Patrice O’Neal didn’t just let you laugh. He made you earn it.
He made you break through the walls he erected, dodge the bullets he fired, and realize for yourself what you were actually laughing at. He made you dig deeper than the literal joke, go further than the unique delivery. He made you question what aspect of the humor resonated with you, on what level it was that you connected with his subject matter. To simply call O’Neal hilarious is to only acknowledge one aspect of his comedy. The truth is, he was damn near brilliant.
Better Than You is a 20-minute single recorded the same weekend as the also-posthumously released 74-minute Mr. P. It’s exactly what you expect from O’Neal: unafraid, unrestrained, unfiltered comedy from a guy for whom ruffling some feathers was par for the course.
“Fucking other women and loving you does not intertwine with men,” O’Neal says toward the start of the single. “We can fuck anything. That’s why when you leave me and we break up, your life is in shambles and mine can continue to go pretty well.”
On the surface, these words are misogynistic, ill-informed and downright mean. Yet O’Neal has the audience—men and women—eating his act up. Many people like to say comedians exaggerate truths or stretch meanings; that’s not what O’Neal did, though. He meant everything he said. He was nothing but honest. In fact, he was brutally honest about what he thought—to the point that it’s hard to believe, at times, he wasn’t getting booed.
Hilarity trumps all. If you’re funny, you’re going to get laughs no matter what you’re talking about. But O’Neal’s comedy did something more than appeal to merely the listener’s sense of humor; it also made him or her confront their perceptions, perspectives and firmly-held “truths.” O’Neal made the listener confront what it was about themself that they connected with in his words. Yet in the process of disorienting worldviews, he didn’t tone down the laughs for the sake of making a point. He was onstage working through his own problems, confronting his own demons. If he altered how a listener felt about something, that was great. But it wasn’t his goal. He was a complex guy, and to get him—to truly get him—you had to respond to and appreciate the complexity of his comedy.
For O’Neal not only had a special way of delivering his comedy, but he also had a special way of processing it. His manner of analyzing and interpreting information and distilling it into a superficially funny yet implicitly thought-provoking idea was almost unrivaled in the world of comedy. O’Neal’s voice was a rare thing of artistic beauty hidden under the machinations of an ostensible brute. Everything he said, though, was coated in truth.
O’Neal himself summed it up best: “What I’m saying now sounds cruel and all fucked up. But that’s how we feel.”