Patrice O’Neal (Patrice Lumumba Malcolm O'Neal)
Patrice Malcolm O’Neal was born in New York City, on December 7, 1969, and grew up in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. His mother, Georgia, named him after Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the Congolese independence movement, and Malcolm X. He was raised by his mother and never knew his father. He was a star football player at West Roxbury High School, ending his career with 3 letters in varsity football and a state championship his senior year. He turned down a sports scholarship to Northeastern University in order to attend with the help of a public housing grant, because he preferred studying Performing Arts to playing football.
O’Neal began his comedy career in Boston at an open mic at Estelle’s Bar and Grill in October 1992. In the late 1990s, he moved to New York City, where he became a regular at the Comedy Cellar, before relocating to Los Angeles, in the hopes of finding greater fame. “I tap danced like you wouldn’t believe… trying to get something,” he said in a 2008 interview with Ron Bennington. “I’m telling you, if I’d have had a gun back then, I would have shot myself.” His inability to achieve success on other people’s terms motivated him to prioritize his own integrity first. “At the end of the day I just want to know that I was true to myself.” Later in his career, Patrice would walk away from successful shows like The Office, Arrested Development, Web Junk 20, and a writing position on the WWE. “I’m a professional bridge-burner,” O’Neal stated in an interview.
Unwilling to yield to the demands of American club owners that he change his often confrontational act, O’Neal relocated to the United Kingdom to work on his comedy there. He worked harder as an outsider and a foreigner to gain the respect of his peers. “It took about 5 months… for them to go ‘Ok, this guy’s not playing around,'” he told Bennington. It was also during this time that he caught the eye of British comedian Ricky Gervais, still early in his stand-up career. Gervais frequently mentioned O’Neal as a favorite comic. He returned to the New York area in 2002 when he got the offer to do his first half-hour special for Showtime. Later that year he joined the cast of The Colin Quinn Show and then Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. The following year, he recorded a Comedy Central Presents special.
O’Neal’s first television appearance was on The Apollo Comedy Hour where he performed his Malcolm XXL bit. From there, he moved on to appearances on Showtime at the Apollo, FNight Videos, and a brief stint as a writer for the WWE. He appeared in guest-starring roles on MTV’s Apt 2F, Assy McGee, Ed, Z Rock, Yes Dear, Arrested Development, Chappelle’s Show and The Office. O’Neal was a regular on the Fox series The Jury, and he starred in the Comedy Central animated program Shorties Watching Shorties, along with Nick DiPaolo. He supplied the voice of Harold Jenkins on Noggin’s animated program O’Grady High and was featured as Jesus in Denis Leary’s Searchlight. In 2005, O’Neal filmed a half-hour One Night Stand special for HBO, and shortly thereafter became the first host of VH1’s Web Junk 20. O’Neal left the show after two seasons, expressing concerns that the show’s audience was too different from his own. In 2006 and 2007 he joined Opie and Anthony’s Traveling Virus Comedy Tour, playing large outdoor concert arenas across the country.
After moving back to New York in 2002, O’Neal became a recognized radio personality as a regular guest and occasional co-host on the Opie and Anthony program. Along with Bill Burr and Robert Kelly, he filled in as co-host for comedian Jim Norton while Jim filmed Lucky Louie. From 2006–08, he hosted a call-in relationship advice show on XM Radio, which ended when the satellite network merged with rival Sirius. Initially promoted as Bitch Management, the show was titled The Black Philip Show, a reference to Dr. Phil. Dante Nero co-hosted, and a rotating cast of female comedians played third mic. The show aired until the station suspended much of its Saturday night programming when they were unable to reconcile budget concerns with the new management following the merger. O’Neal had also appeared as a guest on other radio shows such as Alex Jones along with numerous political talk shows on the Fox News channel. While in the NYC area, he performed at comedy clubs in the area, including headlining appearances at Comix Comedy Club and Caroline’s. He was also popular in Montreal, making five appearances at the Just for Laughs festival, including one of the most memorable in fest history: a one-man, one-week show at Théâtre Ste. Catherine in 2008. O’Neal had also been slated to do five sold-out, one-man shows at Les Katacombes at the 2010 Just for Laughs Festival, but he was refused entry into Canada at the U.S. border and the shows were cancelled.
In February 2011, Comedy Central aired his first hour-long special, Elephant in the Room. He eventually began a web series and podcast called The Patrice O’Neal Show – Coming Soon! showing various episodes as of May 15, 2007. He performed with a five-person group — Bryan Kennedy, Dante Nero, Vondecarlo Brown, Harris Stanton and Wil Sylvince — touching on many fictional scenarios. The show was produced by For Your Imagination and can be found on O’Neal’s website. He guest-starred in another For Your Imagination-produced show, called Break a Leg, playing Adult-Sized Gary Coleman. O’Neal voiced Jeffron James in Grand Theft Auto IV, on an in-game radio show, Fizz!.
On September 19, 2011, O’Neal was one of the many roasters at the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. This would be his final television appearance before his death two months later. A little more than halfway through the show in a small interview, leading up to the commercial break, O’Neal says “this should be my last show ever.” His final recorded interview was with Jay Mohr on his “Mohr Stories” Podcast #17, uploaded October 27, 2011, shortly after news of his stroke. Shortly after O’Neal’s death, BSeen Media announced the release of his first album, Mr. P, to be released February 7, 2012. It was recorded at the D.C. Improv. Although announced after his death, the album had been completed before his illness, with the comedian’s full involvement. On November 6, 2012, Better Than You, a 20 minute “digital single” of previously unreleased material was released on O’Neal’s website and via iTunes.
On October 19, 2011, O’Neal reported being unable to move his legs, the first signs of a stroke. He was rushed to Jersey City Medical Center, and later Englewood Hospital where doctors performed surgery to remove a blood clot. He lost his ability to speak, and later his ability to move, for a time communicating by eye movements, before losing that ability as well. Doctors warned that if he survived, he would likely remain permanently paralyzed and unable to speak.
Initially the family made efforts to keep news of O’Neal’s illness quiet. On October 26, 2011, it was announced to the public on The Opie and Anthony Show that O’Neal had suffered a stroke a week earlier. At 7:00 AM on November 29, 2011, he died from complications from his stroke. O’Neal was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes while in his early twenties, and also struggled with weight issues for years. He is survived by his longtime partner (whom he often referred to as his wife) Vondecarlo Brown, mother Georgia, stepdaughter Aymilyon, and sister Zinder. His funeral was held on December 5, at Park Avenue Christian Church, in New York City, and was attended by, among others, Chris Rock, Colin Quinn, Nick DiPaolo, Artie Lange, Jim Norton, Dane Cook, Bill Burr, Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Kevin Hart.
- December, 07, 1969
- New York, New York
- November, 29, 2011
- Englewood, New Jersey
Cause of Death
- Complications from a stroke