This is a tribute to a man whom I adore. Patrice O'Neal was a gifted comedian and actor. He was a big man, with an even bigger mouth. He was a funny mothafucker, and though I did not know him personally--I was one of his biggest fans. In October he suffered a stroke--he was only 41. I was totally freaked out when I heard that news---I sent him a letter wishing him a speedy recovery, and I prayed for his health. Patrice died today, from complications of that stroke. I am sad for his wife, family and friends--but I must say. I am grateful to have witnessed his courage.
His courage to make us laugh.
I recently took up studying the art of Clowning --that's right, you can actually study "clown." It's not easy making people laugh. Whether you're a comedic actor, comedian, circus clown, writer--whatever...it ain't easy. My master teacher Phillipe Gaulier is a crotchety old Frenchmen with funny red glasses. My first go at studying with Monsieur Phillipe was fucking awful. I cried almost every night after class. It was hard. Clowning is hard. You see, clown is not stand up. Let it be known, I admire stand ups and I've always wanted to give it a go. And I certainly don't think one is better than the other. However there is a difference in the art forms. See with the clown, people laugh when he does not want or does not expect it.
You couldn't talk to Monsieur Gaulier, without wearing your clown nose. Even when he was lambasting for being "a horrible idiot!" you had to wear that nose. You see Gaulier is notable for his work in the areas of Clown and Bouffon. "Teacher" (as we called him) is recognized as the world's leading teacher in Bouffon, an art form which he holds as a sort of inverted Clown, where a balance is struck between grotesqueness and charm.
One of the first times Teacher made me sit down was after a game in which he deemed me the loser. And the loser of the game had to do what Teacher said. He handed me my sentence. I had to, of all things portray a washer machine.
I almost snatched my nose off. I'm like "Dude! Washer machine?"
I was ready to be like Harpo Marx in that motherfucker chasing a pretty girl throughout, and spraying people with water from a seltzer bottle. I wanted to be like Lucy, stuffing chocolates in my bra off the conveyor. But Nooooo. I had to portray a washing machine.
A washing machine.
I had to stand in a circle and make the sounds of the machine. After years of rolling around floors of Drama School studios and discovering my spirit animal, I had to portray a household appliance. Now, I can be a pretty good mimic. I can replicate many sounds animals, celeb impressions, whatever--a novice talent. But this was nerve wracking. I had to resist the urge to slide into my normal modus operandi of "Get it right the first time Brooks you piece of shit, or go home! Just because you have a pussy doesn't mean you have to be one! Get it right! Razzle Dazzle them or you won't get to sleep with Bob Fosse in the next lifetime because he'll think you weren't good enough!" It was a new experience, and I had to try it.
Make 'em laugh. Make 'em laugh.
So there I am in the middle of the circle, making all of the correct sounds of a goddamned Kenmore Maytag Sears special, and I even finished with a ding! Hey look at that! A feat.
The entire room stared at me. And I stared at them.
Then I stared at him.
Staring. More. Stair. Ring.
Oh fuck...silence? Have I bombed? No. Okay relax. No, he's gonna start a slow clap. Yeah, like in all the 80s movies. This is my "Lucas" moment. All the football players are gonna applaud my efforts. I've lead the team to the championship. Yeah! I'm Rudy in this mothafucka. I'm Molly Mothafucking Ringwald, in Sixteen Candles. Monsieur Gaulier is my Jake. And he's about to hand me a cake and give me my first kiss.
But why is he just, staring at me? The silence is killing me. No one is smiling. Oh no. Have I come on my period, and my clothes are destroyed?? Is that why no one will look at me? Okay Bloody Mary. Think. Think. You're a clown. Think. Ooh! I know, I'll tell that joke about Amish people and--
"Her sounds are good. Very good. But she--she is fucking awful. Why? WHY?"
*If somebody else speaks up, I'm gonna clown these mothafuckas. An I don't mean haha clown. I mean I'ma clown them like the hood rat I am. I will show my zip code. Every last ghetto digit of it, if someone--
She is awful, because there is NO pleasure in her clown. She takes no pleasure in what she does. Sit."
Imagine Walter Matthau, Otto Preminger, Leona Helmsley, and the father from Gimme A Break all rolled up into one. With a French accent. And that's my teacher. He handed me my ass daily. It got to a point where I thought "Damn, is this what colonization felt like back in the day? Evil ass Frenchies kicking you in the labia? Poor Africans..."
You often hear tales from stand up comics about how awful and necessary it is to bomb. It builds character and teaches you a lesson. I learned many lessons during my time of study. One of the things I learned from Teacher is that a clown is a fantastic idiot. He is a beautiful human idiot. One should never be sorry as a clown. Even if you are bad, you are not sorry.
I believe Patrice O'Neal to be a beautiful human idiot. His personae was the epitome of a clown. He was grotesque and charming. His style wasn't for everyone, but it worked for me. So now he joins a line up of other dearly departed idiots--George Carlin, Bernie Mac, Mike DeStafano, Gilda Ratner to name a few. Like my buddy Don said "Man, God always gets the best comedy shows." Yep, he's got one hell of a line up.
It's a great honor to make people chuckle. I have many lessons left to learn, and plenty more times to bomb. I just hope that one day, I can make 'em laugh like Patrice. George. Gilda. Bernie and all the rest. Rest In Power fuckers.
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