|Birth name||Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O'Neal|
|Born||December 7, 1969|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 29, 2011 (aged 41)|
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O'Neal (December 7, 1969 – November 29, 2011) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and radio personality. He was particularly well-known for his regular guest appearances on the television series Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and the radio show Opie and Anthony.
Raised in the Boston area, O'Neal began his stand-up comedy career in 1992, developing an act based on conversations with the audience, deconstructive analysis, and often confrontational points of view. After several years in Boston, O'Neal moved to Los Angeles and toured Australia and England, before settling in New York City. From 2006 to 2008, O'Neal presented The Black Phillip Show on XM Satellite Radio. In 2010, O'Neal filmed his only hour-length comedy special, Elephant in the Room. O'Neal died of a stroke resulting from his type 2 diabetes on November 29, 2011, at the age of 41.
Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O'Neal was born on December 7, 1969, in New York City. His mother Georgia named him after Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the Congolese independence movement and the country's first prime minister, and African-American human rights activist Malcolm X. O'Neal was bullied at school over his name, yet he "learned how to be a man with this name". He was raised by his mother in the largely black working class area of Roxbury in Boston with his sister Zinder. O'Neal never had a relationship with his father, although he was aware of his identity. He attended West Roxbury High School, during which he took up football and ended his playing career with three varsity letter awards and winning a state championship in his senior year.
After graduating from West Roxbury High School, O'Neal turned down a sports scholarship at Northeastern University in Boston, which included a housing grant, in favor of studying performing arts at the university, with a major in theater studies. His interest in comedy had grown by this time, and he took up work as a bouncer at the Comedy Connection in Boston. He cited George Carlin and Richard Pryor as his comedic influences. Other work that O'Neal took up included selling food at the Boston Garden arena.
O'Neal performed his first stand-up in October 1992 at Estelle's in Boston. He had attended an open-mic night at the venue the week prior to his debut where he heckled a performer, who in turn challenged him to try stand-up himself. Comedian Dane Cook witnessed one of O'Neals earliest sets and noted his "gentle-giant appeal ... He already had an edge, but he was a little more vulnerable". O'Neal developed his act in the Boston area for the next six years, where early on he performed under the name Bruiser O'Neal. In the mid-1990s, O'Neal first met comedian and later close friend Jim Norton.
In 1998, O'Neal relocated to New York City, working regular spots at the Comedy Cellar. In early 1998, he took part in the fourth annual US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. He then moved to Los Angeles in the hopes of finding greater fame: "I tap danced like you wouldn't believe ... trying to get something." O'Neal ignored demands from club owners to change his confrontational act and struggled to earn enough money. He was "essentially thrown out of America" and accepted offers to perform in the UK, first by English stand-up John Simmit for a part on his Upfront Comedy circuit. O'Neal worked hard to gain the respect of his peers, which he recalled took several months "for them to go 'Ok, this guy's not playing around'". By mid-1999, O'Neal had headlined a comedy tour of Australia. Between 2000 and 2002, O'Neal performed stand-up across Europe, including spots at the Black International Comedy Awards in London and in Edinburgh, Scotland with comedians Lewis Schaffer and Rich Vos.
In 2010, O'Neal recorded his first and only hour special for Comedy Central, Elephant in the Room. It originated after comedian Dave Attel had praised O'Neal's material to his manager, who entered discussions with the network about producing one. Despite O'Neal being adamant on filming in Washington, D.C., the network wanted it recorded in New York City and O'Neal eventually agreed. The special premiered on February 19, 2011, with an uncut version released on CD and DVD three days later. O'Neal promoted the special with an interview on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, his first network television appearance in four years.
In late 2000, O'Neal took a writing position with the WWE after an associate saw him perform. A big fan of wrestling, he pitched his idea for building a feud over three weeks that culminated in a pay-per-view event which won him the job. He visited owner Vince McMahon's house, traveled with the organization for one week of live shows on their private jet, and directed some vignettes. O'Neal was then offered a 13-week contract, but turned it down as he already had plans, and said if he had kept doing it, "it wouldn't have been a dream ... It was short and sweet". Later in his career, O'Neal walked away from potential opportunities such as acting roles on The Office, Arrested Development and Web Junk 20. He later stated, "I'm a professional bridge-burner". The story goes deeper into his views of Hollywood. 
By 2002, O'Neal had returned to the US after he received an offer to record a half-hour comedy special on Showtime. He landed his first of a series of television appearances, beginning with the sketch program The Colin Quinn Show, followed by Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn which he appeared from 2002 until its cancellation in 2004. In 2003, he recorded a special for Comedy Central Presents. His first television appearance was on The Apollo Comedy Hour. From there, he moved on to appearances on Showtime at the Apollo and FNight Videos. He appeared in guest-starring roles on MTV's Apartment 2F, Assy McGee, Yes Dear, Arrested Development, Chappelle's Show and The Office.
