Ms. Pat on embracing life's darkness and friend Joe Rogan using the n-word: "We all make mistakes"

On "Salon Talks," the comedian discusses her Netflix special, hilarious sitcom & voicing the uncomfortable out loud

By Melanie McFarland

TV Critic

Published March 6, 2022 8:00AM (EST)

Ms. Pat in Ms. Pat: Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy? (Quantrell Colbert/Netflix)
Ms. Pat in Ms. Pat: Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy? (Quantrell Colbert/Netflix)

Ms. Pat's mission is to given everyone permission to laugh at the darkest parts of their lives.

You might think you understand what that means, since gallows humor and painful twists are the meat and potatoes of many a stand-up performer's routine. But when Ms. Pat goes dark, she really goes there, as you'll see in her first full-length stand-up special "Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy?"

This is a woman who gets laughs out of material about the father of her oldest children, who met her when she was 12 and he was 22. "I started telling all these crazy stories about how he shot me in the back of the head: 'It wasn't his fault. It was my fault because I ducked slow.' Which had people like, 'Whoa, what are you talking about?' I'm like, 'Yeah, he shot me in the back of the head.'"

She can say this in a matter-of-fact fashion because she's forgiven him and moved on. Finding the funny even in that horrible moment gives her power over it, Ms. Pat explains. This is the ultimate lesson she wants people to take away from "Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy?"

Her Netflix special, directed by Robert Townsend and executive produced by Wanda Sykes is merely one project in a busy time for Ms. Pat, whose real name is Patricia Williams. She also making a second season of "The Ms. Pat Show" on BET+, one of the hilarious and criminally underrated multi-camera sitcoms on TV, along with hosting her podcast "The Patdown with Ms. Pat."

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Wherever she appears, Ms. Pat commits to a bracing level of realness; even her family-friendly sitcom is wonderfully laden with F-bombs. Our "Salon Talks" conversation is an instance of her working clean as she opens up about finding a way to laugh at the unthinkable, along with discussing her sitcom and weighing in on how she feels about Joe Rogan, with whom she remains good friends. Watch our "Salon Talks" episode here or read a transcript of it below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 Why did you decide to call your Netflix special "Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy?"

. . . Well when I first started talking about my family, I literally thought that all families came up like that. So as I got older, I realized, "Hey, everybody mama didn't cook in the chimney." People would tell me that these are crazy stories, the stuff in the set, like how I got baptized 25 times to pay our bills. And so I just started saying throughout the set, "Y'all wanna hear something crazy?" And as I said it, it ended up being the name of the set. It was very catchy. And it's really me telling a bunch of crazy stories.

You tell a lot of crazy stories in your previous sets too. I mean, you appeared on "The Degenerates" on Netflix. That may be a way that people first got to know you. But these stories are very personal to you in "Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy?" And I think that makes it a little bit different.  I feel like when you say that, it loosens people up to listen to what you're telling them.

Well, I'm about to take you on a wild story. I talk about growing up in a bootleg house, dealing with my special needs uncle and people is like, "What the heck?" Well, I can't make this stuff up. This is how I grew up. And I try to paint a picture so I can bring you in my world. And I used to say this line, "White people buckle up, I'm about to take you on a Negro field trip," because it seems like they would get so uncomfortable like, "Oh my God!"

. . . I take the darkest things and I want to make it funny, especially stuff that bothers you like abuse and molestation . . . And I want people to be able to laugh at what they've been through in life so they can have control over it. You can't change the past. So, why cry about it?

And specifically, the fact that you are a woman having this conversation is meaningful.

Well, it's challenging because I have a gay daughter and it's hard to talk about gayness in America. And I know I get away with it or it's more comfortable with me because one, I'm a woman. Two, my child is gay. So, I'm looking at it from a mom, a Black mother who has a gay daughter, how we know how Black people treat the gays in the Black community. It wasn't accepting.

I don't hide anything or sugarcoat anything. I was not down for the gayness. I've seen gay people, gay women I had a problem with. And I used to say early on in my set, a lot of times what you don't like, God will put in your life so you can open your mind.

. . . And I just had to open my mind and realize, "Oh, they all the same. My daughter go out and get lazy women the same way I used to have lazy men in my life." It's no different, child. It's no different. They like chocolate, I like vanilla.

You just used the term that you use a lot in your set, which is, "Open your mind." You say it at points where people . . . we can't see how the audience is reacting, but you can see through you that people are kind of [taken aback].

Because I can see the drawback when I'm talking about when we was kids and we had to help my special need uncle have sex and the, "What the . . .?" Open your mind, okay? . . . When I'm talking about breastfeeding at 14, people know these things go on in the world, but these are things that people don't want to talk about. They want to brush them up under the rug. They want to act like they don't exist . . . I'm a comic and I bring it in your face. And I tell you, "Hey, I'm over here. This stuff is real. It happens every day. And it's still happening." Poverty is real.

I had this one white man say, "I didn't come here to hear your problems." I said, "Well, you came to the wrong show."

. . . That's why I say, "Open your mind," because you got a blockage there. You want to act like it's not real.

I got to tell you, I watched this with my husband who's also a therapist . . . I was watching him as much as I was watching the set and we had to pause so I could check in like, "How are you doing?" "So, how are you doing?" And he was saying, "This is not the stuff that I laugh at." . . . There's a self-policing in terms of laughter for a good reason, I think. But you are someone who is inviting someone to take [your story] as an example, not to laugh at your situation as something that's necessarily comical. And that's a fine line to walk. I'm wondering how you found that line.

