I first saw Patrice O’Neal in the fall of 2002 when he joined Comedy Central’s Contest: Searchlight. The mockumentary followed the imaginary contest that had lead to the creation of a tv show called “Jesus and the Gang.” Peter Gallagher had been “hit by a car” and could no longer play the title character so Patrice was brought in to play the character in western wear. He described his character as “Big Black Cowboy Jesus” and sweetened an already funny show.
After that I searched out a few recordings of his stand up on the untamed internet of the day. He had a brilliant way of twisting the ordinary and could be delightfully vulgar. Whatever he was talking about he could always make me laugh, sometimes in spite of myself.
My friends and I planned a trip to New York City for March 2003 and to get in the mood the night before I went to see “25th Hour” a second time in the theater. Patrice had a scene in that as “Khari” a bouncer who gives Ed Norton’s character some advice about prison. I left the movie excited about the adventures I was about to have.
The second night we were out there we wound up in The Comedy Cellar without realizing how significant a place it was. We had a wonderful time tucked away in a corner which gave us a view of the whole room including the stage and the entrance. As the show went on I wondered if the only comedian I wanted to see would be there. And then halfway through the night, a large man entered and went through the center of the room towards the bathroom. It was Patrice.
My knee started bouncing under the table and I had to wait another two comedians before he came on but it was worth it. I can’t remember how he got on the topic but he did a really long bit on the sound of a penis going into a vagina. It was everything I thought he would be.
When I got home I put on the tape of the Chappelle’s Show that I missed while travelling and saw Patrice as Pit-Bull attending the Playa Hater’s Ball. It was the most Patrice O’Neal-ish week possible.
Ever since then I tried to follow his career and keep up with his appearance on the second episode of Arrested Development, Shorties Watchin’ Shorties, his comedy specials on HBO and Comedy Central, guest appearances on The Office and more.
Hearing that he had a stroke last month was upsetting but I held out hope that was dashed this morning as he passed away. I’ll always remember how much laughter and insight he brought to my life. Thanks for everything Big Black Cowboy Jesus!