oral history

Truth Is a Feeling: An Oral History of Elephant in the Room

In 2011, nine months before his death, Comedy Central released the debut hour-long standup special from Patrice O’Neal. It’s since become one of the most beloved specials of all time. This is its story.

Remember your first experience of drinking hard liquor or smoking. As a rule, it was a slightly older peer who told you, in secret, I’ve got some whisky, cigarettes, and then you try it, and you must admit, your first reaction is it’s horrible! It’s horrible! Then you learn to enjoy it. It begins as distaste. If you want pleasurable drinks you drink milk or fruit juices. All other, higher pleasures like whisky [are] an acquired taste. But let me go on now, into more serious domain. A similar lesson can be learned from swearing, talking dirty. It may appear that in the middle of a polite conversation you get really mad, you cannot hold back anymore. You are totally frustrated, so you explode into it. I claim this is not how it is. I claim that precisely when apparently you lose your nerves and explode – at that point you follow the ritual, the formal cliché, totally. I noticed how – maybe I’m a madman here – but I have a ritual with my good friends. When we meet each week for our conversation and so on, for the first five minutes, we engage in a five to ten minute session of rough, tasteless, swearing – offending each other, you know. All the unimaginable stuff – and we, from ex-Yugoslavia, we know how to do it, like, “I will dig your dead mother out of her grave and screw her up her ass.” It is all of that. And then a miracle happens: after five to ten minutes of this, we look at each other friendly, and we say, “Okay, now this boring ritual is behind us, now we can act like normal people and talk nicely, and so forth.” I find this a wonderful structure, which works.

–Slavoj Žižek, The Need to Censor Our Dreams, London School of Economics, November 11, 2014

I was talking to my girl about this: I don’t like to have a pre-conversation about honesty. If me and you don’t get along, I don’t want to have a conversation about the fact that we both know we’re not getting along. I want to go to the thing that’s going to resolve it. I don’t want to have a ten-minute conversation to say, “Dude, I know that you don’t like me.” Or, “I don’t like you. I mean, hypothetically, I hate that…” Here’s what I have to do with these audiences here: I have to walk them through what they all know to be truth. And then get to the joke. So they do things that they think they have to do – “Oh this is, ohh I can’t embrace this.” And it’s like, why can’t you embrace this? Why are you doing this? Like, I was hilarious until I started doing comedy. When I’m doing a show, the reason I don’t mind silence is that I think that you have to have someone emotionally invested in the shit. So you have to have someone hate you, and have to have someone love you. That’s what it is, love and hate. That’s what funny is. It’s like, “Fuck you!” Comedy is at somebody’s expense, man. Funny is at somebody’s expense. You never really have a good laugh unless it’s at something. You know? I’ve never laughed at a fucking joke. Like where somebody goes, “Ehh once there was a little kid…” – that SUCKS, man! What the fuck you talking about, man?

–Patrice O’Neal, Twin Cities Tank, March 15, 2010

I remember I was in Amsterdam with Keith [Robinson] and Patrice. The van came to pick me up [from my hotel], and I come out in this new black shirt – I had bought this new black shirt and these polyester black pants, which I didn’t realize were bell bottoms. It looked like I was wearing an evening gown. And the verbal beating that went on in that van was just… I remember the guy Franz, he had to pull the van over he was laughing so hard. This is a French guy too, I don’t even think he understood English that well.

–Bob Kelly, The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011

Patrice O’Neal was a comedian. He died on November 29th, 2011. On February 19th of that year, his first hour-long special, Elephant in the Room, aired on Comedy Central.

During this period and afterwards, he and friends of his appeared frequently on radio shows and talked extensively about life, comedy, career, and the production of this special in particular. This article is sourced from many of those archived radio interviews and podcasts, although it is by no means exhaustive of the opinions and perspectives contained in those discussions. There are hundreds and hundreds of hours of discussion about this stuff. It’s possible to listen to a new, fresh hour of Patrice O’Neal in conversation each day and not even know he’s dead for over a year.

Wherever a source is not cited, the quotation is from an original interview.

This is the story of Patrice O’Neal’s Elephant in the Room.

Chris Rock: I always told him: Look around. Do you see anybody as funny as you? Really? Really? I mean, we’re all established [comedians]. Is there any one of us who would really want to follow the guy? [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Louis C.K.: He was just getting great. He’s always been one of my favorite comedians. He was always like in the top three since I first saw him, but in the last few years he just started to get great. Every comedian hits some point where they figure out their thing – like the Hellraiser box, they click in and everybody starts coming out of the doors… and he had just hit that, just that last special was incredible. He was just starting to figure out how to make his thing really work. People weren’t seeing how good he was. But then he fucking figured it out! And [Elephant in the Room] was it! And now that people saw how good he was, he could’ve done ten of those. He could have just started churning those out. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Bill Burr: When Elephant in the Room came out, I was excited for him, and I was also nervous. I was like, is he going to make me look like a child? Because he was that funny. I always felt like it was his to take as soon as he realized he wanted it. That’s the level of funny. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Chris Rock: He was just figuring out how to take that thing he did in the restaurant and put it on stage. That thing he did off stage was coming on stage and he was, you know… he’s like the comedic Len Bias. Like we were all getting ready to work for Patrice O’Neal. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/WireImage

I. “I’m from Boston, I got a PhD in White People”

Artie Lange: He was from Roxbury, home of the great Bobby Brown. [The Nick & Artie Show, November 30, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: I grew up in Boston. White guys – and I learned this, dude, I had a probation officer – white guys are uncomfortable with black man’s anger. Black anger, especially from 6’4”, 300lbs – there’s a context to my existence. Growing up, when you walk into an office, and there’s this little dude that I’d never talk to in my life – here’s what I hate: why do I have to be nice to you at six in the morning if that’s not what I do? I’m not passive aggressive. But I understand what passive aggressive is, and it makes me sick. Cus I’m aggressive. [Unmasked with Ron Bennington, February 2011]

