Patrice O’Neal

patrice oneal

Patrice O’Neal (1969 – 2011) was an American stand-up comedian, radio personality, and actor. He was born in New York City and grew up in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. His mother named him after Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the Congolese independence movement. He was raised by his mother and never met his father. At the age of 17, Oneal was convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year old girl and sentenced to 60 days in prison, served during his summer break, so as not to disrupt his schooling.

The act, which occurred when Oneal was still 16, would have been legal in most states, but Massachusetts lacks a close-in-age exception, and has an age of consent of 16. Oneal said his humor helped him to negotiate the harsh realities of prison. Oneal was a star football player at West Roxbury High School, ending his career with 3 letters in varsity football and a state championship his senior year. He turned down football scholarships in order to attend Northeastern University on a public housing grant, majoring in Performing Arts.

Oneal began his comedy career in Boston in 1992 at an open mic at Estelle’s Bar and Grill. In the late 1990s, he moved to New York City, where he became a regular at the Comedy Cellar, before relocating to Los Angeles, in the hopes of finding greater fame. ‘I tap danced like you wouldn’t believe… trying to get something,’ he said in a 2008 interview with radio personality Ron Bennington. ‘I’m telling you, if I’d have had a gun back then, I would have shot myself.’ His inability to achieve success on other people’s terms motivated him to prioritize his own integrity first. ‘At the end of the day I just want to know that I was true to myself.’ Later in his career, Patrice would walk away from successful shows like ‘The Office,’ ‘Arrested Development,’ and ‘Web Junk 20.’ ‘I’m a professional bridge-burner,’ Oneal stated in an interview.

Unwilling to yield to the demands of American club owners that he change his often confrontational act, Oneal relocated to the United Kingdom to work on his comedy there. He worked harder as an outsider and a foreigner to gain the respect of his peers. ‘It took about 5 months… for them to go ‘Ok, this guy’s not playing around,” he told Bennington. It was also during this time that he caught the eye of British comedian Ricky Gervais, still early in his stand-up career. Gervais frequently mentioned Oneal as a favorite comic. He returned to the New York area in 2002 when he got the offer to do his first half-hour special for Showtime. Later that year he joined the cast of ‘The Colin Quinn Show’ and then ‘Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.’ The following year, he recorded a ‘Comedy Central Presents’ special.

Oneal’s first television appearance was on ‘The Apollo Comedy Hour’ where he performed his ‘Malcolm XXL’ bit. After that he did a brief stint as a writer for the WWE. He appeared in guest-starring roles on  a number of TV shows including ‘Ed,’ ‘Yes Dear,’ and ‘Chappelle’s Show.’ Oneal was a regular on the Fox series ‘The Jury,’ and he starred in the Comedy Central animated program ‘Shorties Watching Shorties,’ along with Nick DiPaolo. 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, Oneal filmed a half-hour ‘One Night Stand’ special for HBO, and shortly thereafter became the first host of VH1’s ‘Web Junk 20.’ Oneal left the show after two seasons, expressing concerns that the show’s audience was too different from his own. In 2006 and 2007 he joined ‘Opie and Anthony’s Traveling Virus Comedy Tour,’ playing large outdoor concert arenas across the country.

After moving back to New York in 2002, Oneal became a recognized radio personality as a regular guest and occasional co-host on the ‘Opie and Anthony’ program. Along with Bill Burr and Robert Kelly, he filled in as co-host for comedian Jim Norton while Jim filmed ‘Lucky Louie.’ From 2006 to 2008, Oneal hosted a call-in relationship advice show on XM Radio, which ended when the satellite network merged with rival Sirius. Initially promoted as ‘Bitch Management,’ the show was titled ‘The Black Philip Show,’ a reference to Dr. Phil. Dante Nero co-hosted, and a rotating cast of female comedians played third mic. The show aired until the station suspended much of its Saturday night programming when they were unable to reconcile budget concerns with the new management following the merger. Oneal had also appeared as a guest on other radio shows such as Alex Jones along with numerous political talk shows on the Fox News channel.

Living in the New York area, Oneal performed at comedy clubs in the area, including headlining appearances at Comix Comedy Club and Caroline’s. He was also popular in Montreal, making five appearances at the ‘Just for Laughs’ festival, including one of the most memorable in fest history: a one-man, one-week show at Théâtre Ste. Catherine in 2008. Oneal had also been slated to do five sold-out, one-man shows at Les Katacombes at the 2010 festival, but he was refused entry into Canada at the U.S. border and the shows were cancelled.

Oneal’s comedy has been described as conversational. Except during televised appearances, he seldom performed standing up, preferring a relaxed, philosophical delivery. He was also known as 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 in order to set up a punchline. ‘Ladies, how would you keep your man if you lost your vagina?,’ Oneal 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.’

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