Patrice O’Neal 

On the posthumous Mr. P, Patrice O’Neal comes off like a humanities professor with some pretty wild ideas—the kind who pisses off the administration but fascinates the students. Reduce his syllabus to bullet points, and he seems reprehensible: He compares women to dogs, refuses to endorse racial unity, and has some admittedly disgusting thoughts about ass cracks. But O’Neal can effortlessly transition from eyebrow-raising (trying to have sex with women is like trying to plan a terrorist attack) into pure introspection, laying out the minutia of his thoughts, piece by piece, until they start to make a whole lot of sense. Mr. P is his final lecture, and it’s a master class in how to construct a brutal, genuine, and heartfelt thesis, especially a controversial one. “It’s not fun if everybody’s laughing,” he says near the beginning; but he’s impossible to ignore regardless.

O’Neal wastes no time getting to the meat of his arguments. When comparing his stable of women to a corporation, he opens by discussing his dating life in human-resources terms: All he has available is “a position from 3 in the morning until 4:15.” The metaphor continues as this woman gets promoted to Tuesday nights, then demands the title of VP—when O’Neal notices her work ethic declining. Meanwhile, he muses, there’s another “mailroom ho” waiting in the wings, and he’s torn. He may use unpopular language, but O’Neal succinctly sums up his complicated, tumultuous relationship history in under four minutes. (His later discussion about black and white women is just as compelling, but lacks the brevity to punch as hard.)

Mr. P masks O’Neal’s insecurities with anger and bravado. His tirade about getting fucked by the government includes a moment where he ponders killing somebody for money. His analysis of the TSA would be hack if not for his willingness to shame himself for laziness. Even goofier material, like imagining a world without bread, riles him up against faceless businessmen. At one point he notices that anyone who ever advocated for an end to violence was promptly the target of violence himself. And he’s terrified: of assassination, of dying on a plane, of dying alone.

But even after his own death—from stroke complications last November—O’Neal finds his courage on the stage; he proposes that black people be exempt from federal income tax after stating, very seriously, that these thoughts could get him killed. His explanation, fusing raw emotion with academic logic, shows why O’Neal earned the ears of the entire comedy community. 

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