One thing I realized when I became a comic and I started to get real personal in my life, is I did not want you to feel sorry for me. It's nobody's fault what I went through. . . . I come from a background of what my mama gave me what was given to her. Fortunately, I was able to break the cycle and not give it to my kids. But it's a cycle. It started with my grandmama, probably before that and it went down to my mama and it stopped with me. So it was like therapy really, to be honest with you. Standing on that stage, telling those stories and realizing I'm not the only one, it was mind blowing to me.

So each time I could make a person laugh about the darkest things in their life, it's a healing for me and I hope it's a healing for them. . . . I can't change the past, but oh boy, can't you take control by finding the laughter in it?

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I'm going to ask you a question about an ongoing comedy situation that relates to "The Ms. Pat Show." Your show's been compared to "Roseanne."  You've said before there's some "Martin" in it. Someone actually I think brought up "Roc."  

And Bernie Mac.

All of those different shows go back not just to "Roseanne," but the same producers who made "Roseanne" also brought us "The Cosby Show." And "The Cosby Show," I think, it did influence every single family sitcom that came afterward in the same way that Norman Lear brought us to "The Cosby Show." The thing that's interesting about "The Ms. Pat Show" is that it takes all those same things that I think that Bill Cosby wanted to tackle as a producer but strips the respectability politics out of it.

You have an episode whether you're having to confront people with, "Why do you assume that I'm a single mom? Why do you assume that we're unemployed?"

The episode you're talking about is when the teacher assumed that I was a single parent. That really happened to me when I moved next to my neighbors. And along with the guy who created it, we just got together and said, "We want to talk about stuff in real forums, like real conversation. When you go home and you take off your wig or you pull off your eyelashes, how do people really talk?" Not this scripted stuff like, "How you doing today, baby? What did you cook?" No. We want to have a real conversation where I tell my son to get the hell out of my face, where I sat down and we talk. That's what we wanted to bring to the table.

. . . And we just brought it to the front and said, "Let's do an episode about this."

I mean, even with the, what is it? Neutral gender?

Gender fluid or non-binary?

Non-binary. A kid like that came to my house and I wasn't familiar with it at all. That was the first time I ever heard of that. And the kid parents didn't accept it. And I just told the story to the creator and we wrote an episode. It was my daughter's friend. And I don't know if it was a boy or girl. She wouldn't allow me to say boy or girl, which was very confusing to a 40-something-year-old woman.

So, a lot of those stories just came from everyday life and we want to discuss . . . we just want to touch stuff that everybody else been scared to touch.

I think it's also really important that you left all the curse words in.  I'm wondering if you got any pushback on that as you were selling the show?

I did . . . we was originally on Fox and then . . . Hulu ended up shooting the pilot, and I was like, "They're never going to let me talk like me." [The creator] was like, "Somebody going to let you talk like you." And it had never been done before. And so when it came out, people was like, "Oh my God, this is not a representation of a Black family."

And I'm like, "You're lying. You know your mama talk like that, whether you're Black, Puerto Rican, Asian, somebody got a Ms. Pat in their life." If it's not your mama, it's the auntie. It's the friend. It's the uncle. And in the beginning we did get some pushback. We really did.

"Oh my God. They're saying the N-word!" When you take off your hair or you go in the house and you let your boobs down, you say it too. So, stop playing. If you in Corporate America, no, you cannot say it, but who knows what you do on the weekend? Don't play with me. . . . I said, "Everybody don't have a mama like the Cosby's mama. I'm not her, okay? I'm me." And after a while, the people started to jump on and they stayed on and they was like, "Finally, something real on TV."

I'm going to ask this because it's also something that is in the conversation right now and keeps on coming up. There's been a lot of conversation around what's been going on with Joe Rogan in terms of saying the N-word. You have an entire episode that's not about that, but it's about the, "Who can say it? And in what context?" And I'm just curious to know, in this whole conversation that's going on now and whenever it comes up, what would you tell people?

Me and Joe Rogan is really good friends. I've done his podcast several times. . . . I don't think Joe Rogan is racist. Not the man that I spend a lot of time with, [he] is not racist. So, when people ask me about Joe Rogan, I said, "That's not the Joe Rogan I know and he asked for forgiveness and I forgave him." Hopefully he will never do it again. I don't think he would ever do it again.

. . . I wasn't aware that Joe Rogan had ever said it before I done his podcast or before I ever became friends with him. But I've been knowing him now about three, four years. That's not the person that I know. Was it hurtful? It was. I was like, "Whoa, not the man I sat across the table from or had dinner with or had conversation with." Never thought that he would've used that word, but people make mistakes.

So, I'm going to back up a little bit. Thank you for that answer. But to be clear, this comes up with other people too. Joe Rogan brought it to the fore right now, but it's certainly come up with other celebrities. In Washington State, we just had Miss Teen Washington have a video come back to haunt her. So, it happens. But the reason I brought that up is because there is an entire episode of "The Ms. Pat Show" where it discusses that. So part of it is like, what do you tell people? 

. . . I'm just wondering when it does come up, if people ever ask you about it, since you do confront it in your set and since you do have that terminology in your set.

Well, you look at it like this: you really never surprised when somebody white uses the N-word. It really don't surprise Black America because when your window's up in your car or you at your house, you say all kind of crazy crap. So, when white people are accused of saying the N-word, you like, "Oh, they got you." That's pretty much how I look at it. You said it too loud.

I mean, I was a little shocked to hear that Joe Rogan had used it, but as a friend, as somebody that I know, I hope, I know he wouldn't do it again. And I spoke to him and I'm not going to throw him up under the bus. We all make mistakes. Did you grow from it, Joe? I hope you did. I really hope you did. And I know he did. So, I see people every day throwing him up under the bus and to me, everybody deserves a second chance except for a murderer or a child molester.

"Y'all Wanna Hear Something Crazy?" is currently streaming on Netflix.

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By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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