O'Neal in January 2006
|Birth name||Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O'Neal|
December 7, 1969|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 29, 2011
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O'Neal (December 7, 1969 – November 29, 2011) was an American stand-up comedian and actor. Raised in Boston, O'Neal developed an interest in stand-up comedy at a young age and took up the profession in 1992. He developed his act which mainly focused on conversations with his audiences.
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 picked on 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, Massachusetts, with his sister Zinda. O'Neal never knew his father. He attended West Roxbury High School, during which he took up American football and ended his playing career with three varsity letter awards and winning a state championship in his senior year.
In 1986, at the age of 17, O'Neal was convicted of statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl who complained to the police, though O'Neal claimed the encounter was consensual. He was sentenced to 60 days at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Concord holding facility, which he served during the school summer break so it would not disrupt his schooling. O'Neal later described the experience as "his worst nightmare". The act, which occurred when O'Neal was 16, would have been legal in most states, but Massachusetts lacks a close-in-age exception, and has an age of consent law of 16. O'Neal did not talk about the incident publicly until later into his career; he told the story on Opie and Anthony in 2005.
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 favour 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 routine in October 1992 at Estelle's, a bar and restaurant 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 ... If I'd have had a gun back then, I would have shot myself". Soon after, O'Neal travelled to England after he was "essentially thrown out of America" as he could not earn enough money, and was unwilling to yield to the demands of club owners that he change his confrontational act. O'Neal worked hard to gain the respect of his peers and recalled it took around five months "for them to go 'Ok, this guy's not playing around".
During this time O'Neal caught the eye of English comedian Ricky Gervais, still early in his own stand-up career, who cites O'Neal as a favourite of his. O'Neal ranked his time in England, and gaining respect as a comic there, as one of his most proud moments of his career.
In late 2000, O'Neal accepted an audition for the writing team in the WWE after an associate saw him perform a stand-up set in New York City. 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 would walk 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".
By 2002, O'Neal had returned to the US after he received an offer to record a half-hour comedy special on Showtime. He settled in the New York City area, and 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 relaunched on XM Satellite Radio in 2004 following its suspension in August 2002, 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 2002, O'Neal landed his first of a series of television appearances, starting with the short lived sketch comedy 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 Watching 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, O'Neal 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 2006, O'Neal settled in Jersey City. In 2006 and 2007, O'Neal joined Opie and Anthony's Traveling Virus Comedy Tour, playing large arenas across the US. 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.
O'Neal had also appeared as a guest on other shows such as The Alex Jones Show and segments on Fox News. While in the NYC area, he performed at comedy clubs in the area, including headlining appearances at Comix and Caroline's. In 2007, O'Neal revealed he turned down to appear on Celebrity Fit Club and said, "my career is more important to my health". He also 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 ended after it was unable to attain a sponsor due to its offensive material. He guest starred in another For Your Imagination-produced show, called Break a Leg, playing "Adult-Sized Gary Coleman". O'Neal voiced Jeffron James in Grand Theft Auto IV on its in-game radio station Fizz!.
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.
In July 2010, O'Neal was booked to perform five sold-out shows at Les Katacombes in Montreal as part of the Zoofest program of the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, but he was refused entry into Canada, resulting in their cancellation and refunds offered. O'Neal was denied entry due to his 1986 statutory rape charge.
In 2010, 18 years into his comedy career, O'Neal shot his first hour-long special for Comedy Central. The special premiered on the network on February 19, 2011 which he titled Elephant in the Room. An uncut version of the special was 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 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 was 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."
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 at 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.
Illness and death
O'Neal was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 23, a condition which his mother also had. However, O'Neal failed to follow medical advice, and instead skipped doses of medication and adopted a diet not recommended for diabetics, leading to struggles with his weight years later. Towards the end of his life, O'Neal attempted to improve his health by adopting a vegan diet, juicing, and reducing his intake of unhealthy foods, yet he was still unable to lose weight. In 2011, he stood at 6'5" and weighed approximately 300 lbs and said his diabetes was "finally catching up with me."
During the early hours 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 warned 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. He is survived by his longtime girlfriend, whom he often referred to as his wife, Vondecarlo Brown and stepdaughter Aymilyon. 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 CK, Joe Rogan, Amy Schumer, 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 entitled 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 Jan 26, 2016 at the New York City center. A fifth annual benefit was held Feb 21, 2017 again at the New York City Center.
O'Neal's comedy has been described as conversational. He was 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.
At times he would encourage people to call out to the stage to set up a punchline. "Ladies, how would you keep your man if you lost your vagina?," O'Neal would ask of his audience. When the women would invariably reference oral and anal sex, the comedian would respond, "See, I gave you the chance to talk and you qualified yourself as a series of holes."
|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||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|
|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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