No Bull$#!t: An Interview With Patrice O’Neal
If you’re a fan of comedy, the name Patrice O’Neal speaks for itself- loud, in your face, opinionated. Whether it was half-hour specials, radio appearances, hosting Web Junk 2.0, or as a constant fixture on the regretfully short-lived Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, if you saw Patrice on a show you know that you were going to laugh your ass off and not get pandered to. Now nearly twenty years into his career he gets his first hour-long special Elephant In The Room on Comedy Central February 19th at 10pm EST. I got a chance to talk with Patrice and ask him about what’s it like to be in the game as long as he has and still be someone you don’t want to mess with.
Tell me about the new DVD Patrice O’Neal: Elephant in the Room.
What do you want to know about it brother?
Tell me how it came about? This is your first big special, and you have been in the industry for a while. So what made this the right time to make this?
‘Cause Comedy Central paid for it! *laughs* The other ones I did before were the half-hour joints and basically this is the first hour because HBO wasn’t offering back in the day. For whatever reason they [Comedy Central] thought it was time to give me a huge special but one of the huge things is they paid for it. To be honest I didn’t want it to be one of the “do it yourself, hire three cameras”. I mean, it makes money. I guess for the guys who do it but it looks like its not paid for by Comedy Central. So at this point, it was the only place to do it big, to do a big production by a big company.
You’ve been doing comedy for a while now, over ten years…
Wow ’92! You’re reaching twenty.
Yeah I’m reaching it brother.
So what inspires you to still do comedy? Are you still filled with the same piss and vinegar that you were when you started?
You know I like to upgrade my profile I mean it’s getting hard I’d like to reach more people. After twenty years I still love actually being on stage and bonding the audience. But the grind, it’s starting to take its toll. The planes, the trains, the automobiles…I mean anything you do for twenty years you have to keep fighting. At this point though I am sometimes disappointed by how much people don’t give a shit. That’s what kind of wears me down sometimes. I know your job is to be funny but there are a lot of things that are going on in the world that sometimes I feel that interesting is good enough.
Sometimes you want to say some things that possible aren’t funny and you want to just talk about it and get it out of your system but people don’t give a shit. That kind of makes you tired sometimes when people don’t care about birds falling out of the sky and fifty thousand crabs are washing up on shore. People don’t give a shit and you think, “Damn! No one cares?” So it kind of deflates you sometimes because I like to be more of a social commentator sometimes.
Still I can’t complain but out of the long time of doing it, you’re looking for different things to motivate yourself. You know basically after I do this, and I do this special, and it comes out on DVD if it becomes a hit, I have to get out and get on the grind and get another hour or another two hours of material. Because I move on from material a lot I always call it a day after a few years. Like I never write stuff down but I try to talk about stuff that I’m feeling in that particular time in my life. And I can’t go back and do any of the old stuff that I used to do and make it funny because it was how I felt then. The jokes I did then are how I felt then, and stuff I do now is how I feel now. So when I close a part of my comedy life, it’s gone. So whatever part I closed out here for the DVD, it’s probably going to be gone forever so the only way you will be able to see it is on a DVD.
You’ve been on Hannity & Colmes a bunch of times. Would you ever hang up the stand-up thing to be political commentator full time?
Would I give up stand-up? No…Because I am my own boss. I mean, I can get hired by a club and they can fire me, but they can’t really tell me what to do, since I don’t have to answer to what my boss tells me to do. You know like FOX has a very particular point, CNN has a very particular point of view, and MSNBC has theirs. It’s all political, it’s all sides taken. But I don’t believe in politics, I don’t believe in sides taken. I believe in one large corporation if you want to say it, I don’t know. I think everybody is in cahoots in the political game. News is supposed to be the people’s information. But instead it’s a corporation that has to inform you that it’s fair and balanced, whatever that means…News is neither fair nor balanced, you just report the news. I heard some guy say basically, “if it’s raining, you tell me it’s raining.” That’s all the news should be. It shouldn’t have a spin, and you shouldn’t be told that it doesn’t have a spin. Because it implies that someone else has a spin. But you know I am being Utopian about it at this point. I’m talking about what should be and fairness.
