Ms. Pat's favorite comedian/storytellers:
Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Dave Chappelle
The three people Ms. Pat would most like to meet (circa 2010):
Ice Cube, Whitney Houston and Michael Vick
Talk about your redemption story. According to her count, Ms. Pat, government name Patricia Williams, has been shot twice (once in the nipple, the other in the back of the head) and hit by a dump truck once. She gave birth to two kids by age 15 (by a married man seven years her senior). She did a year in jail for drug trafficking (at one point, her "trap" — the corner on which she regularly sold drugs — was just feet from her daughter's elementary school). She was baptized more than 50 times (her mom was running a scam on area churches, which usually sent their new members home with food and cash).
But then Pat was saved. Not by a Horatio Alger sugar daddy or an Extreme Makeover or Jesus. No, it was comedy that gave Pat riches where she had rags. And also a good husband. And weirdly enough, her welfare case worker, who told Pat that her stories of unrelenting gloom and misery were actually kind of funny and that she ought to be a comedian. And so she tried telling jokes, just straight-up, setup-then-punchline jokes. And those might've worked at an open mic, but it was when she started talking about her own life that she really started to heal. She took power away from gruesome tales of gun violence and public indecency and mindless homophobia by laughing at their absurdity. She put distance between the comedian and survivor she is and the lost child that she was.
Born and raised, for better and often worse, in Atlanta, Pat moved with her husband and kids eight years ago to Plainfield. And she's steadily, assiduously worked on her comedy since then, haunting open mic nights, sitting in the back during the weekends, answering phones at Morty's. She got a big bump from two of the city's best friends to comedians, Mr. Bob and Mr. Tom, who first had her on their show four years ago and haven't hesitated to invite her back. Opening gigs for Katt Williams and Arnez J. gave her a taste of the big time.
And then, last fall, her fans bugged some podcasters enough to get her some bookings. First was Talkin' Shit with Eddie Ifft, and then the big boys. She kicked it on The Joe Rogan Experience, visited Marc Maron's cat-filled garage and landed in Ari Shaffir's Skeptic Tank. Shaffir liked her so much that he asked her to try out for his new Comedy Central show — and Pat did so well that she appeared on This Is Not Happening in February. And then Maron invited Pat to do a bit part in his IFC TV show, though she had some trouble with her lines on what was her very first acting gig.No matter. The producers gave her latitude to say the lines in her own voice — "You want me to say it Black?" she asked them — which could make for the liveliest turn by a customer care representative in recent history.
But what was that smell in the air as the NUVO crew drove through the winding streets of a Plainfield subdivision marooned in the cornfields? Well, it wasn't basic cable. Nope, that was the reek of full-on network television. It was a good thing we scheduled our interview and photo shoot for early afternoon, because the Last Comic Standing team was on the way to tape a profile segment with Pat, who will compete in the show's ninth season, premiering in May. All the better, because it meant that she had her Atlanta-based makeup artist on the ground, ready with touchups. We scored a couple hours of her increasingly valuable time as family members puttered around her.
Click here (or head to page 4) for outtakes from our interview with Ms. Pat that didn't make it into the print edition of NUVO.
NUVO: What's it like to try to make it from Indianapolis? It's not a major center for comedy, but there are some clubs.
Ms. Pat: But there's nowhere you can really hone your skills. Most open mics here are once a month. You've got to sign up; you only get three minutes. And the jokes: White boys and their cats just do something to me. I'll be like, 'Can you go out and do something serious like jump off a bridge, make a baby and not take care of it? Real problems — not your cat problems.' Indianapolis humbled me so much, because I came from Atlanta, where if you don't like somebody in this spot, you can say, 'Fuck 'em,' and go over somewhere else. You can't just slap somebody running an open mic in Indianapolis, because you might not be able to get back up — and there are really only two or three open mics.
And at that time, the owner of Morty's — the first owner — was just such a dick. He did everything he could to run me away. One time he let me host, and then he was like, 'You're just too ghetto. My 7 o'clock white crowd isn't gonna get you.' I'm like, 'When it's funny, everybody can get it — if you have a sense of humor.' Ten years ago I would've beat his ass and dragged him all around the club. But thank God and diabetes, I grew up. I just said, 'Okay, thank you for the opportunity.'
But another manager who worked there, Avery Dellinger, pulled me to the side to say, 'Ms. Pat, don't worry about that guy. I'll help you.' At that time I was just a raw comic; I didn't know how to put nothing together. So Avery took the time to help me, and, eventually, I ended up with my own show at Morty's. It was every Thursday, called Bust a Gut with Ms. Pat. And it was packed! All the little white kids from Purdue used to ride up to hear me talk cold cash shit. It was crazy, because there'd be like 50 little white Purdue kids, studying engineering with their daddy's credit cards, getting tore up on a Thursday night! 'If your daddy knew what you've been doing with this money, he'd kill all of us!'
NUVO: Wasn't it a welfare case worker who first told you you were funny, when you were telling awful stories to try to earn her sympathy and get money out of her?
Pat: I went to the welfare office to run a scam on her. And she was like, 'Well, you should be a comedian.' I said, 'What are you talking about? A person who tells jokes? I don't have no jokes.' And she was like, 'Yes, you do. This shit is funny. You could be just like Richard Pryor?' And I was like, 'Who the hell is Richard Pryor?'
When I started listening to Pryor, he really made me open up on stage to who I was, and not worry about being judged. That's one of the biggest things comics worry about. We want to be liked, and we worry about if you like what we say. But fake fans will be weeded out; the real ones will stick with you, and the fake ones will come and go. He just made me start to be true to who I was. No longer being embarrassed of my past of being a teenage mom, selling drugs; the stuff that I went through to survive. I'm OK with myself now, and a lot of that came from studying Pryor.
NUVO: But when you started doing open mics, you weren't talking about your past. What kind of jokes were you doing?
Pat: Ghetto Black woman jokes. I was doing female jokes, how about that? I was doing sexual jokes, period jokes, 'I hate my man' jokes; just dumb stuff like that. And I was like, 'This don't even fit me; I have a good man!' Then I started to wean myself away from that, started talking about me, because I thought I was way more interesting than a blowjob joke.
NUVO: What was it like the first time you started really talking about yourself on stage? Was that scary?
Pat: Really, especially when I started talking about being a drug dealer. It was like if you stood up in front of a bunch of people and took your clothes off. Everybody ain't going to think your navel is sexy. It was eye-opening. I felt like, I shouldn't have done that, ashamed. But people said, 'You've just got to stick to who you are.' And I just kept at it, and I got more comfortable with who I was. It helped to heal also, to come clean with what I've done in my life. The more I talked about it, the more I stopped being ashamed of it, the more I faced what I've gone through, as a 15-year-old parent with two kids by a married man. And when I was in Atlanta, I didn't talk about being shot in the breast; I started talking about that part of my life in Indianapolis.
THE YEAR OF PAT
This Is Not Happening on Comedy Central (airing Thursdays, 12:30 a.m.; Pat's episode premiered in late February)
Last Comic Standing on NBC (Season Nine premieres May 21)
Maron on IFC (Season Three premieres in Spring 2015)
Rabbit: A Memoir (HarperCollins, due mid-April 2016)
WTF with Marc Maron, The Joe Rogan Experience, Talkin' Shit with Eddie Ifft, Ari Shaffir's Skeptic Tank, Bertcast, The CrabFeast with Ryan Sickler & Jay Larson, Your Mom's House