Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Day The Laughter Died

We have lost a comedy legend. A man who is undoubtedly on every working comics top five list. When you saw Patrice O'Neal perform you instantly knew you weren't doing enough. Patrice incited two reactions within comics, inspiration to be better or a nudge to flat out quit because compared to his, most efforts were futile.

In comedy, it's often hard to distinguish the man from the comic. As it should be. At it's best it's an incredibly personal and intimate art form. Patrice wore it on his sleeve. He lived it. He walked the walk. After you saw Patrice perform you knew him. For better or for worse you knew where he stood. Patrice tapped into the human condition unlike anyone has in the last twenty years and maybe ever.

On stage Patrice was compelling and hilarious. Off stage he was a guru and his impact on comedy extends far wider than people may know. I was in Belfast, Ireland when I got the news and the comics in the green room instantly started quoting their favorite Patrice O'Neal bits. In the early days I was Patrice's sidekick, well disciple is probably a more fitting word. Every where Patrice went comics flocked to him. His brand of truth and uncompromising defense of truth was a marvel to other comics. We wanted to tell bookers where to put it but we were scared the Chuckle Hut in West Bum wouldn't book us anymore. Patrice would tell the booker to stick it where the sun doesn't shine, then proceed to kill so hard that the booker had to bring him back anyway.

In those days bookers would ask Patrice to send them a tape of his performance. He would respond by asking them to send him a tape of their audience. Bull shit never stood a chance in Patrice's presence. If he rubbed a comic the wrong way it was probably because he wanted to make sure you were in it to give to comedy and not simply take from it. Patrice would constantly tell me to not be selfish on stage. Laughter is the comic's air but Patrice would suffocate before he got laughs that weren't inspired by the truth. Everyone else just had to be funny. Patrice had to be funny and honest. A burden he carried with the greatest of ease and skill. Patrice has stopped doing bits that other comics could make a career out of, simply because those bits had run their course in his development as a man.

Patrice could size most people up in seconds with amazing accuracy. Sometimes he would give someone grief and only later would I see why but Patrice would know the person was a dweeb from jump. There was no pretense with Patrice. This was off putting to many but the world Patrice lived in is a lot better than the world most of us live in. He was free from living the double and sometimes triple lives most of us live. Even I could be more biting on stage given my background. Patrice was constantly helping comics around him find their truth. Even more established comics knew there was a guy out there doing something very special.
When I read the Fountainhead I casted Patrice O'Neal in my head as Howard Roark. Patrice is the only person I've met to meet the standards of quality and unrelenting ethics that the fictional Howard Roark attained.

I've only known two comics that I would give my entire catalogue of jokes to just to hear them say my words and see them do my jokes way better than I ever could. Those two comics are Dane Cook and Patrice O'Neal. I feel sorry for people who didn't know Patrice personally. However, his comedy provides a good sense of what it was like to be in the presence of his greatness. To be humbled by his kindness enveloped in truth.

I had to write this because never talking to him again and never seeing him take life's most awkward, taboo, even mundane moments and bring them to the stage with hilarious flare and poignancy, is going to be very hard to come to terms with.

Patrice didn't choose to be honest. He seemed to not have a choice in the matter. It's like he was ordained to be the kind of person most of us wish we could be. Patrice didn't achieve his industry success because of his immense talent. He attained it in spite of his uncompromising honesty.

In the past few years I lost close touch with Patrice. I was in LA. I don't think Patrice really condoned comics going to LA. Again, he was right. LA is great but the industry hustle can take away from the art form. But no one could be a friend of Patrice and not have him rub off on them. And no comic could become close to Patrice without their approach to comedy being elevated.

I tried to keep it real Bruiser. And now that you're gone you leave an unfillable void but your spirit lives on thru all the people you impacted. We know you're watching and we will champion for truth. Please don't be upset if we're not as good at it as you were. You're one of a kind. Rest in Peace brother. You left an indelible mark on Stand-up and on me as a person. Thanks.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Dear Coffee Shop,

I’m sorry to send you this by letter but I thought it would be best. Please don’t try to change my mind. We’ve had really fun times together that I will cherish always. It’s just that, well, I need more. It’s over now. I’ve found something else, an office. It’s not as spontaneous and funny as you are but I need stability and support now. The office’s wifi always works and there’s always a place for me to sit. Office is introducing me to its friends. They're all so nice and sophisticated. Even when I go away, Office has arranged places all over the world for me to sit and work. Office doesn’t play music or have a parade of beautiful women go by but office doesn’t charge me extra for tea either.

Coffee shop, we both know that you’ll never change. You’ll never really be about grown up business. Sure you’re good for occasional great conversation and awesome people watching but I need a place where I can mail things and Fedex things and print things out and have meetings and have climate control.

I think we both knew this was going to happen sooner or later. And I really appreciate all you’ve done for me. You helped me get out the house when I was watching too much TV. You helped me write sooo many blogs. We’ll always have the retired “porn star” contemplating a comeback. I know you remember the homeless woman who gave me money. And who could forget the barrista who did, ahem, “adult” foam art.

I was doing comedy in a cocktail bar, that much is true. But even then I knew I needed a more professional work environment, either with or without you, Coffee Shop. Please don’t be too sad. You’ll find someone else. A new comic/writer on the come up who likes your drinks and wants to sit in you and work. I wish you nothing but the best, Coffee Shop.

I hope that we can still be friends and maybe I can visit you every now and then. If you’re not okay with that, I totally understand.

Thanks for everything.

Love Always,


(written from the business lounge from a London Branch of my office space)

Monday, November 21, 2011

At The Diner On The Corner...

As I sat looking out the window in the iLost cafe in Suzhou, China, l thought to myself, “China just may have more scooters than the US has people.”

I was about go down the Google rathole of finding out just how many scooters are in China when I realized country music was playing in the cafe and had been since I walked in. I mean songs straight from the Country Music Channel. I thought that was odd but was it odder than me sitting there? I was an hour outside of Shanghai and I hadn’t seen another black person in 3 days. In fact I can count the non-chinese on one hand. Including the 3 English blokes I travelled with. The whole scene felt like a simulation created to get operatives ready for the field. Like a picture they get to see for an instant and then must tell everything that’s wrong with it...

Operative: Black guy by the window, country music playing, the cheese cake the black guy is eating, the english novels on the shelf and I think the black guy was reading “The Sayings of Confucius” but oddly enough he was writing a bunch of sayings by someone called Dwayne-Fucius...

I definitely stood out but no one came up and touched me or anything like that. They get to see black guys play in the Chinese Basketball League. Since I stand at 5’10’’ and probably could stand to lose a few no one thought I was a basketball import. I remember when I lived in Boston this one white guy would be at every black club. The Chinese people who saw me must have felt the same way I did when I saw that guy.

EVERY ONE WHO SAW ME IN SUSZHO, CHINA: Hmmn that’s odd...oh well....

I felt like I could move there, if I had enough money to sustain myself, and just cruise. Even if I didn’t learn a millimeter of Chinese. (out of respect I went metric. Obviously “ounce” still works better.)

I want to learn another language but I’m simply too good at charades to be forced into arming myself with a foreign vocabulary. I could seriously walk into a restaurant and mime a request for Chicken and Broccoli and Shrimp fried rice with no onions and get it, no problem. You’re trying to picture how but trust me I could. Next time you see me ask me to act it out for you. Or, speak to anyone who’s played “Guesstures” with me. I’ve never lost. Yes, I had a get together and play board games phase. I don’t really like to talk about it too much.

I never did google “number of scooters in China”. Excuse me I’ve got some research to do.