Being named after Patrice Lumumba, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first Prime Minister, probably isn’t the most expected first step in a path towards stand-up comedy, but Boston comedian Patrice Oneal has clearly found a way to get laughs on stage. At an imposing six-foot-five, three hundred pounds, ONeal has a style of cringe-inducing, race-relations-related humor that is designed to fill the audience with uncomfortable hilarity. It’s not surprise that he lists George Carlin and Richard Pryor among his heroes.
After numerous appearances on Late Night With Conan O’Brian, a two-year regular spot on Comedy Central’s short-lived “Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn,” two seasons as host of VH1’s Web Junk 20, and various other TV and film roles, in June 2007 Oneal launched his raunchy persona into the censorship-free World Wide Web with The Patrice Oneal Show Coming Soon!. Produced by internet TV production house, For Your Imagination, the series documents Oneal and his entourage’s behind-the-scenes exploits as they develop a sketch-comedy show for broadcast that doesn’t really exist.
A good deal of The Patrice O’Neal Show Coming Soon! consists of Oneal and his crew of fellow comics and friends– Bryan, Dante, Harris, Wil and the only female member, Von – shouting insults at each other from across the room. There is no overall premise or thread to the series. Each week is another haphazard idea that tickled Patrice’s fancy. Most episodes are filmed in front of a green screen, before which abrasive racial humor unfolds. This isn’t the sly ethnic comedy of the Dave Chappelle variety – ethnic slurs are thrown around with a sense transgression that focuses more on being caustic than being clever. If you’re into that, it’s funny. Really funny. If you’re not, it’s offensive. Really offensive.
In Episode Six: Reading Your Email, Oneal reads his viewer’s suggestions, all of which eventually become opportunity for everyone to insult everyone else. The other comics attempt to match his invectives but fail to rise to the occasion. This is the Patrice show after all. Attempted sketches like Episode Seven: The Last White Man Alive never quite turn out as intended. The premise of three thugs hunting the last white man on the planet (or “cracka” rather) is abandoned when it’s discovered Patrice’s friends are poor actors and the one white guy of the bunch can’t even say the n-word aloud. One gets the impression that sometimes the best-intended plans of the Patrice O’ Neal show are often scuttled by the cast’s desire to simply call each other names.
Episode One: Brainstorming features Patrice and friends hurling various show ideas over discarded pizza boxes. Perhaps it is here we best understand the inner machinations of the series, where the distance from a blurted insult to show premise is a short one indeed.