Louis C.K.: I explained to my kids that Patrice and Bob Kelly and I came from Boston, and what it’s like to do comedy there. That there are drunk Irish people – I’m teaching them stereotypes – and that the Irish Bostonians get wasted and they sing “na-na-na-na heey-ay-ayyy gooood byee.” You get chanted off stage. And so people had to develop different ways to survive that. I explained to the kids the difference between, when you’re trying to tell a story, like, [calm voice] “I went to the store and the guy there was really mean to me…” Nobody’s listening, they’re throwing stuff at you. Nobody’s listening, so you’ve got to be like [screaming] “So I was going to THE FUCKING STORE and the FUCKING GUY was a FUCKING AAAHHSSHOLE!” It’s a way of charging through the shit, you know? And then Patrice was just a mountain that sat on stage. He was just a mountain. A whole other approach to being listened to by those audiences. Bostonians terrified of giant black men. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Chris Rock: He just absolutely filled up a room when he walked in. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: I’ve learned a lot of things, man. I’ve lived in Boston, and it’s like, white culture – I’m not saying you guys are white, you just have white skin. White is a fluent concept, you know what I’m saying? And people who are white, they just don’t care. They do not care, they don’t want to hear it. They’re unreasonable, unfair – they just want the good old days when niggas said yes and no. They’re not prepared to deal with an intelligent black people. [Unmasked with Ron Bennington, February 2011]

Bill Burr: He knew exactly what he was doing at all fucking times. And his disdain for authority, I loved it. I remember one time we were driving down to New York in my piece of shit truck – I had this ‘83 Ford Ranger with vinyl seats – and he leaned all the way to one side because I could barely shift the thing, right? And I remember we got pulled over by the cops, and I’m just typical white guy, “I was speeding, he got me, fuck it.” And the guy comes to the window. I could see Patrice, I could feel Patrice staring a hole through this guy. To the point where I’m like, “I’m gonna get the shit kicked out of me because of you! I was speeding! The speed limit’s fucking 55, I was doing 75! Stop staring at this guy!” And Patrice goes, he had this whole code of honor: “It’s the way, it’s the way he’s talking to you right now. I fucking hate these cops.” And then it became this whole topic of race on the way down, that I don’t get it. And it’s like, they’re kind of dicks, but they also have to come up to the car and be worried that they’re not going to get shot. I was obviously taking the cop’s side, and I just remember I had no saliva left in my mouth. He’d just out-debate you. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: It’s easy to not be racist now, because it’s the wrong thing. I want to meet the people who weren’t racist when it was the right thing. When it was just, “this is what we do.” And you really believed, to yourself, that you’re really doing what you’re supposed to do. But people like that – I don’t want them around me. I’ll entertain them, but I don’t want them around me as a person. “Oh I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m an IRS guy who’s going to remove you from your home, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.” [Twin Cities Tank, March 15, 2010]

“I realized a while ago that I’m not an entertainer. I realized that I don’t want you to have a good time, at all.”

Bill Burr: There was nothing better than seeing Patrice meet somebody for the first time who was impressed with themselves and thought they were on some level of accomplishment. One time, he made this fucking white dude, 50-year-old guy, you could just tell he ran a company or something, and he just was so used to running shit. So as he sat in the crowd, he had this vibe like he was running it, even thought he was at this show [in the audience]. Like you were performing for him. And so Patrice got on stage, he didn’t even have to meet the guy, he just sensed it. He made this guy so fucking mad. I was actually standing behind the guy and I could just see the anger in the back of his head and his shoulders. You know how Patrice had that laugh when he was really getting you, that ha-haaaaaaa, it sounded like a fucking trumpet. And he was just laughing in this guy’s face, and he finally said something like, “You look like you want to fire me… but you can’t!” And that was the one the thing that just fucking leveled the room. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: Golden handcuffs are very important. If I pay you $20 million, I not only buy your ability, but I buy your ideology. You shut up. Like, why are there no political black athletes? None. None. When Rush Limbaugh tried to buy that NFL team, and they’re like, “Oh no, he’s racist…” It’s like “Really?” Do you think the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that fucking 90-year-old white guy – you don’t think he hates niggas? It’s just [the] money, man. We play, and we make that dough. Money keeps you quiet. So that’s what golden handcuffs are – it’s just something that makes you go, “I don’t want no trouble, I just want my money.” But there should be political athletes, political entertainers, to explain, “Look, I know that I made it or whatever, but lemme make sure that you understand, dude, that this is hardcore, man.” [Twin Cities Tank, March 15, 2010]

Anthony Cumia: We got into so many great racial conversations on this show and he just slammed me, but the great thing was, the second the show ended we’d be walking down the sidewalk to the parking garage and he’d just be like, “So how’s your pool?” [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: When I first came to New York I would go to Brooklyn and Queens and just get yelled at. Because [I wasn’t black enough] but I was black enough. I wasn’t black enough for [the popular black clubs]…it’s drones, though. They get used to a rhythm. And I’ll say “white people are crazy” but I’ll say it like “but for real white people are crazy…” Here’s a classic that I’ve heard six motherfuckers say: “When white people go on vacation, they go in the day time like [white voice] ‘Bye neighbors! Here’s the key to my house! And feed my fish please!’ But when black people go on vacation, we gotta leave at 12 midnight, so motherfuckers don’t see us leaving and shit!” Which is fine. But that’s a rhythm. And another thing white audiences do that’s interesting, is they have their favorite jokes. Like, “He didn’t do the one about the white people going on vacation!” Like black people, if they see you, and you’re doing the same jokes that you did last week, this week? “Nigga! Motherfucker! Say some new shit, nigga!” [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

Louis C.K.: He was a guy who didn’t take any easy roads himself. Like everybody does some bullshit version of themselves. I do that. I have a bunch of jokes that are there because I know “ahh, I’m an old, fat, middle-aged dad.” I have a bunch of those where I’m just like yeeuchh. But he never did that himself, he was so atypical. The first thing he ever did that I saw that made me say “This guy is special” was his bit about how he loves the Beatles. And the pressure as a black guy to have certain trappings, and he’s like, “but I love the Beatles.” And he does this visual of him riding around in a Cadillac [singing] “We all live in a yellow submarine.” Like in the hood: “What’s up G…” “Yellow submarine, yellow submarine.” That’s not your typical big black guy bit. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: I realized a while ago that I’m not an entertainer. I realized that I don’t want you to have a good time, at all. I really don’t give a shit. I want you to laugh, but if you ain’t laughing, dude, trust me – I don’t have any cards that I have to take out to get you laughing, man. This is what I do. If you ain’t with it, then we in deep shit. [Twin Cities Tank, March 15, 2010]

Louis C.K.: He was one of those guys, when it turned ugly on stage, he’d be like, “Okay. You want to do it like this?” He wouldn’t dance around and try to find a way back in with them. He’d be like “Oh, okay, we’re enemies now.” [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

II. Professional Bridge Burner

Dave Attell: Patrice was probably the most hardcore, could-not-give-a-shit about what anybody thought [guy]. I’ve never seen a guy walk away from more projects. The Office, he was on that, right? He was just like, “No, I don’t want to do this.” Arrested DevelopmentWeb Junk. I’m sure several movies… [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Kurt Metzger: His whole principle was, “Don’t let someone hold something over you that you can take away from you.”

