August 07, 2012
For Those Who Forgot What We Do
For Those Who Forgot What We Do
Do you remember the “thing” that got you onstage? It wasn’t a slow build, was it? No, of course it wasn’t. This isn’t a fucking accounting job. Nobody gets into comedy thinking “Eh, hopefully I’ll start liking it in a couple of years when I get the promotion and the corner office.” Maybe it happened after you got onstage for the first time, or maybe after the first time you saw a special that would really stick with you. The point is it wasn’t a slow crawl. It was an immediate change in perception. You went from being the seminal audience member to that immovable feeling of “I have to do this.”
Ever since that moment, I’ve wondered where that feeling came from and what it means. For me, it was a mix of things that resonated on two different levels. There was the rhythm to the words that varied with each original style, and the dance between the premise and the punchline always involved a different set of steps and turns. Then there was the individual truth that a comic could find underneath the one broad, simple outcome that connected all of us: Laughter. Before this piece starts coming off as the Metaphysics of Comedy, let me explain: Every person has within them, a passion to establish an inner-truth that puts their life into the mold of society. Some niche to occupy that allows us
to feel like we belong but also satisfies our individuality. Following this passion in its purest sense is the truest form of freedom, and in this society, it’s also fucking stupid. Everybody in America knows that passion takes a backseat to financial security. To put your passion ahead of your safety is regarded as foolish and irresponsible by those who have diluted their passions for safety. Any person who
follows that “I have to do this” feeling, knows what it really feels like to be alive. This is the breed of human that becomes the ceaseless, sleep-less, obsessed phenomenon of a comedian. Let me add that most comics are unoriginal douchebags who should be beaten mercilessly with large sticks, chained stomach-facing to an oak tree with honey smeared on their assholes, and left to be raped by grizzly bears.
The comics that stay inspired by truth are few and far apart.
Which brings me to Patrice O’Neal. After anybody relatively famous dies, there’s always volumes of insincere horseshit pouring into the public discourse. While Patrice’s death did merit a little of this, there was a large distinction between Patrice O’Neal and a celebrity death. There wasn’t that undertone of uncertainty that leaves you asking “Does anybody really give a shit that this guy is dead?” People knew. They knew because the comedians knew. Every comedian in the country felt the void of Patrice O’Neal’s death. Every human being who provides funny for the world is telling you that comedy just lost an unsung legend of a significance most of us can’t really even fathom.
Months after the tragedy, it’s still comes up readily in conversation. Not as something we dwell on, but as something that pops into your head to remind you that everything is going to shit. There have been countless times when I am talking to a comic about whatever Comedy Central’s next abomination is going to be, and there is a silence followed by a sigh and then “I still can’t believe Patrice is dead.” Now as a community who mostly only knew Patrice as a comic, why does the shock of his death still reverberate through our minds? We’ve lost beloved comics before, between the brilliant, manic intelligence of Greg Giraldo to the bold, concise wisdom of Mike DeStefano. Shit, we lost Carlin. So why does Patrice hurt so much?
Right now, more than ever, the world needed a Patrice O’Neal. Nothing made that more apparent than his death.
Patrice was a model of how beautiful that journey for truth can be. Many people attempt to go down the road Patrice went down, ending up victims of a soul-crushing industry. It takes a person of strong character, motivation, and integrity to walk down that road and make it out on the other side. Most importantly, it takes someone who is truly funny. When I saw a comic like Patrice O’Neal, it showed me that the business can make you suffer, but you didn’t have to let it steal your livelihood. You could exist as that lone voice who spoke for funny and nothing else. No comic in his right mind thinks he can be Patrice O’Neal, nor Doug Stanhope, nor Louis C.K. But the fact that they exist as a whole is an image towards young comics that honesty and originality can still be your motivation.
As far as the guys who made it out alive in pursuit of the truth as they saw it, it always felt like Patrice was the largest presence. By chasing honesty and originality, Patrice accomplished far more as an artist and entertainer than his morally-flexible counterparts. Though the dollar value of his success amounted to little more than two Whopper’s with cheese, the material he put out was far beyond his peers. Sure, he never got the industry stamp of approval, but that doesn’t mean shit in terms of the show he put on and the ideas he put forth. In fact, the conditions Patrice faced as someone who was shunned by the industry are exactly what made him infinitely funnier and more interesting than anybody else.
What happened to a lot of us is that when Patrice died the most influential piece of that puzzle was suddenly ripped out of the picture. And it’s hard to find justice, or at least a message, in all of it. Because all that it has looked like to me is an under-appreciated genius died before the world could recognize what he represented.
