Lexicon Late Night: 3 Lessons in Brand Building from Legendary Comedian Patrice O’Neal

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David: Hello and welcome to another episode of Lexicon Late Night here at our video production agency in Bangkok. I’m your host David Norcross here with my colleague Justin St-Denis.

Justin: That’s right. Well said.

David: So, today we’re going to talk about another comedian. So way back in the first episode, we spoke about Norm Macdonald. Today, we’re here to talk about Patrice O’Neal.

Justin: Another comedian huh?

David: Why another comedian?

Justin: Well, David, because comedians are quintessential storytellers. Norm, like we mentioned in the first episode, was one of the greatest storytellers of all time. And so is Patrice O’Neal. So it’s only fitting that we talk about comedians here. First of all, we’re both huge comedy fans. But comedians really personify what storytelling is all about. It’s essentially a storytelling art form. So it’s appropriate for us to talk about storytellers and comedians as storytellers. But also the purpose of this show, really what it is, is for us to have conversations that we would have anyway with no cameras on, and then shoehorn in some lessons about marketing for the audience.

David: That’s the name of the game.

Justin: Lexicon Late Night. That’s why we got our professional coffees over here.

David: Yes.

Justin: Cheers.

David: Cheers.

David: So without further ado, let’s get into Patrice O’Neal. So Patrice O’Neal was certainly for me, and I know for you too, one of the best comedians of all time.

Justin: Yeah, yeah.

David:  And, unfortunately, I’m again using the past tense here as we had to do with Norm, because Patrice died way too young. But his name resonates today 15 years after his death. He’s still strong in the public consciousness and in our consciousness. So what we want to do is understand what was it about Patrice that created that longevity and what can businesses learn from his techniques that they can apply to their own storytelling.

Justin: That’s right, what can businesses learn from the late great Patrice O’Neal?

David: Indeed, right. So first up, outreach.

Justin: That’s right. So in order to demonstrate his brilliance at outreach, we’re gonna show a clip from the Opie and Anthony show.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: That’s why I love Jesus so much, even if you don’t believe in him as a deity. As a man?

Opie and Anthony Speaker 2: Yeah.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: He died. He could have got out of that pain by simply saying I do not believe in God.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 2: Yeah.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: But he has so much faith that he took that beating and I wouldn’t take a hard pinch for this human race, man.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 2: William Wallace also, laying on that table getting disemboweled and all he had to do is kiss that little ____ emblem and say, you know, the king’s the king, I pledge my honor and they would have just lopped his head off and no more pain.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: But he had to go ‘Freedom!’ with his guts all over the place.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 2: And you know they were using that big hook thing and just ripping his _____ intestines open.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: And I would have seen the two _________ sitting there watching me, going …

Opie and Anthony Speaker 2: Yeah yeah.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: Them ______ right there was helping. He killed the most!

Opie and Anthony Speaker 3: That’s the Irish ___________ and that red headed ______.

Opie and Anthony Speaker 1: Look at that ___ ________. I used to roll with his father.

Justin: I would not take a hard pinch for this human race. What a line.

David: The great thing about that is that’s just one example and there’s almost endless clips like that. It would take forever to run out of Patrice clips.

Justin: Yeah, I think we should probably explain what the Opie and Anthony Show is. It’s a long-running radio show that played on terrestrial radio, but also on Sirius XM. This clip, you can tell from our editing out the swearing that it’s on Sirius XM. But it was just a brilliant, brilliant show for comedians to come on. They were kind of like, for those of you don’t know, they’re kind of like shock jocks. But they would often have comedians on and what was great about their format is it was just comedians hanging out and talking like normal people. But they’re comedic geniuses. Like they had so many of the top comedians, especially around the New York area at the time, and Patrice was just a perennial kind of guest on the show. And he was always funny, no matter what they were talking about. And oftentimes ranting about movies and it’s just him just talking. But it’s just so funny.