Russ Meneve (Writing Partner): We were involved in something with his pilot, and it wasn’t going the way he wanted it to go. There was a room full of Comedy Central executives, and I’m telling you, he screamed, with not even a hiccup of anxiety or anything. Just for 20 minutes, a steady stream of well-thought-out insults and just let everybody have it, with no fear of losing it. He was really willing to walk away. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Dave Attell: Ultimate balls. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Louis C.K.: He never had a time like when you first come to New York and start “being in showbiz” or whatever, everybody has some awful cringe-worthy memory of, you know, meeting a booker or whoever and shooting up too quickly from your chair, like, “Oh hi! Yes, thank you!” He never lived that moment in his whole life. He could be slumped in a chair and Stephen Spielberg walks up to him and he’d look at him like, “Do I have to take my hand out of my pocket to shake your hand?” [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Bill Burr: He went into CBS, which was a notoriously cold room in this era. You went in and they had the lights low like that guy who ran that team in The Natural, that fucking baseball owner. You’d just go in there already sweating, you’d start tap dancing, and they wouldn’t give it up for anything. And he walked in there, maybe tap danced for half a second, and right in the middle of the meeting – you’re pitching a show to get a deal, so there’s an invisible bag of money sitting there – and he just says fuck it, and he starts looking at every executive there and starts pointing at everybody: “You don’t like me,” You don’t like me,” and “You don’t like me.” Just started trashing them. An unknown comic! And I was laughing my ass off like, Patrice, do you realize that that story was on the other side of Hollywood before you even got back to your rented Dodge Neon? Why would you do that? And he’s like, “Man, I don’t give a fuck. Fuck am I gonna sit there? I flew 3,000 miles to have you staring at me?” [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

“He would frequently open a meeting by telling the executives in the room what he thought about our current programming.”

Jonathan Brandstein (Manager; Executive Producer, Elephant in the Room): Yeah, he would definitely do that. We went to a meeting with, I think, VH1. These guys wanted Patrice for some morning show or something. The guy comes in, and Patrice goes, “Are you kidding me? How old are you?” The guy looked really young, and Patrice was just like, “No seriously, how old are you?” He wouldn’t stop asking this guy how old he was.

Bill Burr: One time he had a meeting at Comedy Central. And, you know, you put on your “I’m gonna get a deal” shirt and you go in there. And you tap dance and you try to sell your stupid idea for a show. He went in there and spent 45 minutes trashing the executives for putting Mind of Mencia on the air. He just wouldn’t let up, and then the meeting ended, and that was the meeting. I think at the end he pitched his show for three minutes. I remember asking him, why’d you do that? And he just started laughing. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

JoAnn Grigioni (Vice President of Talent & Specials at Comedy Central; Executive in Charge for Comedy Central, Elephant in the Room): He would frequently open a meeting by telling the executives in the room what he thought about our current programming.

Jonathan Brandstein: Certain executives had a certain understanding of Patrice and wouldn’t freak out about that.

JoAnn Grigioni: That might be a really strange way to start a meeting from someone else, but from Patrice, he would walk in and we would kind of expect it. We welcomed hearing what he had to say because we knew we would kind of laugh.

Louis C.K.: When Chris [Rock] and I were doing Pootie Tang, we were auditioning people, and Patrice was, for both of us, one of our favorite guys. We loved Patrice and we wanted to put him in the movie. I don’t remember which part it was, but there was a big huge part that was his, as long as he just walked in and just made a basic effort. And he could act, he was really good. And Chris and I, we were working on it together at the time and doing a bunch of things at once. So that audition took place without us there, and we saw a tape of it. And we just see him walk in with the script at his side in his big hand, and he just looks at the camera like, “Do I have to do this right now?” And he kind of picks up the script with this big, “Allllright, [sigh]” and just starts reading the lines like, “This is shit, I hate this…” You could see, the sweat on his face said, “I just had to walk here from whatever parking lot. I hate this.” We really wanted to give him the part, but we couldn’t! [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Chris Rock: That’s like the audition for Everybody Hates Chris. He doesn’t know his lines, he’s like, Y’all don’t like me.” I was dying to give him the part! I loved the guy. He’s just one of those guys that, the moment he started getting out of his own way, it was all going to open up for him. And that’s what was happening. And when I was on this show with him – by the way, what I did on the show is what I did every time I saw him. I was like, you’re funnier than everybody. Embrace it. Come in. Smile. Don’t worry, the white man is not going to beat your ass today. It’s okay. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Jim Norton: Spike Lee loved him too. He was in 25th Hour, and Spike uses the same guys over and over and over, and Spike wanted him to hold off on a project. Because it was between Patrice and another guy, but Spike really liked him. But Spike’s like, “Please don’t go out to LA for pilot season.” And Patrice just refused to bend. And Spike’s like, “So you won’t do it?” and Patrice is like, “No.” And Spike just said, “Aight then” and hung up the phone. And that’s the last time he ever spoke to Spike Lee. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Chris Rock: Cross [the bridge] first, then burn it. [The Opie & Anthony Show, December 5, 2011]

