him having a lot of fans among them.

As people have pointed out, calling him racist is pretty unfair because he was very outspoken about white racism and the Black experience. On the other hand, he has definitely become a cult figure among manosphere/redpill/whatever types - because of his cynical take on male and female roles in relationships in general, but also because they see his whole “I’ll be mean to you and somehow make you laugh” thing as an aspirational example of how to establish dominance in a conversation. You can see this in the comments of most any clip of him on YT. So there’s no avoiding that side of him.

I think "would this person have been cancelled" is a cheap and provocative hypothetical that makes little sense to entertain. In O'Neal's case especially, since he didn't have any woke principles to betray.

Yeah he wouldn’t be cancelled, he’d be doing his thing at Skankfest or wherever, same as the rest of the crew he was associated with back in the day.
posted by atoxyl at 9:35 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


I still think Elephant in the Room is one of the funniest ~75 minutes of comedy I have seen in my life.
posted by PhineasGage at 7:21 PM on February 22


Yeah he wouldn’t be cancelled, he’d be doing his thing at Skankfest or wherever, same as the rest of the crew he was associated with back in the day.

That’s what being cancelled is. As John Scalzi put it
“Being Cancelled” doesn’t mean you never work, it means you work in the minor leagues.
Back in college, I took a class on the Philosophy of Art. The basic question the class examined was What is Art? How do we define it?

Among the philosophies explored was the “Avant-Garde” philosophy. Specifically, that which the innovators and edge-pushers deemed art counted as such. Society at large (who, in theory, were the audience for art) weren’t the ones who knew what was “good”. Only those with an inside view or a personal focus and interest were discerning enough to determine if something was “art” or not.

Patrice O’Neal feels like Avant-Garde art which the scenesters and other artists keep telling us we “should” appreciate and celebrate. He’s got great technical skill, killer timing, he’s gained mastery of his craft, yadda yadda yadda.

So what?

What did he do with that mastery? And why should the general public celebrate him for it?

He worked hard and developed his natural talent and his professional chops, but to what purpose? And why should we value that purpose?

If you’re one-in-a-million, there are ten of you in NYC alone. I bet at least a few of them have jokes who also aren’t abusive misogynist trolls.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:25 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I don’t think you can be “cancelled” into the minor leagues unless you made the major leagues. It’s just kind of a weird narrative to apply to the guy when his existing narrative is that he never quite made it big, and when the thing we’re talking about cancelling him for was a very overtly offensive dimension of his material and persona.

I also think the parallel world of comedy where it’s still the 00s is bigger than you might think, incidentally.
posted by atoxyl at 10:00 AM on February 23


abusive

Are you referencing something about a dead comedian that the rest of us don't know, or...?
posted by Space Coyote at 11:21 AM on February 23


No, I’m referencing the publicly known facts.

I experience no sense of obligation to assert he ever lifted a hand to anyone by describing that as “abusive”.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:44 PM on February 23


This thread prompted me to go back and listen to his albums on Apple Music. It's just unbelievable how the stuff he thinks of doing crowd work ends up being more thoughtful and funny than most working comics' best pre-written bits by miles.

One bit he talked about was how you can't pin racism on white people anymore, talking about how he was walking his little dogs and a white man started asking him questions about where he got them etc. and he just knew he was trying to figure out if he was abusing the dogs, but couldn't say so because it wasn't explicit.

Truly a loss.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:39 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


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