Patrice O'Neal: Unreleased | Album review by Steve Bennett

Patrice O'Neal: Unreleased

Album review by Steve Bennett

The posthumous packaging of any artist’s unreleased material should be always treated with caution, since there’s normally good reason why it never got out while they were alive. But the latest album from Patrice O’Neal has plenty of merits.

It’s a sign of his productivity that Unreleased was recorded at the same weekend at Washington’s DC Improv as last year’s chart-topping release, Mr P, yet contains a fresh hour of material.

Much of it, like the previous album, is crowd work – which in a lesser comedian’s hands might end up as the vapid banter to try to forge a connection. But O’Neal had a different dynamic with his audience. He liked to make them squirm with deeply personal questions about their sex lives. Yet it’s a measure of his charm that he never really made people uncomfortable, despite the intrusive questioning.

He presents his interest as curiosity, not prurience – and while some people might be embarrassed or reluctant to answer, he never makes their honesty the butt of a joke, just a springboard into his own, brutally candid, musings on sex.

The track names alone show that this is not for the squeamish – ‘Old Dick vs Old Pussy’; ‘Finger Popping Technique’ and ‘Asshole Licking’ to name but three. Finding an Englishman in the audience, his first line of inquiry is to ask his girlfriend about his circumcised penis, which O’Neill relates back to his own encounter with a Liverpudlian girl who was fascinated by his unhooded chap.

Getting dirtier, O’Neal goes into further graphic descriptions about how he give his girlfriend a orgasm and the pleasure of coming inside a woman. The partner he speaks of can’t embarrass easily, given how vividly he describes their relationship – and not just the physical side, as he admits to insecurities knowing she has a child from a previous relationship.

He was often accused of misogyny, and routines about about rating women on a scale of one to ten are hardly going to win him accolades for advancing the cause of feminism. But it’s a little more complicated than that. As he vainly tries to persuade the women in the room to come around to his way of thinking it is clear where the balance of power really lies, despite all his macho bluster.

The stand-out track is Better Than You – which has already been released as a standalone EP. It’s an excellent 20 minutes of stand-up about sexual politics, with provocative ideas yet charismatically told in a relaxed conversational style. In it, he describe how men chatting up women need to tread the impossible line between arrogance and humility, which is exactly where O’Neal’s stand-up persona lies.

Or rather lay, as seven years after this was recorded in April 2011, O'Neal died, at 41, from complications following a stroke. There is a bit of padding in this album, but Unreleased still shows what a remarkable comedian the world lost that day.

• Patrice O’Neal: Unreleased was released by BSeenMedia on August 20. Click here to download it for £7.49. The physical CD is not available until October.

Published: 2 Sep 2013

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