The comedy world is still in shock from the passing of the great Patrice O’Neal. I attended the services for Patrice Monday at the Park Avenue Christian Church, on 85th Street and Park Avenue in New York City. I purposely did not use the word “funeral” because the program for the service was entitled “Going Home Services” for Patrice O’Neal.
Plus “funeral” is such a sad word, and as sad as it was to think of Patrice no longer being with us, the comedians who honored Patrice made it more into a “Fun-eral.” If it was possible to put the “fun” into “funeral,” they did it.
The Reverend spoke beautifully, and there were two world class singers. The first was Michael Wheeler who sang, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, and then the beautiful Antonique Smith sang “Let It Be.” Their voices were like angels. Powerful angels.
Jim Norton read the obituary, which chronicled Patrice’s life and career, starting from when he was born in New York City and raised in Roxbury, Massachusetts, (where he led Roxbury High School to a football state championship in his senior year), to his first CD entitled Mr.P,which, sadly, will be released posthumously.
Patrice was a huge man in every way. At 6’5″ and 300 pounds he was a commanding presence, but not imposing when you were a friend. From the first time I met him, and told him I thought we should be roommates so we could save money and share clothing, I think he got a kick out of me! He laughed out loud at that one! Standing side by side we couldn’t have been more different, but we were so much alike. And he knew that. And that was a Blessing to me. Patrice got me. He knew who I was, and welcomed me into his world.
Whenever I saw him, I was compelled to hug him. There was just something about him, as big as he was, that drew me to him. I can’t explain it in words, but he understood it, because when we were on the radio together and he would explain to his audience who I was, and why he had me on with him, he did it with love and affection. I told him if we ever did TV together he should walk out holding me in his arms like a baby! He laughed at that too!
Patrice could imitate a little girl’s voice on stage and you would see his gentle side come out. It was easy for him to expose that side of himself, because Patrice had nothing to hide. He was comfortable with who he was. One of my most treasured memories of Patrice is the excited phone call he made to me at 4 am after one of our episodes of The Black Phillip Show on Sirius. He was so happy with how it went that he wanted to call me that night, and suggest we do a different show together, but he was so humble that he said he didn’t want to “assume” anything, … as if I might not want to do it! You can listen to it below!
In the obituary Norton read, when he was talking about Patrice on Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn, he said that “many fans saw Patrice as the shows most controversial and obstinate performer, although only on the subjects of race, religion, gender, relationships, social status, and foreign policy!” Patrice was so smart. As I’ve described him before, he was not just a comedian, he was a comedy philosopher!
Several of Patrice’s closest friends got to give him a tribute. Robert Kelly, Wil Sylvince, Colin Quinn, Kevin Hart and Rich Vos all spoke about the man we were there to honor. Colin gave a heartfelt tribute, and also made us laugh, with his stories of Patrice on Tough Crowd, how Patrice could go on for 20 minutes essentially taking over the whole show, and then say, “Sorry Colin, what do you think? After all, it’s your show!”
Robert Kelly was moved to tears during his tribute as was Kevin Hart. Wil Sylvince who had been Patrice’s roommate at one time said that Patrice spoke “Wil” and was able to translate when people didn’t understand what Wil was saying due to his speech impediment, … which I always thought was just a strong Haitian accent! By the time Rich Vos got up to speak, there had already been lots of laughter, which I know Patrice would have appreciated, especially when Vos told the crowd he’d be selling his CD after the service! I’m sure everyone there had a favorite Patrice story. I’m grateful that I get to give my tribute here!
Then Patrice’s beautiful stepdaughter Aymilyon got up to speak, read a prayer and talked about how “Mr. P.” — which is what she called him — had added so much to her life in the seven years he was with her Mom, Von. Von is Vondecarlo Brown, Patrice’s wife, and a talented singer/songwriter as well, who wrote the song “Cool Ride” for Patrice’s recent one hour Comedy Central special Elephant In The Room. It was at that taping that Patrice brought me backstage to introduce me to his Mom, Gloria. You feel proud when someone does that. It’s like dating someone and they decide it’s time for you to meet their parents! It’s an honor. (Check out the photo below, also featuring comedian Harris Stanton).
So many people came out to honor Patrice. Chris Rock was there, Dave Attell, Bill Burr, Gary Gulman, Ben Bailey, Jay Oakerson, Todd Barry, Keith Robinson, Wanda Sykes and many more.
I was sitting on an aisle with Sherrod Small and his girlfriend Marisa. As the family procession came down the center aisle, I saw Von and was nervous to try and get her attention, because those kinds of situations can be very awkward. But as she passed me, she looked into my eyes and I threw her a kiss and touched my heart, and she got it.
After the service when everyone was leaving, I went into the back and was able to see her for a moment. We embraced, and I was able to tell her how sorry I was for her loss. She knew how much I loved Patrice, and as I tried to explain the bond we had, she said she knew, and that made me feel good. And in the midst of her sadness, she did me the kindness of saying, “I was happy to see your face when I was walking down the aisle.” I can’t tell you how that made me feel.
R.I.P. Patrice! You were a one of a kind, and much loved!