Published Jul 09, 2007Though hes 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 OBrien, 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 theres a lot of stuff coming out at the same time but this has been stuff Ive been working on steadily for a little while. So, its all kinda coming out nicely, in the same little window, and then Im gonna take a nice, loooong break. Youre talking to a guy whos teetering on the edge of relaxation and inaction for a little while.
Thats interesting because the perception would be, "My God, hes running around a lot, doing all these things. I guess its foolish to assume youre making movies right now just because a movie of yours is out.
Exactly, no, right now Im taking a little break. I have a few more movies coming out but I finished work on those a while ago so Im just figuring out what I want to do next. Ive never had this luxury of "Figure out what you wanna do and make a choice. So, Im gonna see if my talent lies in my choices for once.
Youve been a comedian for almost 20 years yet this is only your second comedy record. As I understand it, youve 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 dont see a lot of it because Im in clubs and it doesnt 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; Im 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, Ive been doing stand-up non-stop. Its never anything that I took any focus off of.
For some comedians, their act is a means to an end. Like theyre hoping to get on a sitcom or act in films
Im the opposite; I do sitcoms and movies so that I can do more stand-up.
And the idea being that youll 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. Theres no end to it. Luckily, its never anything where you go, "Okay, I did this; now I can stop.
Right. I think its 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. Its not just politics and pop culture either; you seem genuinely frustrated with your fellow citizens.
Can you talk about whats going on down there and how its informed your material?
I dont really know that Im 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 Im pointing out that Americans are guilty of, Im guilty of first and way worse. Its 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 its not necessarily speaking to the current political climate then?
Well it is but I dont think you can separate politics or entertainment from society or culture anymore. I think theyre 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 dont go "And now Im gonna talk about politics. Its all just the same thing.
Its all intertwined these days, youre 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 Im curious; what do you think a post-Bush America will be like?
I couldnt tell you right now because I dont think were gonna be post-Bush for a little while. Even when he leaves, theres stuff that he has helped set in place and also stuff that is in place that helped him get where he is, that isnt gonna go away anytime soon. Fox News, a lot of the judicial appointments that he made if anything, I think post-Bush, its gonna be even more of a mess. All hes 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! Itll put a smile on your face while the planet burns!
I know youve 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. Youve 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 Pops?
Well yeah, I mean Ive always been a music fan and when they approached me, I was like "Oh wow, thats great. I was very, very excited. Theyve 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 wasnt sure whether hed have the same effect on comedy that Nirvana had on music
(Laughs heartily) Well 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. Thats true.
Now I really think Werewolves and Lollipops is quite brilliant and incredibly smart comedy...
Well, thanks man.
Youre welcome. But a lot of it is really bold and explicit. I hesitate to ask a comedian this because Im not easily offended but do you ever worry that youve crossed the line with a joke?
No. If its something that I really find funny and am really in to, you can make anything funny. Theres no off-limits. "Too far is where you should always be anyway, in anything you do. So, I dont really think about that I guess. Im not going out of my way to be controversial, I just dont think about that.
Youve never come up with something and decided, "Nah, theres no way I can say this; this is ridiculous?
No, the only time Ive done that is when Im like, "Well, I havent made it funny yet. Then I work on it until I hopefully can make it funny. But Ive never, before I work on a bit, gone "Im not covering that subject.
Has it ever been problematic for you on-stage? Has it gotten to a point where a crowds gotten too hostile?
Oh yeah, yeah, Ive dealt with some really hostile crowds, both left-wing and right-wing crowds that have booed me off-stage and gotten angry. Again, it wasnt anything like, "Im gonna be controversial and get booed off-stage. I was like, "I think this is funny. If you guys dont thats okay. No harm, no foul. Ill just leave. (sings) "with your moneyyy.
Would the same material work in one city better than it would somewhere else?
I dont know; I dont 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. Youre in a giant summer blockbuster movie!
Ratatouille opened as the number one movie in North America and you play a rat.
Was that a stretch, playing a rat?
Well, you know, it wasnt even so much playing a rat. They just basically wanted my voice and my personality so it wasnt 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 dont want you to do a character voice; we want your voice. He heard my first album and said, "Thats the rat.
So there was no Method involved?
No. There was zero Method, thank God! I dont know if youve seen my acting but thank God thats what they wanted me to do!
You honed most of your acting skills on the show The King of Queens right?
Oh yeah. Im 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 youve 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 youve had?
Oh, constantly. But I mean, starring in a Pixar movie is not a dream come true because thats way beyond what I wouldve 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, Ill get a Green Lantern ring some day. Like that was one of my dreams; thats ridiculous.
And the new record is everything you wanted it to be?
The new album? Yeah, I mean Im 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.