On a recent Saturday, a crowd of about 400 people, mostly Bridgeport natives, has gathered in a large skybox at White Sox park. The place is dark except for a Jumbotron, which is illuminated with a portrait of the late stand-up comedian Pat Brice. Tonight is a tribute show in honor of Brice’s 40th birthday and a fund-raiser for the families of Chicago comics Steve O. Harvey, who lost a bout with cancer in September 2015, and Prescott Tolk, whose father, an Uber driver in New York, was recently killed in an altercation with a man carrying a hockey stick.
Brice was just 29 years old when he died of heart failure in 2007. His loss was felt deeply in the tight-knit communities of Bridgeport, where Brice grew up, and Chicago comedy, where he cut his teeth. The comics, among them Kyle Kinane and Matt Braunger, have flown in from New York or Los Angeles to celebrate the life of their beloved friend.
The skybox contains stadium-style seating overlooking the field. In the back is a nacho buffet fit for Homer Simpson, with bright orange cheese blasted by heat lamps. A few tables have been set up to create a bar. The line for a beer or cocktail never seems to diminish; Brice’s Bridgeport friends like to drink.
“When Pat met a new person, he’d always say, ‘Welcome! Would you like to get drunk?'” says Jared Logan, one of the comics on the slate, who peppers his set with memories of Brice. The audience toasts in solidarity.
Other stand-ups lean more on gallows humor. “Who had to die so we could get this venue?” Kinane says to no one in particular as he peeks out from behind the black curtain. Onstage, Emily Dorezas recalls a time when an inebriated Brice asked if she would give him a ride on her bike to friend and fellow comic CJ Sullivan’s house. Brice wanted to stand on the bike’s rear axle. The two collapsed after “four blocks,” she recalls. “And by that I mean four sidewalk squares.”
Sullivan, Brice’s best friend, reminisces about one particular evening when Brice’s worlds of stand-up comedy and Bridgeport collided. Sullivan and Brice had wrapped a show at the Lakeshore Theater, and “all of Bridgeport was in attendance,” he says. The group spilled across the street to Wilde Bar & Restaurant—a somewhat classy joint having its soft open at the time—and a few older Irishmen from the old neighborhood threw $100 bills at the staff and said, “Keep the Jameson coming.”
The night’s headliner is Brice himself. After sets by Sean Flannery, Mike Holmes, and host Adam Burke, Lincoln Lodge’s Mark Geary, the producer of the evening, screens clips of Brice’s performances. The dashing stand-up had a gravelly voice that Sullivan compares to “John Goodman throwing up Chris Farley eating a carton of cigarettes.” The footage evinces Brice’s undeniable talent. In a memorable bit, he digs into people who try to prove they’re good by merely attending a charity event. The observation doesn’t apply to those gathered at Sox park—they’re here for wholehearted celebration.
Pat’s older brother Dan offers some words to close out the evening. Projecting Pat’s image on a Jumbotron, he says, cost $600. He initially hesitated to drop the cash. “If I didn’t, I’d hear Pat’s voice the rest of the evening: You couldn’t even pay that much, you fucking cheapskate?“
After the tribute show, the “Traveling Pat” is passed to Rich Considine, one of Brice’s lifelong Bridgeport friends. The memorial plaque includes a framed portrait of Brice, his obituary, the card from his funeral mass, and four lapel pins. It becomes the possession of a different friend of Brice’s each year. “It’s about damn time!” Considine proclaims. “I’ve been waiting for this for ten years.” More than a decade after Brice’s passing, everyone wants to keep hanging out with the man they remember as a lovable, kindhearted asshole.
To donate to Steve O. Harvey’s family, visit their YouCaring page.