If there was ever a stand-up comic who truly lived up to the saying that comedy equals tragedy plus time, it’s Ms. Pat.
Just do her a favor: Don’t cry when you hear her story. She wants you to laugh.
Born Patricia Williams in Atlanta, Ms. Pat grew up in a rough neighborhood where opportunities were scarce and trouble waited around every corner. One of five kids of an alcoholic mother, she was on her own at an early age. She quickly found herself pregnant with her first child at 14, and her second arrived just a year later.
Out of school and in need of money, she turned to selling drugs, leading to several run-ins with police and rival dealers.
She’s been shot twice, hit by a dump truck and, yes, she’s done some time in jail.
But a funny thing happened after she got out and was struggling to get by on the welfare-to-work program — after hearing her tell her experiences, her case worker suggested she try an open mic at an Atlanta comedy club.
So she did, and that night changed everything.
“I’m an eighth grade drop-out with two kids by a married man and I’m winning. A lot of people can’t say that,” Ms. Pat told Revue. “Like I tell everybody, this is the only job I’ve ever had that didn’t check my criminal background history. So, I found my calling.”
Holding nothing back, Ms. Pat built a style of comedy around telling it all. She honed her storytelling by studying hours of Richard Pryor performances, picking up on how he weaved details together to land even bigger punchlines that hit even harder because they are true.
“A lot of times, people like to think that people like me don’t exist,” Ms. Pat said. “So when you come to my comedy show, you realize, ‘Hey, this is real.’ It’s eye-opening for both sides. People hear about people like me, but they never have somebody in their face telling them.”
She’s shared many of her stories on Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening, NBC’s Last Comic Standing and popular syndicated radio show The Bob & Tom Show, where she’s a rare guest capable of shocking the notorious hosts.
Last year, after a decade on the stand-up stage, she chronicled her whole life story into a book, Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat. Titled after the name she used as a drug dealer, and co-written with Canadian writer Jeannine Amber, the 240-page book delves even deeper into her life story than she ever has onstage, bringing out even bigger laughs and truly heartbreaking moments.
“It was a lot of crying, a lot of laughter. But we got through it,” Ms. Pat said. “I always tell people, me and the co-writer, I think we cried so much we eased our wrinkles away.”
Comparing her writing experience with Amber as akin to a Catholic confessional, she confided things she had never even told her husband, who had to wait until the book came out to find out everything she was about to share with the world.
“He read it before I did the audio … and he came back to me and was like, ‘This book is really good,’” she said of her husband’s reaction. “Now my kids, they won’t read it. My older kids, which I call my Medicaid kids, they say, ‘Momma, we lived most of that stuff. We don’t want to relive it.’ And my younger kids are like, ‘Aww, we don’t really care nothing about your past.’”
Her kids do enjoy her stand-up, which now includes her experiences as grandmother of three grandbabies.
“The great thing about being a grandmother is you can always give those kids back,” she said. “I don’t see them as much as I’d like to, but I do talk about them onstage. I have twin grandsons, and one of them is ugly and one of them is cute, and people can’t believe I call my own grandchild ugly. But he is. He looks like Krusty The Clown.”
Ms. Pat is currently at work on a TV project with Lee Daniels’ and Ron Howard’s production company, Imagine. The show will focus on her current life, with some flashbacks to her past.
“TV is not easy,” Ms. Pat said. “I think I’m very unique, so it’s not easy to capture my voice.
“Did I think I’d make it to a mainstream American audience? No. But somehow I’m able to. It’s not a Rabbit story, and it’s not a Ms. Pat story — I tell everybody all the time, it’s an American story. It’s all about being poor and being rich. Money versus no money.”
Dr. Grins at The B.O.B.
20 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
May 3-5, $5-15
thebob.com/drgrinscomedy, (616) 356-2000