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Counting The Cost

‘Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat’

Julianne Malveaux | 8/31/2017, midnight

I don't often write about comedians, but the recent passing of my friend Dick Gregory reminded me of the very important role that comedians play in our lives. Not that Gregory was simply a comedian. He was so much more than that—a civil rights activist, leader, amazing speaker, holistic health practitioner. It was in thinking of him that I picked up the book, “Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat,” a hot, relatively new comedian who uses her dysfunctional early life as fodder for her comedy.

Ms. Pat, also known as Patricia Williams, says that her daughter frequently threatens to put her in an old folks home, but she says that's because her daughter is only 13 years younger than she is, they will be in the old folks home together. Funny? Maybe. Tragic? For sure. After all, Ms. Williams had her first child by a married man eight years her senior when she was 13-years-old. By 15, she had two children, a daughter and son, by the married man who was a habitual cheat.

While her story is not typical, it is also not unusual. And it would be the foundation for some sociologist's (consider the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan) tale of pathology in the African-American community. Ms. Pat's story bears retelling, not because of its pathology, but because she has been able to find the humor in it.

Her book tells her story so effectively that you don't know whether to laugh, cry, scream, or shake her. It's a redemptive story of a woman who, by 20, had been to jail for drug-dealing (but not for using), had held jobs as a waitress, factory worker, gas station worker, and then moved up to a house near a pond in an Indianapolis suburb, earning her living as a comedian. (They don't check your background for doing standup, she says).

While I haven't had a chance to catch Ms. Pat's comedy act, my half-hour conversation with her makes me certain that it's a hoot, just like her book. She tells her story, and she tells it raw, with expletives undeleted. Her first 12 years of life will break your heart. She spent her earliest years growing up in her grandfather's “liquor house”, but when her grandfather was incarcerated for killing a woman, she began living a near-nomadic life with her mother and her siblings. Moving every few months, her belongings in garbage bags, she endured hunger at home, ridicule at school, and but for a couple of dedicated and giving teachers, a rather lonely life.

She got into selling drugs because her baby's daddy sold them and got busted. At 15, she felt she had no other way to support her two children. For a time she lived large, but says she “grew up some” when she went to jail, and had time to think about the direction of her life. Jail didn't stop her from dealing—she kept it up until well after she met her current husband.

While she was committed to stop selling drugs, she couldn't find work, until one of her social workers remarked that she'd make a great comedian. Why? Because things that other people find tragic are funny to me. “When my sister-in-law died in the middle of an Atlanta Falcons game, I burst into tears.” she tells me. “I don't know if I was crying because she died or because she never got to see the Falcons finish losing that game.”