Like many inexplicable tragedies, I’ve learned to take solace by a recent rape story. The Daniel Tosh rape joke story that has consumed much of our time and energy in the past weeks has helped me understand Patrice’s death.
Now, for those of you who think Daniel Tosh was out of place and inappropriate, read no further. Not only am I pro-rape joke, I’m pro-raping anybody who isn’t pro-rape joke. I’m not going to get into defending the joke itself, I realize some of you still don’t understand “context.” It’s a big word, almost 8 letters.
But it made me realize that if the world had Patrice O’Neal in the mix of this debate, anybody unsure as to the nature of free speech would have their delusions obliterated by his irrefutable brilliance. It’s the brilliance we saw when he defended free speech on Fox News. He never defended the comments themselves, but instead defended their right to say them in the pursuit of humor. And then, in the fashion of a comic master, he made the twat he was debating laugh at the very thing she claimed to be outraged by.
With Patrice gone, it’s starting to feel like the torchbearers of truth are dying off or slipping into obscurity. And, they are. The culture is moving into a dangerous place. We can’t budge though. Because if you really love making those people laugh, you won’t budge. The fact of the matter is Patrice O’Neal is dead, and the burden he carried as one of the few spokesman for “real”, is gone with him.
So you have two options from here. You can bitch and moan. You can cry about how the geniuses who you loved and the paradigm they constructed are coming to an end. You can fold to the overwhelming pussification of America, the pressure of political correctness, and the mediocrity of the post-American century.
Or you can fight as Lenny Bruce did years ago, what Patrice would evolve years later. Though the oppression that Patrice faced, the oppression that all comics today face, is vastly different than Lenny Bruce’s. The oppression Lenny faced was easier to combat on an internal level because the enemy was Big Brother—the police and court system. The enemy we face today is our own misinformed people. It’s not the rich, out-of-touch judge ruling on the obscenity level of a joke, it’s the cunt in the 4th row who doesn’t realize that the man onstage with a show on a major television network isn’t actually condoning rape.
My plea to you is this: Fuck ‘em. The recent argument in regards to what you’re allowed to joke about starts with the faulty premise that the audience members have a say. They do not. They have a choice between laughter and silence, between staying and leaving. If you don’t like a rape joke, then get your money back from the club and save it for the collection plate at church. That way, when your children are raped you can be sure that nobody in the room is joking about it. Just because you’ve made a person laugh out of social discomfort once at a company picnic doesn’t mean you know what’s funny. That’s what the people need to be reminded. To think that YOU can decide what is and what isn’t funny based on experiences outside of being a comic is like me thinking I can be a porn star because I’ve been caught masturbating on security footage. Comics need to remember this as well. You are not one of the people in the audience, you’re the person with the microphone. Whether you let the laughter guide you to truth or let it guide you to a show on Comedy Central, you didn’t take the road they took. You’re on the one less traveled, and you
fought your ass off to walk that road. They don’t know what that’s like, and lately it’s starting to seem that we’re all forgetting that. Whether I’m funny or not is up for debate. I’ll always leave that up to the audience. But as far as what is funny? Whether my intentions are to push a pro-rape agenda or not? Fuck you. You don’t understand the level of consciousness it took to get to this point, so don’t question the morality of my rape joke.
Like I said, this is an important time. The last beacons of free speech in comedy are dying out, and our freedom to rape a stage is dying with them.
There is no way to combat the current politically-correct climate with the audacity of those who have preceded us. The only way to fight the new wave of censorship is to mount a resistant that doubles in it’s belligerence and wit. The fight for free speech will not only be one of intelligence over fear, but belligerence over passive naivete. This isn’t about whether it’s right to joke about rape. It’s about the right to joke about rape.
The political-correctness has increased since Lenny Bruce’s death, and it has increased even further since Patrice’s passing. Thus, the only recourse from this point is to be a comic. Look for the truth as you know it. Make the people laugh at all costs. And when they do heckle, use every weapon in your arsenal to make them regret it.
- Mark Dhaniram
Mark Dhaniram is a disenchanted, misanthropic drunk who graduated high school last year in Babylon, NY. Performing stand-up since he was 14, he currently spends his days smoking medical weed and joyously observing the decline of Western civilization. Though he’s now nothing more than an emotionless shell of alcohol-fueled anger and paranoia, he still somehow has a love and passion for comedy. He despises manufactured edginess and sometimes fantasizes of beating Whitney Cummings to death with Anthony Jeselnik’s severed head. His inability to create a real bio is one of the many things that keeps him from even the tiniest modicum of success.