O'Neal was a regular on the Fox series The Jury, and he starred in the Comedy Central animated program Shorties Watchin' Shorties with Nick Di Paolo. He supplied the voice of Harold Jenkins on Noggin's animated program O'Grady High and was featured as Jesus in Denis Leary's Searchlight. In 2005, he filmed a half-hour One Night Stand special for HBO. He then became the host of the seasons one and two of Web Junk 20 on VH1, in 2006. After two seasons, O'Neal declined to host the third despite an offer that quadrupled his salary. He was replaced by Jim Breuer.
In 2007, O'Neal revealed he turned down an opportunity to appear on Celebrity Fit Club and said, "my career is more important than my health". O'Neal made five appearances at the annual Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, Canada, including a one-man, one-week show at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine in 2008.
In 2007, O'Neal wrote and starred in a web series called The Patrice O'Neal Show – Coming Soon!, featuring his girlfriend, Nero, Bryan Kennedy, Harris Stanton, and Wil Sylvince. The series did not last long as it was unable to attain a sponsor due to its offensive content. He guest starred in another For Your Imagination-produced show, called Break a Leg, playing "Adult-Sized Gary Coleman".
In 2011, O'Neal performed as one of the comedians for The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen as he expressed his respect for the actor and wished to tell him in person. The show aired on September 19, 2011 with O'Neal the last comic to perform. It acquired 6.4 million viewers, still the highest-rated edition of the Comedy Central roasts. O'Neal's appearance on the roast was to be his final television appearance prior to his untimely death two months later. After the taping, O'Neal met William Shatner and his wife, who were also in attendance, in the garage and the couple offered their support to O'Neal regarding his diabetes, after which the three cried. Shatner recalled, "He knew that he was dying, that he was a dying man, and in a way, he wanted to die ... That's what I saw. That's why we cried."
In 2002, O'Neal had returned to the New York City area. He made his debut appearance on the Opie and Anthony radio show on January 17, 2002, when friend and comedian Rich Vos brought him onto the show, which at the time aired from WNEW. After the show was cancelled in 2002 and relaunched on XM Satellite Radio in 2004, O'Neal returned as a guest, or sometimes sitting in for an absent Norton and became one of the show's most popular guests.
In 2006, O'Neal settled in Jersey City. From 2006 to 2008, O'Neal hosted a relationship advice show on XM initially titled Bitch Management before it was renamed to The Black Philip Show, a reference to doctor and television personality "Dr. Phil" McGraw. The show aired on Saturday evenings with Dante Nero as co-host, and a rotating cast of female comedians on third mic. The show ended following the XM and Sirius merger, when the new management was unable to reconcile budgets for Saturday night programming.
In March 2010, O'Neal secured a deal with Comedy Central for a stand-up special and a script for a proposed reality television show, Patrice O'Neal's Guide to White People. He got the idea for the latter after he interjected into a conversation with two white males over guitar riffs, and thought of the idea of him "trying to learn about white folks". The show was cancelled before filming could begin.
O'Neal's views on women have been the subject of discussion and sometimes described as misogynistic. In an August 2010 appearance on Marc Maron's WTF podcast, he stated that he was a "terrible misogynist" when he met his then girlfriend.
Other projects and posthumous releases
On October 27, 2011, O'Neal's final interview was released with Jay Mohr for his podcast, Mohr Stories. He stated that his appearance at Sheen's roast did little to transform his career apart from helping sell out a weekend of stand-up shows at Caroline's. He revealed a further meeting with FX regarding a possible animated series, and a project that involved his friends coming to his home to record interviews.
After O'Neal's death, BSeen Media announced the release of his first comedy album Mr. P, which he had been working on. The set, recorded in April 2011 at D.C. Improv in Washington, D.C., was released on February 7, 2012, with his involvement prior to his passing. Sales of the release were donated to his mother, girlfriend, and stepdaughter. The album reached number one on the Billboard Comedy Albums chart and number 35 on the Billboard 200. On November 6, 2012, a 20-minute selection of previously unreleased material was released on O'Neal's website and through iTunes titled Better Than You.
On February 19, 2021, Comedy Central released Patrice O'Neal: Killing is Easy, a documentary on O'Neal's life and career. It was directed by Michael Bonfiglio who also served as executive producer along with Bill Burr, Al Madrigal, Michael Bertolina, and Vondecarlo Brown.
O'Neal was engaged to actress Vondecarlo Brown at the time of his death.
Illness and death
On the morning of October 19, 2011, O'Neal phoned his girlfriend to tell her he couldn't move his legs. He was rushed to Jersey City Medical Center, and later Englewood Hospital, where doctors performed surgery to remove a blood clot in his head. He lost his ability to speak, and later his ability to move, for a time communicating by eye movements before losing that ability as well. Doctors advised that if he survived, he would likely remain permanently paralyzed and unable to speak. News of his stroke was made public on Opie and Anthony on October 26.
At 7:00 am on November 29, 2011, O'Neal died of complications from his stroke. He was 41 years old. His funeral was held on December 5, two days before what would have been his 42nd birthday, at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City, and was attended by, among others, Chris Rock, Colin Quinn, Nick DiPaolo, Artie Lange, Louis C.K., Jim Norton, Dane Cook, Bill Burr, Wanda Sykes, Gregg Hughes, Anthony Cumia, and Kevin Hart.
