Day 19: Patrice O'Neal

Day 19. Every day this month, I’m sharing stand up I admire and, like last weekend, this weekend I’m looking at bits from comedy specials. Today is reserved for a voice I wish was still here. Here is Patrice O’Neal delivering “Harassment Day” and some of the many ways he gets me laughing:

• THE ANALOGY. Like Dave Chappelle’s bit (Day 11) or Bill Burr’s set (Day 14), Patrice makes the case for an unpalatable idea. Unlike the others, Patrice builds his defense with an analogy (the grizzly bear and salmon). In part, it’s necessary for me to have this link so that I can see Patrice’s viewpoint. But comedically, it’s strong because he doesn’t just give me the analogy. He also extends it into a scene. I then laugh at his silly world where animals have voices and discomforts, but in the process, absorb Patrice’s provocative argument.

• THE INCOMPLETE SENTENCE. Patrice’s philosophizing sounds off the cuff and conversational. Some of this freshness comes from his using crowd interaction as a launchpad for his material, and some comes from his cutting off his own sentences to give the illusion he just thought of it. For example, he doesn’t just say, “We should have Harassment Day.” He instead chops off his sentences multiple times, veering into a separate idea first (that women get to be inappropriate), before finally returning to this idea. It feels unscripted, and I’m laughing all the more as a result.

• THE FACES. Throughout the set, Patrice uses very bold facial expressions to punctuate his punchlines. (See also: Marina Franklin, Day 10.) I can watch the set in silence and still tell where many of the jokes are because Patrice will accentuate whatever trait is getting laughter (exasperation, impishness, discomfort) with his face. A clear example is right after he speaks to Tyrelle. He gives us four completely different looks before his next word, each one conveying a different emotion. In this way, Patrice is able to heighten already powerful punchlines to keep me laughing.

Patrice O’Neal passed away, but for more of why the comics I respect all respect him, watch the full special “Elephant in the Room” and pick up his album “Mr. P.”