David: Yeah, obviously, as you said that circle of influence it was obviously Patrice but it was people more famous than Patrice. So it was Louis CK, it was pre-podcast Joe Rogan, it was Dane Cook, it was Bill Burr – it was these people who were already hitting it. And that Opie and Anthony Show created that .. It’s the first kind of podcast, right? The first environment where you can just come and freestyle. There was no agenda. It was just totally freestyle. So Patrice, at that time, was an up-and-coming comedian. Even though he’d been around for years and years, he didn’t yet have the name recognition that he deserved. Like, he was brilliant.

Justin: Yeah, I remember one specific episode, where Louis and Jim Norton were commiserating about when you have a gig at a theater, and the hotel isn’t so great. And Patrice is like you guys are talking about a level, like I’m still doing the Chuckle Hut. And I’ve got to stay in the comedian condo. Or no, Louis and Norton were reminiscing about how brutal it was to have to do clubs and stay in these ugly condos and stuff. Now it’s so much better. We’re doing theaters and we stay in 5-star hotels and Patrice is like “you guys are reminiscing about the terrible old days that I still live in”.

David: But the genius of him was that he was probably the best of that group. But he just hadn’t, for whatever reason, hadn’t hit yet. So him being on O&A was, it’s a perfect example of good outreach, right? If you’re a business, and you’re getting started, and you don’t yet have the name recognition, you should be looking to get published in places that you’re not competing against them. But they’ve got a platform already. You know, the obvious example is traditional PR, where you get published in a newspaper, but these days, it’s influencer marketing, it’s outreach. So Patrice kind of nailed that idea, right? He was where people were tuning in to listen to Burr and Louis. But when they heard Patrice, they had to go and see Patrice because he was the best.

Justin: Yeah, 100%. And so the lesson here for business leaders, I think is a genuine one, you point out that people have shared audiences. Sometimes they’re competitors. Sometimes they’re not. So with the Opie and Anthony guys, they’re radio show hosts. They’re not competing with Patrice. But they certainly have overlap in the audience. And they can amplify. Exactly. So it’s good for both of them. It’s a win-win. They get Patrice on. He’s hilarious. They give him better content, and then he gets access to their platform, which is why we always recommend to our clients to go speak at Chamber of Commerce events, or hold your own speaking engagements, but invite other guests and create a business community that you can tap into, and then gain access to a wider audience that you wouldn’t necessarily have access to.

David: Absolutely, and it’s something we practice here at our social media agency in Bangkok, we don’t just preach, right? So we had that event at the Landmark recently, where we brought together four clients. We always try and help our clients to podcast together and amplify together. So O&A wasn’t a podcast, but just the nature of it, the clips live forever on YouTube. So I think that leads us on to our next topic pretty nicely.

Justin: Yeah, exactly. So because Patrice was so popular on Opie and Anthony, the Opie and Anthony guys actually gave him his own show on Sirius XM, and it was called the Black Phillip Show. And this brings us to our second clip.

2nd clip speaker 1: It’s like you meet, if you’re an animal. If you’re a great white shark.

2nd clip speaker 2: Okay.

2nd clip speaker 1: There’s a woman great white shark and there’s men great white shark.

2nd clip speaker 2: Yeah.

2nd clip speaker 1: To every other animal, great white sharks are just vicious. No other animal looks at a great white shark and goes “Uh h, here comes the girl version. Uh oh.”

2nd clip speaker 2: Yeah.

2nd clip speaker 1:  A lot of men. Okay, we go and try to date within our species. Most male great whites say, “Oh there goes a girl, I want her”.

2nd clip speaker 1: But women go, I hate the way, um, great whites treat the woman great white.

David: So insightful commentary.

Justin: Yeah, very profound. Okay, so before we get any complaints from anybody, we’re just using this as illustrative material. The thoughts and opinions of Patrice O’Neal do not necessarily reflect those of Lexicon, or David Norcross – even though I totally agree with what he’s saying. So there’s a lot going on here. I think one thing that we could address is that he kind of marketed himself, at least in this context for the Black Phillip Show, as the Oprah for men, which is where Black Philip comes from, because he’s like black Dr. Phil, but it’s for men. So it’s relationship advice for men. And he has a very – whether you agree with it or not – very consistent philosophy about dating, about relationships, and ultimately, what leads to a successful healthy relationship. Whether you agree with him or not, he had that consistent philosophy behind everything he did, including his comedy. So that’s one thing to really to really think about.