Reactions and tributes
On November 30, 2011, comedians gathered to eulogize O'Neal on Opie and Anthony, including Bill Burr, Bob Kelly, Colin Quinn, Louis C.K., Joe Rogan, Dave Attell, Jim Florentine, Russ Meneve, Joe DeRosa, and Kurt Metzger. The channel dedicated its programming that weekend to the comedian, by airing a 16-hour special titled A Tribute to Patrice O'Neal featuring some of his best appearances, along with memories from some of his fellow comedians.
Many comics reacted via Twitter. "The best comedian in the world has died," proclaimed Norm Macdonald. Dave Attell tweeted "Patrice O. was and is one of the best comics I have ever had the pleasure to watch perform." Ricky Gervais, a long-time vocal fan of O'Neal's, said "One of my favourite stand up comedians. So sad. RIP." Denis Leary called him "one of the funniest men who ever walked this earth" and Bill Burr concurred, saying he was "the most purely funny human being I've ever met." Burr held back tears on an episode of Conan as he mentioned a benefit concert for O'Neal's family. Doug Stanhope remembered O'Neal as "one of the best ever. Inspiring every time I heard him on anything." Dozens of other comedians echoed similar sentiments on Twitter. Comedian Jon Stewart paid his respects through his "Moment of Zen" bit, in his show The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, stating: "Sad News. Once again in comedy we lose somebody, who's too funny, too soon." This statement was followed by a clip of O'Neal's stand-up special Elephant in the Room.
Many entertainers outside of the comedy community reacted as well. Director Kevin Smith said, "I shared some air & some air time with the man on O&A & he was always funny & thoughtful. He WILL be missed." Rapper Talib Kweli said "Super funny and I had the pleasure of meeting the man. We will miss you." The Roots drummer Questlove mourned "so grateful I got to see Patrice O'Neal do his last NYC gig. Man, this is so devastating. He truly was one of my favorite comics." Nick Cannon called him "An amazing comedian and an even better person." Actor Charlie Sheen paid his respects through his blog, saying: "The entertainment world as well as the world at large lost a brilliant man today. Patrice had that rare 'light' around him and inside of him. I only knew him for the few days leading up the Roast. Yet I will forever be inspired by his nobility, his grace and his epic talent. My tears today are for the tremendous loss to his true friends and loving family."
Rolling Stone ran a four-page article about O'Neal's career and death in the February 16, 2012, issue. In June 2012, Jim Norton dedicated his 1-hour EPIX comedy special Please Be Offended to O'Neal. On September 23, 2012, during the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, O'Neal was remembered during the "In Memoriam" tribute.
On November 26, 2012, at Gotham Comedy Club in NYC, a benefit show for O'Neal's family was held. The comedians who performed sets were: Colin Quinn, Artie Lange, Wil Sylvince, Danny Lobell, and Keith Robinson.
A memorial benefit show for O'Neal's family was held on February 19, 2013, at New York City Center featuring comedians Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, Dave Attell, Bill Burr, Bob Kelly, Rich Vos, Keith Robinson, Ian Edwards, Wil Sylvince, and Marina Franklin. A second annual benefit was held on February 18, 2014, at New York City Center. The third benefit was held February 11, 2015. The fourth annual benefit was held January 26, 2016, at the New York City center. A fifth annual benefit was held February 21, 2017, again at the New York City Center. The eighth annual benefit was held January 27, 2020, again at the New York City Center.
O'Neal's comedy has been described as conversational. His routines were characterized by an off-the-cuff approach and frequent adult themes. He was direct when presenting his views, particularly on race and gender roles. He was also a provocateur, often inciting audience members to call out, or even leave the club. "I've seen him give people money to leave," recalls Gregg "Opie" Hughes.
- Elephant in the Room (2011)
- Mr. P (2012)
- Better Than You (2012)
- Patrice O'Neal: Unreleased (2013)
|2002||Paper Soldiers||Big T|
|2002||The Colin Quinn Show||Various|
|2002||Chappelle's Show||Pit Bull||2 episodes|
|2002–2004||Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn||Himself/Various|
|2003||Yes, Dear||Tow Truck Driver||1 episode|
|2003||Arrested Development||T-Bone||1 episode|
|2004||The Jury||Adam Walker||Recurring|
|2004||Shorties Watchin' Shorties||Baby Patrice||Voice|
|2005||One Night Stand||Himself|
|2005–2007||The Office||Lonny "Sea Monster"||3 episodes|
|2006||The Best Man||Himself||unaired Comedy Central pilot|
|2006||Web Junk 20||Host||2 seasons|
|2008||Assy McGee||Blind Anthony||Voice|
|2008||Z Rock||Stage Manager||Guest star|
|2010||The Green Room with Paul Provenza||Himself|
|2011||The Roast of Charlie Sheen||Himself||Final television role|
|2003||Head of State||Warren|
|2003||In the Cut||Hector|
|2006||Scary Movie 4||Rasheed||Uncredited|
|2011||Elephant in the Room||Himself|
|2012||Nature Calls||Mr. Caldwell||Final film role|
|2008||Grand Theft Auto IV||Jeffron James||Fizz! from the radio station WKTT|
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