Patrice O’Neal: Look, [Spike Lee] put the most money in my pocket that I had ever seen in my life up to that point. He put me in a couple movies, voiceovers – he had a lot of access to a lot of things, and he just threw me in. That movie I did, 25th Hour? I really didn’t audition for that. He said, “Hey man, you a Celtics fan, ain’t you?” I said, “Yeah man, I’m from Boston.” He says “Aight. You got it. You got the gig.” He had seen my comedy, he liked me, sat me down and said, “You’re in.” I was seeing money I never seen before. And he asked me – it was some gig with Showtime, something happened with Showtime – but they did me real dirty. He was doing this movie, and I said, “I can do the part. [But] I don’t want to come read.” But I did it through my agents, I did the right thing. But he bypassed all my agents and stuff, he called my personally, and said, “Come do this.” And I go, “Well…what am I going to do, say fuck my agents, and fuck people I have a business with?” If I do that, that destroys my entire system – I feel like I should have a system like you have a system. So I can’t. He said, “Aight.” And that was it. And that’s how it is. [The Opie & Anthony Show, June 2011]

Jim Norton: We played construction workers [together] in Furry Vengeance, and they gave us honeywagons. I was like the co-dependent wife. He was just embarrassing to be associated with. We had to go in and do our first meet with the director, and we had sat around all day. And I’m trying to like, [friendly] “Hey, we’re doing a movie!” And it’s a Brooke Shields movie, and we’re sitting down. And he’s just sitting there like [lazily] “Aahhhhhh.” Everybody hated him on that shoot. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage

III. “Patrice is the best comedian in the country. Nobody else even comes close.”

Bill Burr: One time this guy comes to town, a comic, and he was missing his left hand. So he has one of those three-pronged left hand things. And everybody sees it, but nobody wants to say anything. But the great thing is, it was his left hand, so when you met the guy you just stuck out your right hand and there was no problem. But everybody’s [still] thinking, “What happened to this guy’s hand?” So after he meets like ten comics, then he meets Patrice. And Patrice sees the guy and when he goes to shake his hand, instead of sticking out his right hand, he sticks out his left hand. And the guy with the fake hand just out of instinct stuck out his left hand and then just sort of froze for a second. And then Patrice with his big dainty fingers just grabbed one of the metal tongs and just sort of shook it. There’s this awkwardness and Patrice is like, “So what happened to your hand, man?” And that’s why I loved the name of his last special, Elephant in the Room, because that’s what he always did. Just addressed the thing. You want to sit there and be like “that’s rude,” “that’s insensitive,” but then in the end you’re like, dude, that’s exactly what I was thinking: “What happened to your hand?” [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Jonathan Brandstein: I started working with Patrice [as his manager] around Christmas of 2008. At that point he had just finished doing Web Junk. He felt like he was at a bad place in the business. He felt like he had upset a lot of people, and that’s somewhat true – Patrice is very opinionated and didn’t care who knew it. Some people he rubbed the right way, some people he rubbed the wrong way. But as a standup, he was just getting better and better, and his business on the road was slowly improving. And we had sold a couple of [shows]. We were able to get a pilot done, and we were able to get a presentation done, and they were just okay. They weren’t great. There were some funny pieces in them. And Patrice would get very frustrated at the business because a lot of times you had producers and network executives that wanted to stick their hands in the pot and stifle the creativity. And I think he stopped caring about it, to a certain degree. When you’re frustrated with something, and you feel like nobody will accept you, you just kind of let it get you down or you keep moving forward.

Patrice O’Neal: I’ve done a million things that after it’s on, you’re just, “Okay, now how does famous happen?” Now what happens, someone calls you and says, “You’re famous, nigga”? When does it happen, right after? I’ve done a Showtime special. I’ve done countless TV shows, a few movies, HBO. And I’ve never been able to really close out some material. It closes out for me. The depression came from, I started having a talk with God going, “Gimme a fucking break, guy!” Like for real, I need a break! [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

Jonathan Brandstein: We started talking about a special. He did a show in Irvine and he just crushed. The material was getting so good. What I saw was something very, very special. And I remember being in New York, and we did a show with Dave Attell. And Attell said something to me. I said something about, “Patrice has been working and his act is really good right now.” And I’ll never forget it – he looked at me and said, “Patrice is the best comic in the country. There’s no one better. He is the best guy right now. No one comes close to touching him.” And I remember when Attell said it to me, because it was one of those moments where you just go, I mean, yeah. You’re right.

Dave Attell: I stand by that. The thing about Patrice was that he always took the hard road. He never took the easy road with jokes. People might’ve been talking about the same topics, but his road was always, always, always, the harder, more interesting road for the joke. It was his life, and his mind working. And he didn’t even care if the crowd got it or liked it, it was just what he had to and wanted to say about this stuff, and I loved it.

Jonathan Brandstein: I remember thinking to myself, if Dave Attell thinks this, then Comedy Central’s got to give him a special. They have to. So Patrice and I talked about it, we had a lot of conversations, and he wanted to do a special, of course. Because he had done other specials, but he’d never done a full one-hour special. He did the HBO One Night Stand, but he needed his own special. I called Comedy Central and I spoke to JoAnn Grigioni, who was the executive. And JoAnn said to me, “He’s one of our favorites, we really like him.”

JoAnn Grigioni: That was actually the first one-hour that I had gotten the chance to produce, and I think it fell to me because I had a previous relationship with Patrice. And it was at a time – I think, different from how it is now – when Comedy Central didn’t produce many one-hour specials. Things were different back then, even though it was just a few years ago. Not everyone was in the one-hour standup game. So when we were looking at the talent pool, I think it was no question that Patrice was one of the best comics out there. He was one of the first people that we wanted to approach for this.

Jonathan Brandstein: Of course I went back and told Patrice that, and he’s like, “Yeah, that means nothing, man.” But the conversation evolved and finally, sometime in 2010, I remember the day I got the offer to do the special. And it was a great offer. This wasn’t some acquisition they were picking up, this was going to be one of their originals. And I called Patrice, and he was pretty happy about it. Of course, you know, the happiness lasted for a little while. And this led to numerous discussions with the guy who was one of the executive producers on the show, whose company was the production who did it, a guy named John Irwin.

John Irwin (President, Irwin Entertainment; Executive Producer, Elephant in the Room): Comedy Central wanted to do Patrice’s special, and Jonathan brought me on board to produce it. I was the executive producer, and I was the guy who holds the whole thing together. I’m the guy on the ground, who basically produces the whole show.

Jonathan Brandstein: John’s a great guy. I had worked with him before on specials – he’d produced a ton of specials; John knows this business. And John was excited to do Patrice. I remember telling Patrice that I was glad John was going to do it because I had worked with him, and John’s specials looked good, we were going to make this thing look great.

Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage

IV: “I like to know who I’m trying to make laugh and shit”

Jonathan Brandstein: It was a short-lived happiness, because they wanted him to shoot it in New York. Patrice wanted to shoot it in DC. He adamantly wanted to shoot it in DC. And we tried, and we tried and tried and tried. And it wasn’t going to work, because it was the one stipulation that they had with this thing. And Patrice was debating walking away from it. We all tried talking him out of it. Because we said, “If you walk away from this, it’ll be a mistake.” But when I look back, he was an artist with a vision. And the vision had something very specific, which was tied to DC. Later I would learn that it was really about the audience.

John Irwin: He was dead set on shooting in DC. And here’s the thing: Patrice was very involved in the making of the special, and really had very definitive thoughts about every aspect of it, and I think very concerned about every aspect of it.

Samantha Black (Audience Coordinator, Elephant in the Room): He had really high expectations of people, and a lot of people consider that a pain in the ass. I consider that being aware of his career, and careful, and in control of what he was doing. It’s something that would be rewarded in someone who wasn’t African American, to be honest. I mean, people who do that who are white, they get called wise and smart and good controllers of their own careers. But somebody who’s African American, a big guy like Patrice, he gets called difficult. Because he’s trying to control his own creativity.

Patrice O’Neal: The biggest comics in the world all have a “people.” If you think of any comic who’s a big time seller – except for like Seinfeld, because he’s Seinfeld, he doesn’t have just like all Jews come to see him – but like Larry the Cable Guy: 60 thousand rednecks. Ron White: 60 thousand older rednecks. Little Kev [Kevin Hart]: all black people. Jo Koy: all Koreans who wanna laugh. And Russell Peters: all Asians –Indians, Chinese…everybody goes to see Russell Peters. And Dane Cook had all college-y young white kids. So I’m like, well who the fuck am I going for? Who’s the people who’s gonna go, “Patrice is the guy.” And this girl at Comedy Central goes, “I think it’s men.” But I go, yeah, but you’ll never let that happen. You’ll never let men galvanize to be an audience. And besides, I’m not just for men. I’m for men with their women. You know? So couples? I’m a couples guy? I don’t think that even fucking… what does that do? [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

Jonathan Brandstein: Patrice didn’t want to mess with the crowd at all. But even if we shot in DC, you’d still have an audience coordinator. You don’t want some weird guy in the front who is gonna distract. So the audience coordinator’s job is to really seat the whole room, and to make sure that at the front it looks okay for the artist. Some comedians don’t like to mess with it, and whoever’s sitting there is there. Others, it makes sense to have some fans in the front row. It’s really a creative choice, but with Patrice, he played to the best crowds in DC because he would talk to the audience. His material, it was all designed around commentary and couples. Having an audience, being able to look and see who was out there, was important because he was also fast on his toes. He would be able to see something and go right to it. That was the main thing. He never said those things to me, but after a while you begin to realize what it was, which was his material involved couples, relationships, things like that. And when he knew that the audiences he played to in DC were full of that.

Jonathan Brandstein: They wanted us to do it at the Skirball Center in New York, and Patrice was very, very down about it. I mean, we’re not talking, “Ahh you know, you’ll get over it.” There were a few months of this. Most comedians, when they do comedy specials, as it gets closer, they start getting more focused on it – what they’re going to wear, what the lighting design will be, what the stage is going to look like. But in this case, as he got closer to it, Patrice became more detached from it.

So he came to LA and I told John Irwin, listen, let’s have lunch with Patrice. And Patrice as a person is one of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet, but if he was unhappy with someone, he wasn’t afraid of showing it. So I think when he met John, he equated John with Comedy Central and with the decision to be in New York, which John had nothing to do with. So we go to this restaurant in Brentwood, and Patrice was just like, [standoffishly] “Hey man, what’s up?” He was just super quiet. And John is a very nice, sweet guy, he’s really energetic. And here’s Patrice, who’s just low-energy, like [sullen] “Uh-huh. Okay.” It was just one of those uncomfortable lunches. And John texted me afterwards, “I don’t know what to do!” Because Patrice kept bringing up Washington at the table.

John Irwin: It was definitely an awkward lunch. But it was awkward because you could just tell that Patrice was concerned. He was like, “Who is this guy? Is he going to be able to deliver on my vision?” Because I think that for Patrice, this special meant everything. This was a big deal for him.

“People who do that who are white, they get called wise and smart and good controllers of their own careers. But somebody who’s African American, a big guy like Patrice, he gets called difficult. Because he’s trying to control his own creativity.”

Jonathan Brandstein: As it got closer to New York, John was getting zero feedback from Patrice. Patrice would say, “I don’t care. Do whatever you want.” And we’d be like you can’t give an answer like that. Finally, I had a discussion with him where I said, “Patrice, I know you’re upset. I can’t watch you do this. You have to start taking an interest in the way this looks.” And you know, he fought with me. And then I just said, “Okay fine! I’ll just tell John, from this moment on, he’s just going to make all the decisions.” And he goes, “Fine, do that.” And then he called me back about ten minutes later, and he said, “Well, what do you expect me to say?” It was that conversation that opened up what was about two hours, two and a half hours, on the phone. I just said, “You have to believe somebody here that it’s going to be good. That it will still be [even though it will shoot in New York]. And you might surprise yourself. You have to be open to that possibility.”

And finally he came around to it. It was one of the next days he was going to look for a wardrobe, because we were probably a month out. And once he started doing that, then he started taking an interest in other things as well. And it was funny because he had semi-approved some things that he didn’t really care about when he gave that answer. But then we had to go change them again. I don’t remember what they were, but we were going to go one direction with the set design, and then he was like no, no, no, no. He was getting more engaged. And then finally we got the Patrice that was engaged. That was a big turning point.

John Irwin: It was a gradual, transformative process for him to really feel like he could trust me. At a certain point I delivered him a render on the set that he got super excited about. It was moments like that where he saw the show really starting to come together that he started to really embrace me and just become less skeptical. And look, it’s certainly not unlike a comic to be like that. When comedians do their standup specials, it’s very, very personal. It’s a really big deal. Because they’ve been in some cases working on this material for north of a year, and for them it’s kind of giving birth, you know what I mean? So they’re worried about everything. And until you start to deliver the mail as a producer, they can definitely be skeptical.