David: Absolutely. And the advice for businesses here is long-form longevity. So the Black Phillip Show, I think there’s only about 15 episodes.

Justin: Right, but they’re all like, two, three hours long.

David: And they’re all on that same theme. I think I’d never heard anything like it at the time. So as we just saw from that clip, it’s very much kind of advice for men. And to be honest, men don’t usually get that advice. Like it’s not it’s kind of taboo a little bit to even talk about these subjects. So he really carved out a niche for himself, a very unique place in the ecosystem and because of that uniqueness, and because it’s so long-form, there are just endless clips forever. So many people get into Patrice by coming across one of those clips.

Justin: Yeah, 100%. I think we kind of touched on this during the previous clip, but this is pre-podcast era. But this is really the genesis of that style of long-form conversation that’s now super popular. So that’s what makes his death again, so much more tragic is that for sure he would have a massive podcast if he was alive today. But yeah, like you said, people can come across these little clips and they’re animated. This isn’t obviously how it was presented in its original format. But the animation is great. And people will just come across these and they’re little one-minute clips. And they go, okay, well, this is hilarious or this is really insightful. I’ve got to find out more. And then they go see the pillar content, which is, it’s all on YouTube now, by the way, but just hours and hours of conversation. So if you get hooked on Patrice, even though he’s gone, there’s just countless, countless hours of material. And so yeah, long-form longevity. But another thing here for business leaders is that long-form content is great for creating short-form content that’s very social media friendly. So another thing that we do for our clients all the time, is we have them record a discussion like this one, a podcast. And then we’ll select the very best little highlight pieces, and then cut those into snippets and share those on social media with a call to action, enticing viewers to go watch the full video.

David: And if you’re watching this snippet right now on LinkedIn, that’s what it means.

Justin: Exactly. We’re getting meta.

David: Yeah, so I think as you said, this is pre-podcast, but the format is the same, right? It’s that long-form content. It’s that insightful content. And I know you can’t comment on this. But I think Patrice would have been way bigger than Joe Rogan. Like he’s just his instinct, his natural … he was pure comedy. He had unique insights. He wouldn’t have perhaps won over the whole world. But he would have made headlines every day.

Justin: Yeah, for sure. Well, I wonder how canceled he would be if he was alive today? Who knows?

David: That’s a good point.

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, we can’t really run that counterfactual. But Joe Rogan is popular for a reason. And not to go too off track here. But I’ve seen, there was a New York Times journalist, who was like, hey, instead of complaining that Joe Rogan is more popular than us, we should really take a look at ourselves and see why he’s getting 10 times the viewers or readers than we are.

David: Great point. It’s those long-form honest conversations that seemingly are free of political influence.

Justin: And it goes to another thing that we’ve spoken about a lot here at our social media agency in Bangkok is when people say, oh, people have no attention span these days. That’s just simply not true. It’s a point you’ve made many times. If somebody’s willing to listen to a three-hour Joe Rogan podcast or back in the day, two and a half hour Black Phillip or watch hours upon hours of content on Netflix. People don’t have short attention spans, they just dismiss things they aren’t interested in quickly. And so that’s why you just have to resonate with your audience. You do that by being a guide, who’s guiding the hero, which is your audience, not to go too far into this. It’s Lexicon Late Night, we’re supposed to be having fun. But it is true that if you can grab somebody’s attention, then you can hold it for a very long time. You just have to prove to them quickly that you’re worthy of their attention.

David: Exactly. And there’s a niche for everything. Like Patrice probably, his, most of his audience was men, I would imagine.

Justin: Well, you’d be surprised as to how many women called in, usually just angry. But then occasionally agreeing with him.

