Generally Patton

Generally Patton
Though he’s been in show business for years, all of a sudden everything is coming up Patton Oswalt. An actor and ingeniously acerbic stand-up comic who originally hails from Sterling, Virginia, Oswalt has appeared in many films and TV shows including Magnolia, Reno 911: Miami, Seinfeld, Mr. Show, and he created a Comedy Central documentary series about a 2004 tour that he spearheaded called The Comedians of Comedy. A favourite guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Oswalt was also an uncredited writer on Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. He recently wrapped up his ninth season as the character Spence on the now-departed show The King of Queens and you can hear him voicing a rat named Remy, the lead character in the new Pixar animated, smash hit film, Ratatouille. Sub Pop has just released his second full-length comedy album, entitled Werewolves and Lollipops, which is one of the funniest things ever. But is he happy being Patton Oswalt?

First off, I want to say congratulations on the new album and all of this other stuff going on. You seem very, very busy these days.
Yeah, I think I seem busy because there’s a lot of stuff coming out at the same time but this has been stuff I’ve been working on steadily for a little while. So, it’s all kinda coming out nicely, in the same little window, and then I’m gonna take a nice, loooong break. You’re talking to a guy who’s teetering on the edge of relaxation and inaction for a little while.

That’s interesting because the perception would be, "My God, he’s running around a lot, doing all these things.” I guess it’s foolish to assume you’re making movies right now just because a movie of yours is out.
Exactly, no, right now I’m taking a little break. I have a few more movies coming out but I finished work on those a while ago so I’m just figuring out what I want to do next. I’ve never had this luxury of "Figure out what you wanna do and make a choice.” So, I’m gonna see if my talent lies in my choices for once.

You’ve been a comedian for almost 20 years yet this is only your second comedy record. As I understand it, you’ve been an active stand-up in between high-profile writing and acting gigs. Do you think this new record and working with Sub Pop might reflect a shift for you where you focus even more attention on your stand-up?
Well all my attention is focused on my stand-up; you just don’t see a lot of it because I’m in clubs and it doesn’t get chronicled as much as when you do a film or when you write something. But I write movies and TV so I can keep doing stand-up; I’m not doing it the other way around. In between my first album in 2004, I did an hour special for Comedy Central, a documentary film, and a series for Comedy Central of me doing stand-up. So, I’ve been doing stand-up non-stop. It’s never anything that I took any focus off of.

For some comedians, their act is a means to an end. Like they’re hoping to get on a sitcom or act in films…
I’m the opposite; I do sitcoms and movies so that I can do more stand-up.

And the idea being that you’ll increase your profile as a stand-up?
Oh totally. Yeah, bring more fans out and people that know my stuff [that] will make me write even more stuff.

So do you have like an ultimate goal as a comedian?
Just to keep doing stand-up. There’s no end to it. Luckily, it’s never anything where you go, "Okay, I did this; now I can stop.”

Right. I think it’s fair to suggest that your comedy, though observational and anecdotal, is very surreal and angry and a lot of it seems to stem from living in the U.S.A. these days. It’s not just politics and pop culture either; you seem genuinely frustrated with your fellow citizens.
(Laughs)

Can you talk about what’s going on down there and how it’s informed your material?
I don’t really know that I’m so much frustrated, as I am just constantly disappointed at what people hold up as valuable or worth taking up their time. I think the frustration and anger that you see comes out of that. Keep in mind, any frustration and anger that I feel towards my fellow Americans is directed back at me ten times worse because whatever I’m pointing out that Americans are guilty of, I’m guilty of first and way worse. It’s more like, "Why does advertising work so well on me? Why do I overeat? Why do I drink so much? Why do I love all of this awful, awful crap?”

So it’s not necessarily speaking to the current political climate then?
Well it is but I don’t think you can separate politics or entertainment from society or culture anymore. I think they’re all the same thing now. Especially with the instant connectivity and instant commenting on everything — those are no longer separate things. So, I am doing stuff about politics, I am doing stuff about culture; I just don’t go "And now I’m gonna talk about politics.” It’s all just the same thing.

It’s all intertwined these days, you’re right.
Right.

For some reason, when a current administration is on its way out, comedians — particularly politically motivated comedians — are often asked what they think will happen with the next one. I kind of feel like the question is a little trite but I’m curious; what do you think a post-Bush America will be like?
I couldn’t tell you right now because I don’t think we’re gonna be post-Bush for a little while. Even when he leaves, there’s stuff that he has helped set in place and also stuff that is in place that helped him get where he is, that isn’t gonna go away anytime soon. Fox News, a lot of the judicial appointments that he made… if anything, I think post-Bush, it’s gonna be even more of a mess. All he’s done is created things that are gonna collapse and burn and make things even worse.

