Published Jul 24, 2015It's hard to imagine Patton Oswalt ever having a bad night. His delivery is swift, his timing spot on, and he can be trusted to build his performance to a marvellous end. That was most certainly the case when he took the stage at Maison Symphonique, where he headlined for this festival he truly loves.
On this night, he suggests that this beautiful room he's performing in could be wasted on him. The space is wired for theatre sound, speckled with a gorgeous wooden interior, and that's suits him just fine. He loves performing to crowds that are "high on cedar fumes." He began with a story about a night, somewhere in Virginia, when he was doing the circuit as a younger man. It involves him being called a "faggot," not aggressively, but factually, like an "art curator" ("Over here is an Andy Warhol, and this, is a faggot"), and he ends up shitting his pants. Like, actual shit. So yea — that's a bad night.
We did not get the fierceness of his quicker sets, the brilliant angry rants he is well known for, nor his tributes to nerdism. Instead, he expertly presents a grounded position. This is a wiser, gentler Patton, and he is telling stories — about his life on the road ("Ambien is my after party now"), or his six year-old daughter Alice. It seems he can remember, word for word, the jingles from his hometown's Dodge dealer commercials, but he can't remember a CPR procedure that could save his little girl's life.
As always, he is darkly funny, but tonight there is a calm about him, like he's finally good with it. All of it ramps up to a seamless set, and before you know it, he's managed to bring in some pretty important stuff, too. Civil rights. The strings that operate our governments. The struggles of a gay friend who grew up in a very dark closet. He even provides a solution for those who are uncomfortable with the transgender folks (the answer is "pants"). He starts light and ends it light, but it's still pretty heavy. Then, he does something unexpected — crowd work. He even makes a boring questionnaire soar, and eventually strikes gold by discovering a porn photo editor in the audience.
Not anyone can pull this off. Doing a show that is largely story-driven can be hard, because the audience has to care. But tonight it works. The audience cares, because they know him, and they love him.