Patton Oswalt makes comedy out of tragedy (and other things)

Film Independent At LACMA Live Read Directed By Patton Oswalt

When Epix dropped the ball on airing Patton Oswalt’s new one-hour comedy special, “Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time,” on its scheduled premiere date, January 16 (they ended up airing it the following night), he went on a very Patton Oswalt-esque Twitter rant. First tweeting, “Uh, yeah…sorry guys. @EpixHD f—ed up. My special airs TOMORROW night, 10pm EST. NOT tonight. Watch @parksandrecnbc instead.” (Patton Oswalt is a big fan of “Parks and Recreation.”)

Being the stand-up (get it?) guy he is, however, Oswalt didn’t want to let down the fans. He went on to live tweet a stream-of-consciousness “version” of the special — the real one was recorded last July at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego — which included a full recitation of the third chapter of Judy Blume’s “Wifey” and an impression of Rhea Perlman “doing Jule’s speech from the end of ‘Pulp Fiction’ with a fog machine.” (Note: neither of those things are in the actual special. We sort of wish they were.) We caught up with Patton to talk about his stint on “Parks and Rec,” his deep nerdiness and more.

Do you watch your own standup or do you find it uncomfortable?

I find it uncomfortable, but you have to do it if you’re going to grow, unfortunately. Just like you have to do a lot of sets and stay comfortable and stay limber, unfortunately you have to watch yourself. So yes, I do. Plus, I had a lot to say during the editing process. I had to watch a lot of it.

When you first started doing standup can you recall a particular moment where you totally bombed?

I have so many moments where I’ve bombed that they’ve kind of blended into this giant, amorphous non-memory. Obviously I have some really specific moments where I’m like, ‘Oh god that didn’t go well,’ but what I remember even more than the bombing, is the day after the bombing where you wake up and the world didn’t end. Once you embrace that, then you’re free.

So how long do you think it took you to embrace that?

Oh God, like, six, seven years. My ego held on for a long time. My ego held onto thinking that it was the center of the universe way longer than it should have.

Do you ever get a really bad heckler? How do you defuse them?

I mean, it depends, each situation is different, even though the impulse of every heckler is the same: which is ‘well, I deserve as much attention as this guy because I, too, am funny.’ But if you were funny you wouldn’t have paid this other person to tell jokes. You would have gone and told your own jokes for free. It’s like me going to a restaurant and barging into the kitchen going, ‘you know what? I cook at home, I am cooking here.’

I was telling a friend of mine that I was going to talk to you, who’s a big fan. He described your style of stand-up as “story ranting.” Thoughts?

Story-ranting. Wow. That’s a very good description of what I do. Tell your friend thank you. I might actually use that. I’m serious.

So, when you’re coming up with your story rants, where do you find your material?

Well, since I’m telling stories, I’m talking about stuff that has happened to me. So then I just try to lace jokes within the story itself. It’s a combination of anecdotes and me reacting honestly to the world that I’m seeing.

Do you think the world is a funny place in general or is it more about finding the humor in the not-so-funny?

It’s funny in how people cope with it. The humor comes from that there’s horror and frustration out there, and then how are you, as a humorist, going to make it palatable and livable?

You were on “Parks and Recreation” and you did that “Star Wars” filibuster monologue. Would you ever want to make the movie you described? I think people would be really into it.

Jeez, if I had the time and money and resources, and was able to call on the people that I needed to do that, of course I would. If I was some insane billionaire, sure I would. But that’s so far beyond my means of execution right now, it’s just going to remain a beautiful dream.

You could start a Kickstarter…

“I need five billion dollars…here’s the countown…”

How long did it take to get that scene down? It felt like you didn’t even breathe.

It was one take. That whole scene, you saw it all, it was all off the top of my head.

I didn’t realize that, that’s amazing. Is that how your mind usually works?

No, it was racing at that moment, because I really love “Parks and Recreation” and really didn’t want to do a bad job on that show. So, they told me I only had to speak for 30 seconds, but they just never yelled cut, to mess with me, and see how long I could talk for. So that’s just pure terror that you’re looking at in that scene.

It kind of reminds me of that scene in “Old School” where Will Ferrell goes into a fugue state and answers all those questions and then snaps out of it and has no idea what happened.

Exactly! I was like whoa, where did that just go?

So, do you find that, as a comedian with big Twitter presence, you feel a lot of pressure to be funny on Twitter all the time?

No, you know what? Twitter for me is like a fun release. It’s like a game. I don’t think of Twitter as, ‘OK, I have to be funny.’ Twitter is just as much for my entertainment as it is for anyone else. If it ever becomes something where I feel like I have to top or hit some kind of level, then it will stop being fun.

What is something that you saw or read or heard lately that made you laugh really hard?

This thing on The Onion — the nine characteristics of introverts [“9 Things Introverts Do All the Time"] was pretty brilliant, it’s like a slideshow. It’s pretty funny, go find that. That was yesterday.

You tend to play really nerdy characters — what’s the nerdiest thing that you’re willing to admit about yourself?

I can recite movies like “Jaws” and “Blade Runner” from beginning to end. Literally recite them. That’s a level of nerdiness that other nerds look down on.

Do you think there’s a difference between a nerd and a geek? Or just different grades of nerdiness?

If there are different grades of it, I don’t think about it. I’m in my own pit here, and I’m fine.

Whenever I interview a comedian I like to ask them what was more nerve-wracking — losing your standup virginity or losing your actual virginity? 

I’ll be honest, losing my standup virginity was way more nerve-racking. Losing my actual virginity was fun. I had been with the girl for a long time, so we were both ready. Losing my standup virginity, there was no prep for it. There was no reference for it.

You can watch Patton Oswalt’s new special at epixhd.com.


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