ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM (2010)
Comedy DVD performed by Patrice O'Neal
How do you define a successful comedy show? We're really getting into subjective viewpoints there.
Comedians can be divided into categories. You have your one-line comics and pun-makers. These are usually best suited to presenting TV shows as it's hard to live off one-liners. Life ain't like the Bob Hope era anymore. A modern pun-maker like Tim Vine can succeed but only a small scale. The sweat coming out of Vine's forehead shows how hard it is.
Next up you have comedians that work off sarcasm and attacking the audience. Sounds easy, but it must be tough. You're ripping into people and you're relying on your quick instincts. A comedian like this is both cunt and master. Cunt for the constant attack on people, master for the dominance it takes to make that work. Jimmy Carr springs to mind. I think he's a cunt, you probably think otherwise.
Last up is the storyteller. Comedians who talk about their own lives in a comedic way. It sounds the easier of all the types. Just stand on stage and tell anecdotes from your own life. But like the confessional writer, it's deceptively hard. This is the most common type of comedy... and as a result it's the one most common with complete failures and with the best stuff. Sheer weight of numbers.
What makes an anecdote comedian work? On the surface, it's saying what we all think but finding the best way to say it. An observational master like Jerry Seinfeld does this, seemingly in his sleep. His SEINFELD co-creator Larry David does a similar thing in the brilliant CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.
But what makes comedy "art"? What makes Larry David more insightful than Seinfeld?
Comedy should make us think a little. Art should challenge or encourage you to think about things in a different way.
It's a damn hard job... to make someone laugh and make them them think. The best of these are revered as the best comics in most circles. Certainly George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor for pretty much everyone. Lenny Bruce and Billy Connelly for many. Doug Stanhope and Louis CK for Murder Slim.
Patrice O'Neal is up there. ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM will offend a lot of people. Some will view it as misogynist, but he actually celebrates the power of women. Some will view it as racist towards white folks, but it interrogates the concept of blackness just as much. And what helps O'Neal is the same thing that works with Stanhope, Pryor, Hicks and Carlin. The guy is just plain likeable and smart. His acting is beautiful too, that gap in his teeth used to look gormless, mean or amiable.
O'Neal isn't ingraciating, he doesn't creep around the audience (witness the hilarious "titty meat" skit from the start of this set) but he's got so many good inisghts you're carried along with him. He's spot on with so many concepts, such as keeping a small white child on his keychain should he ever go missing... knowing that the world will spring into action to save the little white kid.
O'Neal pops up on DEF JAM now and then but is head and shoulders above the comedians on that. He doesn't need editing to cut to a falsely roaring crowd, he doesn't rely on jokes purely for a black audience, and the jokes are distinctively from him. And, no matter what some might say, O'Neal is right a hell of a lot more often than he's wrong.
The title of ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM is an intentional joke, of course. O'Neal is a fat guy who died of a stroke in his early forties. But the ironic spin to the title is spot on. O'Neal commands your attention and you can't keep your eyes or ears off him. Isn't that what makes a great comic?
Review by Steve Hussy