That sounds bleak Patton.
It sure is! Make sure to buy my album! Hey! I hope you guys bought my album last week! It’ll put a smile on your face while the planet burns!

I know you’ve got an obvious interest in really good music and on the new record you talk about people like Fugazi, Bad Brains, GG Allin and Phil Collins. You’ve made a point of bringing comedy to rock clubs, which is awesome too. Is it particularly significant for you to release a record on a label with a rich history like Sub Pop’s?
Well yeah, I mean I’ve always been a music fan and when they approached me, I was like "Oh wow, that’s great.” I was very, very excited. They’ve also put out really good comedians on that label, so it was nothing but excitement and happiness on my part.

When I spoke to [Sub Pop-signed comedian] Eugene Mirman, he wasn’t sure whether he’d have the same effect on comedy that Nirvana had on music…
(Laughs heartily) We’ll see!

Is your new record maybe the new Bleach?
The new Bleach?! No! Good lord! I would not put myself in that category. This is like the old Buddy Hackett.

It is kinda like that. That’s true.
Exactly.

Now I really think Werewolves and Lollipops is quite brilliant and incredibly smart comedy...
Well, thanks man.

You’re welcome. But a lot of it is really bold and explicit. I hesitate to ask a comedian this because I’m not easily offended but do you ever worry that you’ve crossed the line with a joke?
No. If it’s something that I really find funny and am really in to, you can make anything funny. There’s no off-limits. "Too far” is where you should always be anyway, in anything you do. So, I don’t really think about that I guess. I’m not going out of my way to be controversial, I just don’t think about that.

You’ve never come up with something and decided, "Nah, there’s no way I can say this; this is ridiculous?”
No, the only time I’ve done that is when I’m like, "Well, I haven’t made it funny yet.” Then I work on it until I hopefully can make it funny. But I’ve never, before I work on a bit, gone "I’m not covering that subject.”

Has it ever been problematic for you on-stage? Has it gotten to a point where a crowd’s gotten too hostile?
Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve dealt with some really hostile crowds, both left-wing and right-wing crowds that have booed me off-stage and gotten angry. Again, it wasn’t anything like, "I’m gonna be controversial and get booed off-stage.” I was like, "I think this is funny. If you guys don’t that’s okay. No harm, no foul. I’ll just leave. (sings) "with your moneyyy.”

Would the same material work in one city better than it would somewhere else?
I don’t know; I don’t adjust my act to where I am. I just think you have to make any audience your audience.

That makes sense. This new record is out during a particularly amazing time in your career. You’re in a giant summer blockbuster movie!
Yeah!

Ratatouille opened as the number one movie in North America…and you play a rat.
I know.

Was that a stretch, playing a rat?
Well, you know, it wasn’t even so much playing a rat. They just basically wanted my voice and my personality so it wasn’t so much like "how do I get into the head of this rat?” [Director] Brad Bird kept stressing to me, "Just do your own voice. I don’t want you to do a character voice; we want your voice.” He heard my first album and said, "That’s the rat.”

So there was no Method involved?
No. There was zero Method, thank God! I don’t know if you’ve seen my acting but thank God that’s what they wanted me to do!

You honed most of your acting skills on the show The King of Queens right?
Oh yeah. I’m amazed that they never fired me and that they let me stay there for nine years and learn to be an actor. I went from atrocious to competent. A great arc; a great learning arc.

With all the great stuff you’ve done in your career — Seinfeld, Mr. Show, and films like Magnolia, Man on the Moon, and Borat — is there ever a time when you just sort of pinch yourself at all the good fortune you’ve had?
Oh, constantly. But I mean, starring in a Pixar movie is not a dream come true because that’s way beyond what I would’ve dreamed for myself. People go, "Wow, this must be like a dream come true.” No! I never dreamed this would happen! Oh my God, this is so beyond like… "Yeah, I’ll get a Green Lantern ring some day.” Like that was one of my dreams; that’s ridiculous.

And the new record is everything you wanted it to be?
The new album? Yeah, I mean I’m really, really happy with it. I had a great producer on it — this guy Henry Owings from Chunklet magazine — and the guys at Sub Pop have been so brilliant about how to get the word out on it and the design people… this feels like a string of luck that, karmically, is gonna have to result in me having a leg cut off — something like that.