David: It’s obviously men and women is a 50/50 split. It’s a pretty big audience. But even if you’re the most niche provider of a service, you can still create content for your audience. And you said not to get too social media agency in Bangkok on this, but hero-guide. Whatever industry you’re in, you have insight that can help your customers. So tell them that. Share your influence, share your ideas, and you win loyalty, you win trust and you win followers because even all these years later, we’re still going back to Patrice because he touched a nerve that resonates with us and will continue to resonate with generations of people to come because there was a universal truth.

Justin: 100%. And this, this just goes to show like I think actually, we should probably save this for the next clip. Because if we’re going to talk about messaging and persona and all of these important things, I think they’re best illustrated with our next clip from his special – groundbreaking special – really one of the best comedy specials of all time. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out. But here’s a clip from Elephant in the Room.

Patrice: We’re like, I’m trying to like make it so women just like understand a little bit of like, just sympathize. It’s like we’re like sport fishermen. This is what I’m saying. Men like to fish. In sport fishing is different from catching fish for food. You just get it, you get it, you catch it. And you, you know, you show your friends.

Patrice: Because you want them to know that you can catch fish. You take a couple of pictures so you can show people the fish that you have the ability to catch and then you release it back into the water. But a lot of women in here, you have boyfriends or husbands, you were fish that jumped back on the boat and just was like flapping looking at me like, “Hi. I was wondering if you’re gonna be fishing here again next week.” Like, “Yeah, for other fish, get off my boat.” “Is that how you treat all the fish?” We be like, “Oh, God damn.”

Justin: I feel like we might get in trouble with this one. Again, you more than me.

David: Yeah, yeah yeah.

Justin: Well, again, I’ll repeat the disclaimer, his views do not represent those of our video production agency in Bangkok.

David: But a great example of persona, audience, consistent messaging. And that’s what we’re here today to discuss.

Justin: Yeah. 100%. So he, first of all, he’s hilarious. But he’s got this very clear persona. You can tell by his attire, his mannerisms and everything. And he’s got consistent messaging, as you saw on the previous clip, as well. He’s like the Oprah for men. And that really shines through and resonates. And that this probably be a good time to explain the quote of his that you mentioned the other day.

David: Yes. So I might have to read this on my computer. Bear with me a second here. So the idea of comedy, really, is not everybody should be laughing. It should be about 50 people laughing and 50 people horrified.

Justin: Yeah. See, just as an amateur stand up comedian, I just respect the courage of that approach to comedy, because when I’m up there, I’m trying to please 100% everybody, and I fixate on the one person who’s not laughing and I kind of go like, come on, what’s your problem? Come on, laugh everybody else is laughing. What’s wrong with you? But he just embraced the fact that some people aren’t gonna like you. And he relished … like, he thrived in that environment. And one of the things that he did so well, better than maybe anybody, is he would purposely dig himself into a hole and kind of alienate at least half the audience and oftentimes more with a premise that was really outrageous. And then he would try to dig his way out of the hole. And then to massive satisfaction … like he was such a master of his craft at doing that, like, creating a no win situation. And then just being so good that he wins in the end.

David: So the lesson here, it’s really it’s hard to simplify it to one thing, but it’s don’t pander. It’s know your audience. It’s consistent messaging. It’s so many of the things that we discussed with Norm, to be honest. I feel like we’re repeating ourselves a little bit.

Justin: Right. Well, consistent messaging.

David: Yeah. And those really are two examples of very unique comedians. Like, they’re not your mainstream guy who is looking to get everybody to laugh. They both were kind of … I think Norm was more of a performing artist than Patrice was, but Patrice was just so real, and I mean, don’t pander is a lesson that we gave to Norm and it was a positive one and I think it’s positive with Patrice’s stand up. Perhaps the funniest comedian I’ve ever seen, to be honest – in his specials and on O&A. But there is a downside to that.