Jonathan Brandstein: I started to have to interact more with JoAnne, and there was one of those dreaded calls where they go, “Heyyy listen. So we need to look at Patrice’s material.” Patrice understood that they need to see something, so we had a tape made. And she was like, “No, I need it written out.” JoAnn’s between a rock and a hard place – I understand where she’s coming from. She has a network with standards and practices and all sorts of things. So I assured Patrice that this wasn’t to mess with material. And of course, to their credit, they didn’t. They didn’t mess with his material.

Patrice O’Neal: There’s a girl named JoAnn… I have to give her credit. Because we have a good rapport, she’s not acting like a little punk, you know…she’s alright, man, and she don’t let me scream at her and shit. I like her. So what she did was I gave her the first draft of what I was gonna do, but I was doing it in the clubs, and it was in Bananas in Poughkeepsie, at like midnight. So I had to be funny and do the special, but I had to be funny in front of these working-class people in Poughkeepsie – they don’t want to hear that I’m working out my special. So I had to be really horrible, but JoAnn fished through the shit, and was like “This is hilarious, so let’s figure it out.” [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

JoAnn Grigioni: Working with any talent, it’s a relationship, it’s a two-way street. I personally never had any difficulty with him. I think maybe because I understood him and the way he worked. Anything that came up, whether it was material, or anything about the creative, we would just kind of talk it out. I’ve found that people who are difficult just have an opinion and there’s no changing it. And that was not Patrice at all. He was just always willing to talk about it, and sometimes he’d be like “Oh okay, I see what you mean. You do have a point.” He was never someone who felt like he was always right. He certainly had an opinion and if you wanted to tell him he wasn’t right, he’d listen. But you better have something good to say.

Pat Felix (Manager, Bananas Comedy Club): The shows were an hour and a half long, and he would go over. Almost two hours. He worked with the crowd a lot. Then he’d throw his material in there in between. So you’ve got some material to go with his crowd work. In the special I thought he was more direct with his material. You know, not so much crowd work.

JoAnn Grigioni: When we’re working with comics on these specials, because we’re producers, we get their material in advance and talk to them about it. Obviously we’re a cable network and we do have ads, so it’s not completely uncensored. So there is a process where we take a look at the material. It’s the comedian’s right to know, okay, if you’re going to tell a joke this way, and use these words, if we air it at this time, these words are going to be bleeped. We’re really just kind of facilitating that and arming them with as much information as possible.

Patrice O’Neal: You can’t say “fuck” and you can’t say “pussy.” But there’s a lot of context, right? There was one thing, but they kind of fixed it, where I was doing a bit about going in raw, and they bleeped “raw”…so I’m like “raw” is like…[a forbidden word]? And they said don’t say “stick it in.” So you’ll see me up there seriously thinking sometimes in the special, cus I’m getting ready to say “fucked in the ass cheeks” or something. [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

JoAnn Grigioni: We talked a lot about his whole football chunk and that was something that he wasn’t sure we should include in the broadcast version. And it’s just such a great bit. He has so many of those great bits. But I thought it added a little bit of variety. He wasn’t sure about that at first, but in the end he agreed and it’s in there.

Jonathan Brandstein: JoAnn was terrific. It was a really good match, JoAnn and Patrice. Once Patrice saw that she wasn’t going to screw with his material, I think he developed a lot more trust with her.

V. “Thank you, audience coordinator lady!”

Jonathan Brandstein: Once we got past [the decision to shoot in New York], then it came down to the discussion about audience coordination. And there is a woman named Samantha Black, she’s well known in New York for audience coordinating. She’s the best at what she does.

Samantha Black: Patrice was pretty rigorous about what he wanted, and everybody had prepped me for that. Patrice was a very amazing guy, and he was really smart about the way he controlled what went out under his name. So instead of leaving things to other people to handle, like the audience and stuff like that, he was very involved in those processes. Because he really cared about speaking and performing to a crowd that really reflected who he was a lot more than, say, some other comics that might just kind of come out and work a room. It’s vital to a lot of comics, but I think particularly it was very political and important to him that he have exactly what he wanted in that audience.

Jonathan Brandstein: He was also concerned, frankly, about not getting only a whole bunch of Opie & Anthony fans in the audience. Young guys in their 20s and 30s, rowdy in the front row – that would be very different. And that’s why he liked DC, because you knew that you’d get a diverse audience. And for him that was important. And that’s not to say he didn’t love the O&A fans, but for the kind of material he was doing, it was important to have that.

Patrice O’Neal: I’ve got a little bit of fans everywhere. Opie & Anthony is one of the biggest parts of my fan base, that’s a core. Then the Web Junk was a big core. And then my HBO special was a big core. So when they collide in a show, it’s interesting. And I have to kind of mold them into exactly who I am. [Unmasked with Ron Bennington, February 2011]

Samantha Black: He said he wanted people who got relationships. That were his age. He said right away, “I don’t want to just look out and see a sea of 18-year-olds. I want people who have been in long, meaningful relationships. And I don’t want people who are going to be skittish about intense jokes, I don’t want people who are going to be too PC to laugh at my stuff. I don’t want hyper-sensitive university kids only.” He said, “I want a real nice mix, but I want to look out and see people my age, and people who look like me.” And so I got as diverse an audience for him as I could. He could obviously play to a room full of O&A white kids and still kill. But he really wanted to be able to look out and be able to have some people get what he was saying about certain things they might be a little sensitive to.

Jonathan Brandstein: There’s a very gratifying moment where he walked on stage and he looked at the audience, and he goes, “Thank you, audience coordinator lady!” Because he was happy, and he looked at that audience, and you have a black guy and a white girl in the front row who were a couple, you had another couple, you have a guy, you had two girls. Samantha just understood.

Samantha Black: [laughs] Yeah, people still don’t believe he called me out like that. That whole, “Hey, thanks audience lady, for this titty meat!” – that came out of an interaction he had with me where he was like, “Well I hope you put some real women in that audience. Ones that have tits. Ones that aren’t these like tiny women with no breasts – no black man likes that.” He was real in my face about it. So I was like, yeah okay, fuck you, I’m going to bring in these women that I know full fucking well you’ll notice. And that’s who I put there, and of course he noticed and laughingly thanked me. But I thought that was like, “I heard you loud and clear, and I gave you exactly what you wanted.” I rose to the titty meat challenge. I made it. That, from a feminist, is pretty funny. I thought it was huge irony that I’m offering him up these lovely women who are totally huge fans and had totally exposed chests, so there you go. Everyone won in that situation. Everyone won.

