When the news circulated that veteran stand-up comic Patrice O’Neal died Tuesday from complications of a stroke he suffered last month the social network was flooded by accolades from TV stars and celebrities including Charlie Sheen, Sarah Silverman and The Roots’ ?uestlove. “so grateful i got to see Patrice Oneal do his last NYC gig. man this is so devastating. he truly was one of my favorite comics. RIP Patrice,” tweeted ?uestlove.
His performance was a highlight of the Comedy Central roast of Sheen, who had been fired from the hit CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men,” in September. Sheen said in a tribute tweet Tuesday, “The entertainment world as well as the world at large lost a brilliant man.” He added, “Patrice had that rare ‘light’ around him and inside of him. I only knew him for the few days leading up the Roast. Yet I will forever be inspired by his nobility, his grace and his epic talent. My tears today are for the tremendous loss to his true friends and loving family.”
O’Neal, who made fans laugh with jokes about race, appeared on Conan O’Brien’s and David Letterman’s TV shows and was a frequent guest on the “Opie & Anthony” radio show on Sirius XM. The untimely death of the 41-year-old jumbo-sized comic came just as he was gaining a wider presence through TV, radio and online.
“He was kind of like Jerry Seinfeld or Bill Cosby in terms that he was observational comic,” said pop culture critic Richard Torres. “And, unlike a lot of comics, both African American and Caucasian, his delivery was very laconic. He wasn’t a hyper comic, it was conversational. He spoke to you. It’s kind of like you’re at a bar, and this guy slides next to you and tells you a story in the most loopy, yet logical manner possible.”
O’Neal had half-hour specials on Showtime and HBO and was the host of “Web Junk 20” on VH1. He appeared in numerous television shows, including “Arrested Development,” “Chappelle’s Show” and “The Office.” This year, O’Neal’s first hour-long special, “Elephant in the Room,” aired on Comedy Central. His longtime battle with diabetes was often included in his ribald dialogue. According to Torres, O’Neal is another African-American comedic genius that is gone too soon.
“What I find most tragic is that people like him, and a couple other comics who died way before their time — Robin Harris and Bernie Mac — these are people that we will always remember for the laughs that they gave us, but will also wonder about what insights they would have given us in the years to come. What separated them from the pack was their honesty,” said Torres. “And again, it’s a cliché, but it works in their favor — they were brutally honest about what was going on. It’s almost as though these are extended members of the family: One’s the cranky uncle, ones’ the crazy cousin — you know these people. The sad thing is that these are people who looked older than they were because of the unhealthiness of what they had. In the case of Bernie Mac, he had a couple of sets in the movies and you saw a man on fire. Robin Harris had that one show and the album ‘Bey Bey’s Kids’ where you actually heard it. Patrice O’Neal is kind of a different thing, which is probably why he’ll be more culty in the future because he never really had that slam-bam stand-up special where everything just clicked. But he would say things, and he had a common touch in a sense. Patrice was the kind of dude you could picture at the barbeque with a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, just snapping on people as they went back and forth to the kitchen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.