Nature Calls and the onscreen legacy of Patrice O’Neal

There’s a funny forest of a movie lost within the trees of Nature Calls, an otherwise forgettable 79-minute movie about a lackluster Boy Scout troop that finds its luster out in the woods. Forgettable entirely (and stars Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggle and Maura Tierney might agree) if not for it existing as the last big-screen role of the late, great comedian Patrice O’Neal.

Nature Calls screened at SXSW in 2012, a few months after O’Neal died, and showed up a year ago on DVD.

O’Neal plays the dad one of the Boy Scouts. He has a grudge against the Troop’s Assistant Scoutmaster (played by Oswalt) for making his son and his other children think he had died (!), so he joins the characters played by Knoxville (who plays Oswalt’s brother) and Riggle in a search to hunt down the scouts and recoup for their varied resentments. Here’s the official trailer:

As you can probably guess, O’Neal’s not much of a factor in this film — despite having more plot motivation to actually follow Oswalt’s Scout Troop into the woods in the first place.

O’Neal did much more with less in his brief scene work in two other movies, Spike Lee’s 2002 film, 25th Hour, and Jane Campion’s In The Cut the following year. In both of these turns, O’Neal is asked to play the heavy, so to speak, as a bouncer type. For the former, watch how he smooth plays Ed Norton and offers sage advice as Norton’s character prepares for his final night of freedom outside of a nightclub.

Campion got O’Neal to go against type for In The Cut, guarding the door of a strip club brothel as a gay pimp, again offering words of wisdom to our lead character (this time, Meg Ryan).

O’Neal had a few other cameos and supporting roles in TV and films, most notably perhaps as Lonny, a Dunder-Mifflin warehouse worker on The Office.

But you and I both know that’s not how we remember him.

We remember Patrice O’Neal as a guy who told it like it was, and wasn’t worried about what you’d think of him for telling you. If honesty is indeed a virtue, than there wasn’t a comedian around as virtuous as Patrice, nor as much of a virtuoso freewheeling with his opinions onstage.

For a second consecutive February, some of our generation’s greatest stand-up comedians are convening for an all-star tribute to Patrice O’Neal — tonight’s 2nd Annual Patrice O’Neal Comedy Benefit Concert is scheduled to include performances by Dave Attell, Bill Burr, Dane Cook, Nick DiPaolo, Robert Kelly, Bonnie McFarlane, Jim Norton, Big Jay Oakerson, Colin Quinn, Keith Robinson, Harris Stanton, Talent and Rich Vos.

In case you haven’t seen it, or perhaps you need to see it again, here is a 47-minute documentary compiled by Brandon Farley of Mischief Maker Productions.

Visit for more information and to support his surviving family members by purchasing his stand-up recordings.

Related: A photo gallery of Patrice O’Neal with his comedy friends on the Opie and Anthony Show.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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