Remembering Patrice O’Neal

Patrice O’Neal, who died Tuesday at 41, the result of a stroke he suffered last month, was an uncompromising comic who challenged audiences and didn’t mind not being the most popular standup as a result.

“To be a working comedian is a privilege,” he told me last year, when he was chosen to open a new comedy club at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. “Because the state of the game is rough.”

The Boston-born O’Neal, last seen on a comedy roast of Charlie Sheen in September, was among a generation of comedians who rose through such shows as “Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn” and variations of “I Love the ’70s” on VH1. He was also the host of a clip show of viral videos called “Web Junk.”

“When I used to do ‘Web Junk,’ I was doing what Daniel Tosh does now,” he said, referring to Comedy Central’s “Tosh 2.0.”

“He does it much better than I could have done it,” O’Neal said. “The fact is I hated the Web, and I hated the people who did Web clips.”

“Story of my life,” he said. “I’ve been on stuff five years to 10 years before it’s cool to be on. I’m a visionary — a visionary for shitty things. Like ‘Tough Crowd.'”

Before “The Colbert Report,” it was “Tough Crowd” that followed “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” gathering comedians to banter about the day’s events.

Back in its day, “Tough Crowd” indeed faced a tough crowd with its brutally honest assessments of the daily pageant. But these days, O’Neal said, “honesty is big. People want to hear the truth, and there’s a million different versions of ‘Tough Crowd’ on.”

But in the original show, “We were the cowboy. That show was cowboy. We were the new millennium Rat Pack. And it wasn’t all just jokes; we were dead serious, man, on some of these issues.

“We had controversial topics. And we were prepared, off the cuff and edgy dudes,” O’Neal said. “With everything happening in the world, I can’t listen to comedy and hear them talk about nothing.”

O’Neal continued to talk to his audiences in the same way he did on “Tough Crowd.”

“I enjoy dialoguing. I’m not a monologue guy,” he said. “So if the crowd’s bad, I’m bad. I essentially want to have a relationship with my audience. I want to teach them how to have a point of view on how to live their life better with humor.”

So, in the end, Patrice O’Neal was a self-help guy?

Damn straight, he said. “I want you to come in and say, ‘How do I make my life better on my own?’ I say: You laugh at it, and you laugh at it smartly. It will put you in a better place if you can. Life is already tough.”

O’Neal is survived by his wife and stepdaughter.

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