Justin: Sure. Yeah. So as we mentioned, he wasn’t I mean, he was just starting to break through, which is what makes the whole thing so much sadder, like Elephant in the Room was a pretty big hit. And then who knows what he could have done next. Then unfortunately he died at the age of 41, which is young for anybody, young for a comedian. So you know, he had a lot more to give. But before that he definitely was talented enough to break through into superstardom. And he didn’t. There’s a lot of, you know, examples of this. Chris Rock. There’s an episode of Opie and Anthony where Chris Rock is kind of like haranguing him about how Chris Rock had him in mind, Patrice, to play his father on the TV show Everybody Hates Chris, which would have been a massive career opportunity. But Patrice just kind of didn’t care, showed up unprepared, didn’t really like give much of an audition, whereas Terry Crews came in, knew the script back and forth, knew everything, was super nice, super professional. And Chris Rock was like, “Well, I gotta hire him. Even though I wanted Patrice”, and so in this Opie and Anthony episode, he kind of tells Patrice like there’s no reason like you’re funnier than I am. Which goes to show what you’re saying like he was in that top tier of funny but he just never made it because he kind of took that don’t pander always stay true to yourself thing maybe a bit too far.

David: Yeah, I’d say so. Because he was in The Office as a bit part player. He was Arrested Development as a bit part player. He had many small parts in movies, including with Director of … Spike Lee. He annoyed Spike Lee too, not pandering. So I think for a comedian, for a performer, for an artist, purity is a wonderful thing. But the business part of it is different. You have to, to some degree, compromise for the business. You can’t be that raw in the negotiation. You have to be a little bit more professional. And I think the lesson here is two-fold. It’s like, embrace Patrice’s ownership of his brand on stage, in public. The public persona was amazing. But you have to modulate the private persona a little bit when you’re doing business.

Justin: Yeah. I agree at least as far as the advice for business owners. I don’t know, like, there’s just something beautiful about Patrice’s story, about how he was just like, true to himself. Never, never, like, never pandered. Never really gave an F, about anything, just like, I’m here to be funny. This is me. Take it or leave it. There’s just something really inspirational about that. But as you were saying, for business leaders, for marketers, for brands, you should definitely be when you’re like when you’re creating content be like Patrice. Don’t pander. Know your audience. Don’t be afraid to alienate certain people. Take chances. All of these things, great, but behind the scenes, when you’re at the negotiating table, you’re going to have to show a little tact, and you’re going have to make some compromises. And if you’re not willing to do that, then get somebody on your team who is.

David: Yeah, perhaps. Whatever you need support with, probably you need a lawyer for the background stuff. But if you need help crafting that message, building your persona, what should you do?

Justin: Yeah, hire us and we’ll make you like Patrice.

David: Yeah, outsource to our social media agency in Bangkok.

David: So, in closing, if you haven’t seen Patrice, check him out. You may be 50% of the people that don’t love him. There’s a good chance you’re going to be the 50% of the people that do love him. But he is a unique voice. He is an outstanding comedian. And he was unfortunately … He left us too soon, just like Norm.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, rest in peace to both of them. It’s too we don’t want to end on a depressing note do we?

David: No, no. So,

Justin: It’s gonna be hard to do any quoting of Patrice, right? Without swearing. I’ve been struggling this entire time not to swear. But like David said, just check them out, like countless hours of brilliant material. It’d be kind of funny if somebody becomes a Patrice fan because of our little podcast here. But yeah, I sincerely hope that happens. And at the very least, business leaders out there, take these lessons to heart. So, outreach, you know, you can gain a wider audience through outreach. Patrice is a pure example of this. Long-form longevity. Produce long content, but then select the best parts for publishing on social media. And finally, stay true to yourself, be consistent with your messaging.

David: Indeed. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Lexicon Late Night. We’ll be back again at our video production agency in Bangkok soon for probably another comedian but at least one of the storytellers that inspires Justin and I. We’ll come back to you with three more lessons from the greatest storytellers of our time. Thank you.

About the Authors

David & Justin are the hosts of Lexicon Late Night. Bangkok’s leading storytelling-focused late night show.

By day, David is an award-winning entrepreneur and Founder of Lexicon. Justin is Director of Digital Storytelling at Lexicon.


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