Jonathan Brandstein: It’s amazing because I don’t think she had any idea the material he was going to do.

Samantha Black: From the minute that he did it, the first show he did, I knew what a big deal that show was going to be. And everybody I invited from my list thanked me, and they continue to thank me years later. “You got me into that Patrice show! That was one of the most extraordinary nights of my life for comedy!” There were a couple of comics you would know who went to Patrice’s show – and then years later have been like, “Wow, that changed the way I look at comedy.”

Louis C.K.: When he did a [HBO] half-hour special – there were a bunch of them that got done and Patrice did one when I did one. And it was something he was unsure of. And I remember the first show, he almost froze, he almost couldn’t get through the show. So it wasn’t his best. People weren’t seeing how good he was. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Samantha Black: I never told him this, but I [also] did those [HBO] shows. He was paired with Louis C.K. That was one of my first specials, and they forced me to do doubled-up comedians, so they do half an hour of one, and half an hour of the other, and I tried to split the audiences in half. It was a tough call – I understand that he wasn’t happy with it, because it was a huge compromise, you know? You’re getting half in the room that likes Louis C.K.’s kind of humor, and half in the room [who are there for Patrice]. And you have to try to get people who are going to like both, and that’s a tough call. Sometimes it works, but I think that both of those guys felt uncomfortable with the result. So I even more wanted to prove to him that I cared about what his input was and I wasn’t constrained by the process this time around, to be able to give him something what he wanted.

VI. “Just the right amount of cutesy horseshit”

Louis CK: One thing I love about standup is what works musically. Like how somebody works the mic and sounds, and Patrice had this great way of doing that. He would start by just [gently] talking about something, introducing a subject, making people even a little unnerved by how uninterested he is, instead of standing there and doing a big performance. And then he would start getting excited about it, and then his voice would go up to that raspy register, and he’d start feeling it. And then the place is rolling, and it was just incredible to watch when he was doing it. That’s what he was starting to figure out. Because he was funnier [on the radio] than he was on stage for a long time. And it takes until you’re in your late 30s-40s to suddenly turn into, “I can fucking do anything I want up here.” And he had just got there. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Gregg “Opie” Hughes: I went to the taping and I don’t know if it made the DVD, but he just came out and just checked out the room for like five minutes. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Louis C.K.: That takes a huge amount of balls. I don’t have those balls. [The Opie & Anthon Show, November 30, 2011]

Jonathan Brandstein: He comes right out and he goes into this Natalie Holloway joke, and it was the perfect layup. And I was sitting in the truck watching and I remember thinking to myself, “He’s having a good time out there. He’s completely comfortable.”

John Irwin: You always do two shows – a 7:00 show and a 9:30, something like that. After we shot that first show, he was just ecstatic. For most of these guys, they’ve written this material themselves, performed it, it’s been all them. There’s no help. So when you get that first show done, it’s like taking the biggest breath of air ever.

Jonathan Brandstein: [The first show] is the show that you use as the base, then there’s some things you can edit into it from the other show. You also do it for safety, if something happens to the first show. By the time the second show came around, Patrice, he got off stage and he was happy. He goes, “It was good. I think.” And I’m like, “It was great.”

Patrice O’Neal: The first show? There’s a piece of it in the special. The second one was the one. The first one was great! I wanted to use the first one! Because I always like to put across that you don’t have to be funny every second of your time on stage, you know? So it had a lot of good moments, a lot of good audience moments, but the second one is the prevalent one. There’s only one thing they used from the first one. And then it’s the whole second one. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

“The end product is just one of the best comedy specials ever.”

Jonathan Brandstein: I remember sitting in the truck with [Comedy Central producer] Elizabeth Porter and John Irwin, and one of them said “Okay, we got it after this show.” The second show was just really for safety. We all felt like we had gotten it. And I told Patrice that. In between shows I brought him in [the production truck] because he had a couple of questions about a few things. And one of the first things he said to me after the first show was, “That audience lady did a good job. She did a good. Job.” He kept saying it. It was almost like he couldn’t believe it.

Patrice O’Neal: The first one had some extras, though. I put some extras from the first show [on the DVD]. [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

Jonathan Brandstein: For as good as the first show was, the second show was even better. Because any nerves that he had were really gone at that point. When you know you have the first show in the can, you can be a little loose. It went from amazing to incredible. Everything was delivering, every joke – and he was having fun! If there’s one word to describe when he’s on stage, he had fun. He was so natural up there, so comfortable. I remember at one point leaving the truck in the second show, going, “Ah screw it, I’m gonna go watch it from the audience.” And it’s just this feeling in the room when a crowd is with a comedian, and they’re completely engrossed in the material, they’re with him, they’re not looking at watches, they’re not thinking about dinner. People are waiting to go to the bathroom because they don’t want to miss what’s coming next, and everything’s just hitting, hitting, and you know, firing on all cylinders. It was remarkable.

Elise Czajkowski (comedy journalist, Grantland, NY Times): I think a special varies so much depending on the performer because you really have the opportunity to show off what makes you unique. So the worst thing that can happen in a standup special is that you get to the end and you’re like “Oh that guy or girl is just a generic standup comedian.” You want people to be like “Oh that person has this particular style, or has this particular insight, or this particular perspective. And nobody else could have made that hour.” And Patrice was a voice that stood out; whether you love him or hate him, you certainly weren’t going to confuse anybody else for Patrice.

Samantha Black: There was an electricity in that room.

Jim Norton: He was naturally funny. I compared him in an interview yesterday to Pryor, but as a naturally funny human being, there’s nobody he couldn’t have sat with and been funny with. There’s no comedian that we call legends that he could not have sat in a room with and gone back and forth with and been respected by and been funny with. No one. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Samantha Black: There are parts of him that were super Richard Pryor, in terms of delivering something that was really punitive, and really political, and critical, but making everybody feel part of the process. Like, nobody knows [that Peruvian woman’s name from the Natalie Holloway joke]. I don’t know it! He’d say that you suck, but he was kind of humanistically including everyone, and himself. You look at Elephant in the Room and you realize that it’s really prophetic of the anger that has been coming out in the Black Lives Matter movement, and he was able to say these things, and say a lot of these things to people who would not necessary have listened if he had not been able to make it really funny. There are a lot of people who don’t want to hear that things aren’t fair. But you see something that you humanly laugh at, and you’re like, “Wow, that would have sucked if that was my sister and nobody knew her name.”