So to answer your question. No. I mean that why I don’t do them [political shows] anymore because I don’t get invited back because I don’t play that pawn game. They want you to come and be the angry nigga and say “oh that damn Imus needs to be fired,” but for me the whole Imus thing was pretty back in time but for me no one should be censored about anything that they need to say. Because I don’t know what kind of language I need to use to express myself. It could be wrong it could be inappropriate but I need everything at my disposal to express myself. But these days we might as well get rid of the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me” now its like no one can be called a name now it’s all kind of shitty to me.
Do you miss doing a show like Tough Crowd where you could have more reign to do what them want?
Tough Crowd I do miss a lot. That was one of my favorite things. That was one of my favorite things to do ever. Tough Crowd was just a bunch of guys who didn’t care, they didn’t give a shit. It was just a dude’s show. And nobody really wants to put dude’s stuff on. They don’t want to put on things that are unadulterated, relaxing, no-holds barred conversation. Somehow honesty is a bad thing. But that was my favorite show I have ever done. I did a web series called The Patrice O’Neal Show Coming Soon that was very fun but in term of network TV I think Tough Crowd was the best it was years before it’s time. I think it will come back in some form or another by someone else who is a little less authentic than Colin [Quinn], Nick [Di Paolo], me, and [Greg] Giraldo.
Say you are going to go on tour now, what comedian would you take with you?
Probably my guy Harris Stanton he goes on the road with me to open. He has been with me for a while and he is really funny. He is a young guy so he is on the come up. As far as who I would go on the road with? I don’t know, I’m kind of in semi-retirement really. I don’t know many of the young kids that are coming up. For me it’s the young kid’s time now. At this point twenty years in the game makes it that if it was a job I would be getting my gold watch at this point. So at this point I am trying to stay relevant but be graceful and not hang out where the kids are. In any other place in the world if you hang around where the kids hang around they will call you a weirdo and a creep, and I don’t want to do that. There are too many young lions out here. I keep my head low and hopefully one day it will be my time it will be my day. Everybody has their day, I am hoping to have my day and take that opportunity to say something when people are listening.
Do you like doing movies or is stand-up something you like more?
I like doing movies but I’m not really a team player. That’s my problem, I need to do something where I am the boss really. I don’t know how realistic that is in this business but I have way to many different ways and visions and things like that. I mean I like movies and stuff but if I was able to just elevate to another level as a stand-up and then do TV, or to do radio, or to do a news show like Jon Stewart. I think he put himself in a good position. I would love to be able to sit down and tell my opinions on everything. Am I trying to be a movie star? I am forty years old soon to be forty one. My teeth are crooked. I’m not like a pretty dude. I might be handsome to some people, but I’m not one of those gorgeous guys who has to be an actor. I’m not a character actor; I’m a comic with a distinct opinionated alpha male demeanor. So I don’t know what the space is for that. I think that it’s why it has taken me so long because it is a very particular and specific genre that I’m trying to break into. It could be my own genre that I am trying to create but there isn’t much available for an opinionated black guy. If you look in your Rolodex, their aren’t too many black guys who are allowed to run amok?
According to your Wikipedia page, in 2000 you were a writer for the WWF is that true?
That’s a true statement. For a very short time but I was employed for a time by the WWE might have been F. They employed me, I traveled to three shows and half way worked on a pay per view. And I was fired because of the choices that you make. You had to be waaaay to much of an employee to work for them. I mean I had a great experience but essentially my aspirations would have had to be on hold that is corporate job and you have to be a team player to work for the company. And again that’s not to say it’s bad, I actually had a very pleasant experience it was just I still had one foot actually I had both feet in comedy, and half of a hand to write some lines in wrestling. My enthusiasm was not into flying around on a G5 writing scripts for all of these wrestlers. But it was an easy thing for me because I love wrestling.
We’d like to thank Patrice for his time. His first hour-long special Elephant In The Room airs on Comedy Central on February 19th and his DVD will hit stores on February 22nd.