RIP Patrice O'Neal
I got on the 5 train yesterday, something I almost never do, and took it uptown to pay respects to an old friend, Patrice O'Neal, who died at 41 of complications from a stroke just about a week ago. He died way too young for how strong he was.
It was a beautiful and believe it or not, hilarious and touching service in a gorgeous church, fit for such a giant man. Patrice was a large man in stature, but he was even larger in personality. He was, simply put, just a really very special person.
Patrice and I hadn't seen each other in several years. The last time I saw him was at an event at the Friar's Club, where he was wearing his classic scowl towards the environment. He interviewed me intensely about my life and softened now and again when I'd say something that pleased him. If I said something annoying to him, the scowl would return and he would stare up at me from where he sat with a clear message that I was on thin ice and could get a tongue lashing at any moment.
Years ago, I met Patrice at the Comedy Cellar. For a while, he ignored me, but eventually, he started talking to me. Then, he began to pick on me. I was not used to a giant black man saying horrible yet hilarious things to me. I was put off and flattered at the same time. One time, he let into me in his way, and in that moment, it hit me wrong. I stood up and walked out of the bar in tears.
He came after me and cornered me outside, where he lectured me for close to an hour. He told me to toughen up and take it. He said that he picked on me because he liked me, and that was more than he could say for most people, so I should feel lucky. He told me that comedy is a tough world and that I have to be ready for people to say anything to me and be able to hold my ground, because many more people would come after him who would make a strong effort to break me, and they wouldn't be messing around, like he had been.
Then, he gave me a giant Patrice bear hug.
He made me laugh and think, every time we spoke, and every time I heard him speak. I used to go to the Tough Crowd tapings all the time, where he'd verbally pummel his co-panelists hilariously into the ground. To see the outpouring of love for him yesterday was really touching and intense. I saw people I hadn't seen for a long time and they've all aged. And I've aged, too. I guess that'd be weird if none of us had aged.
Not having him on the planet makes it a lonelier, colder, less funny, less honest place, and that sucks.
Here's a clip from his special "Elephant In The Room". His honesty, hilariousness and blatant personality made him just the coolest person ever. Buy this DVD which will help his family, who are also really wonderful people.