Between the multitude of podcasts, memoirs and stand-ups I watch, read and listen on a daily basis, plus 27 years surrounded by a humorous family who passed on their own comedic influences, comedy may just be a through-line in my inspiration to write. Sarcasm is my defense mechanism. Upon meeting someone new not only do I size them up by seeing which humor they can handle, I exert what I perceive to be my strength in my words. Making someone laugh has an addictive quality and I’ve fallen in love with both sides of humor. Sure I’ve made mistakes, scared boys away, created tension with girls (I’m saying girls because women can’t be bothered with that high school nonsense), pissed my mother off, received A’s in academics and N’s in conduct. If you recall an N is not acceptable or non-sufficient or naughty. I don’t know but it’s fairly contradictory to the studious grades and attributes I also employed. Regardless, my sense of humor has served me. Sure, I’ve learned some harsh lessons about tact and timing, but mostly it’s saved me. Having or causing a legitimate laugh is not easy, nor should it be. And it is with that sentiment that I highly recommend Patrice O’Neal’s stand-up special, Elephant in the Room. Similar to food, I’m a bit of a comedy snob. Unlike music and clothing and other pursuits, I actually seek comedy out, read about it, check out up-and-comers, watch documentaries, old stand-ups, and have a great little collection of DVDs and memoirs of my favorites. Comedy is an art-form and therefore you’ll hear umpteen opinions about any given piece of art that comes your way. No opinion is wrong, just as if you’re listening to music or glancing at a painting; but as with food, there is a level of experience and acquired taste that comes into play. And as with food, I feel you can trust my knowledge and opinions on this subject.
A Massachusetts born comedian, Patrice filtered into the comedic world roughly ten years ago. It was about that time I discovered him and many other geniuses on VH1’s I Love the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s series and subsequent spin-offs and sequel/prequels. He’s had numerous appearances on Def Comedy Jam, Colin Quinn’s old Comedy Central show Tough Crowd, The Chappelle Show (where is Dave Chappelle? Man I miss him. Brilliant.), Shorties watching Shorties, and characters in films like Scream 4 and Head of State. He portrayed a warehouse worker in multiple episodes of the Office and earned some of the best ‘make Michael Scott’ squirm moments. Real comedy nerds may remember him from an episode of the greatest television show to ever be broadcast (tragically cancelled due to lack of an intelligent audience, movie still in the works), Arrested Development. His IMDB page reads like most actors but where he shines is as himself, on stage, making us laugh.
Elephant in the Room is his first hour-long special on Comedy Central. The title being both literal and figurative, pointing to both his body reflecting that of an elephant’s (assuming he also has a trunk to match) and bolding pointing out cultural norms we’re all too afraid to admit. It’s the quintessential ‘funny because it’s true’ laughter but without being obvious. It feels fresh, pulls from a new perspective. Patrice provides the most spot-on analogies that you take with you. During one point he describes men working amongst women being like grizzly bears working with salmon who happened to be covered in honey. The bear is not allowed to want the salmon, or god forbid express that desire in any way shape or form, but they’re forced to expose themselves to their greatest desire day in and day out, creating an exhausting level of tension.
The greatest and perhaps most pivotal trait in Patrice’s success is the delivery, as is the case with any humor. The tone, inflection, word choice, volume all has to be appropriately expressed to your specific audience. With Patrice, you feel he’s having a one-way conversation with you. He’s relaxed, casual, and builds on his jokes as if they come to him in that moment. And he tops it all off with the most outstanding facial expressions. Those eyes tell the story and with one look, he’s got you in stitches.
The most prolific and memorable comedians are typically the most irreverent. They’re pointing out truths they observe, like em or not, they point right to the elephant in the room. A pervasive topic for hundreds of years and no less intense than right now is the topic of racism. Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s still there, sad but true. It’s disguised and subtle, under the hats of people who’d never admit or recognize it, but damn does it still exist. And racism in all directions. Sexism, like women, is a close 2nd to racism, followed closely by homophobia and slightly off but still related topic of animal rights. It all comes back to the treatment of beings on our society and the best of the best show us our errors while simultaneously busting our guts. I can 100% admit my advantages in this society; as a woman, white, young, not horrifying to look at, I can pretty much get whatever I want and probably could give up working on it. White men have it the best and yet they’re the most sensitive about it. Get over it men, enjoy it. It won’t last much longer. We’re all privy to these societal norms. The most logical option is to recognize it, laugh at it and then continue to progress.
The material covered in Elephant in the Room speaks to our truths on the most raw level. It hurts to laugh. You laugh and then immediately say awww and make a frowney face. But the truth shall set you free and getting to that “can’t we all just get along?” goal will only approach quicker with a dialogue and comedy opens up the floor for that to happen. The only thing better than eating good food with great people is eating good food with great people while laughing. We’ve been quoting Patrice for weeks now. I look forward to watching the special again.
Below is so poignant, so true, so funny. And it came from interacting with the crowd, seemingly out of nowhere. White baby on a key-chain. Genius.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeCMCJc5-jg Burn the calories as you ingest them. Eat. Laugh. Enjoy.