JoAnn Grigioni: The end product is just one of the best comedy specials ever.

Michael Che: Elephant in the Room made a lot of people want to tear up everything and start over because it seemed like he had a lot more compassion in that one. Which made it even funnier, because it was almost like you were rooting for him to be horrible. You were rooting for the logic – it seemed like the audience was way more on his side as opposed to isolating some people. It was one of the best specials I’ve ever seen. [The Opie & Anthony Show, September 17, 2011]

Jonathan Brandstein: He was happy the final, finished product in the end.

Patrice O’Neal: I’ve done a lot of shit and I never watch it. At some point I just get sick watching myself. But for this one, I was watching it because I was editing it also, I watched this every time. And I watch it as a fan of watching it, and I’ve got to step out and go, “Oh shit, that’s me!” I’m on top of my game in this special. I feel like I am. I feel like it’s just the right amount of cutesy horseshit, and just the right amount of what I do. [The Opie & Anthony Show, February 18, 2011]

Dave Attell: Usually like when you shoot a special, they never capture the guy. I think 88% was captured with him. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

VI. Diamonds

Patrice O’Neal: Here’s a thing about this business: There is no market value, you don’t get value for who you are. That’s what kills comics. When you see bitter comics, it’s because if Michael Jordan scores 30, and Kevin Garnett scores 31, and Michael Jordan gets $20 million a year, Kevin Garnett can then ask for $20 million a year based on the fact that he scores 31. So I have value compared to my peers, and everything else. But this — I’ve got to watch unnamed assholes making mega money, and there’s no karma, there’s no one to complain to! I can’t walk in an office and go, “Listen, this hack bought his mother a house, and I’ve got to stand there and look at this dude?” And a lot of dudes and people I never got along with are people who let this business qualify who they are. I’m at thislevel, Patrice. I couldn’t talk to you [before], but then Comedy Central has put me here. Now I’m here with you. No you’re not. I don’t care if God gave you a deal where you get half the world. You ain’t me. I told my girl that one time. I buy my girls diamonds and shit, and she go, “Ooh I’m blinging bigger than you!” And I go, “You couldn’t bling bigger than me if I bought you a diamond hat.” Blinging is here [points to chest]. Not even if I got you a diamond HAT would you be better than me. [Unmasked with Ron Bennington, February 2011]

Dave Attell: I consider him one of the last great, dirty, filthy, genius, warrior comics, in that I think he, unlike a lot of the people in this world, got to live, say, and do pretty much everything he wanted to do. It’s kind of sad that he left so early, but to be honest, I think he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It’s a sad end, but from seeing this over and over and over, the guy was incredible at what he did. And we’re just lucky that we all got a chance to see it live and get to know it. Really, that kind of comedy’s not going to be there forever. Every day it’s getting a little tamer, it’s a little lamer, and it’s a little more crunchy. So if you like somebody brutally great like that, you should really go see it live. Because I think that’s the point of it. [The Opie & Anthony Show, November 30, 2011]

Dave Attell: Not only is that still true, it’s gotten worse. I’d say that in four years, it’s gotten more – “PC” isn’t even the right word – I’d say prudish. Right now in comedy the audience really has their shoulders up. They really groan more. You can feel the audience spent the whole day not being able to do anything, you know, they have to work a whole job with rules and regulations about how they can interact, it becomes this whole thing about kind of getting them to lower their shoulders. Patrice wouldn’t know what to think of this new comedy boom. Because there definitely is a comedy boom now. Guys like him are elevated because now it’s like good looking people from all walks of society in the world going up there.

Today I think we see a lot of inclusiveness in comedy, and a lot of, you know, everybody getting a chance to tell their story, and their origins and everything like that. And that’s great! And that brings in other people. But I would say that the heart of funny doesn’t just come with that. You have to work on that. And a lot of these newer people, storytelling and all that kind of stuff, I don’t think that they could go for that. At the end of the day, Patrice was a Boston comic, he knew he had to have strong material, to go up there and win over a tough crowd.

Patrice O’Neal: If the crowd is not really invested in what you’re saying, it means nothing. It’s just jargon. It’s like, look at fucking Nirvana, that motherfucker made one album that the whole world knew – they still play it. He’s been dead for 16 fucking years or something – that’s a lot of years, man! But he was a righteous motherfucker. That album is not jargon. It’s not horseshit. You get some guys, man – this motherfucker made six albums? What is he talking about? What are you talking about, dude? [Twin Cities Tank, March 15, 2010]

Patrice O’Neal: You can’t replace Louis C.K. The reason you can’t replace Louis C.K., or Nick DiPaolo, or me, or Colin, or Bill Burr or, you know, Corey Holcomb or Dave Attell or Earthquake or Rich Vos is because they took Ls, man. They took some losses to be them. Louie’s taken criticism, losses, and things like that to be Louie. So you need a motherfucker who’s actually ready. They need somebody out there to take a loss, they go “We don’t know this guy. This guy’s a copycat of Louie. When the pressure hits, he ain’t gonna be a diamond.” Louie is a diamond. Because he’s under that pressure. Not everybody can take the pressure, man. They just become lumps of coal that just go in the dust. You just get exposed. So at the end of the day, this country needs Louie, you know? And when it needs me, that’s when I’m gonna hit. Because you gonna have a bunch of people who try to replace you, but it can’t be done. You know? [Twin Cities Tank, March 15, 2010]

The 4th Annual Patrice O’Neal Benefit will be held January 26, 2016 in New York City.

Mr. P, the album recorded at the DC Improv and intended as a follow up to Elephant in the Room, was released on January 19, 2012. The proceeds from that album go to his family.

Comedy Central continues to air Elephant in the Room. The DVD, which includes deleted footage from the taping, is available here.

An Oral History of Patrice O’Neal’s ‘Elephant in the Room’