When Patton Oswalt walked onstage last summer at the Spreckels Theater during San Diego Comic-Con, an adoring crowd receives him with a standing ovation as the tune of The Ettes’ “Crown of Age” thunders through the speakers.
“They asked me to pick the most rocking song that you like right now, to walk out. Big energy. Boom! Get it started. So that was The Ettes, doing ‘Crown of Age.’ But I know, no matter how rocking of a song I pick, I know — I know what I look like walking out to the mike. It doesn’t help my ego to have a song by The Ettes just cranking. And then it’s me (he jogs away from the mike offstage, then walks back onstage and waves with a big grin). Hi! Do you guys like humor? Who here likes comedy humor? I have some humor. Hi.”
Patton Oswalt knows who he was then, last summer at 44, and now at 45, with the passage of time. And the tragedy and comedy crashing together. So Oswalt flips the formula around onto itself, calling this special, his fourth, “Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time.” Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, Oswalt debuted this performance at the beginning of 2014 on EPIZ, and now, via Comedy Central Records, it had its edited release on that cable network Sunday night. A full 71-minute CD/DVD combo edition comes out Tuesday.
But what of the rest of it? Formulas notwithstanding, Patton Oswalt has a much bigger audience now than he did a few years ago, thanks to his onscreen roles, his online platforms in social media and his onstage comedy humor.
Time has rewarded Oswalt’s career and his personal life, as he has embraced both marriage and fatherhood now.
And that has him looking forward to his daughter’s wedding, and concerned that his fitness should not deteriorate to the point where he’s stuck on a scooter and reduced to using phrases such as “swab my folds.” He later jokes that, having lost two pounds recently, he’s ready for a new suit. Even if the sales clerks see him coming and try to warn him that he’s not a John Varvatos man quite yet. Which keeps him in just the right amount of self-loathing to confess that he also once hired a prostitute. Sort of.
Oswalt himself has seen the world. He can confirm that Germans continue to lack a sense of humor — blame it on the Holocaust? — and that Florida is miserable. Not because these are easy jokes. Nor because of what Florida looks like geographically. Oswalt has performed in all corners of the peninsula, and has witnessed the dripping discords of “testosterone and anger” down there. But it’s not just Florida. It will spread. “I see where the country’s going, and it’s terrifying,” Oswalt says.
Especially because he is a dad now, and he wants to be a good one, on principle. There is a ledger, balancing out his mistakes with his good deeds. Sometimes, though, a good deed like watching “The Lion King” can lead to a mistaken identity situation in a coffee shop. Comedy and tragedy, crashing together at one time.
“My daughter has made my depression way more creative,” Oswalt notes, as the stage lights behind him turn from blue to yellow.
Case in point: Oswalt spins out a tale about a late-morning trip to the supermarket, where he catches himself staring at the Lean Cuisine meals in the frozen foods aisle, realizing how unwilling he is to follow packaging with too many instructions. “Lack of effort” — that’s what he’ll eat! It’s a cautionary tale about evolution as told through microwave meals. And it shows how far we have come, Oswalt, too, from the guy who used to mock KFC mercilessly for its “failure pile in a sadness bowl.”
Roll the clip.
It’s not just food.
Oswalt acknowledges his musical taste as evolved, as well, to the point that he doesn’t hate music any longer; he merely ignores it now. With time comes perspective to understand that men have committed much greater sins and crimes in the pursuit of “money and pussy” than making mediocre music. So 44-year-old Oswalt has new advice for such bands: “Nickelback: It ain’t Pol Pot!”
He also can turn that advice back toward himself, with the self-realization that “I was screaming sell out because nobody wanted to buy what I was selling!”
“I didn’t understand what selling out meant,” he added.
Integrity is not an either-or proposition. A casino gig at Tulalip in Washington state paid him “a sacrilegious amount of money” and put him up in a hotel room larger than any place he ever has lived, and left the audience happier than he has ever left one, all without telling a single proper joke. “I had my career screamed at me. I agreed with it. Then I got a standing ovation.” And with it, the offer to play that routine out at 15 other casinos just like it. “Whenever you see me doing stand-up from this point on, just know that right behind me is the pulsing door of compromise and success,” Oswalt concedes. “It’s always fucking there.”
Every comedian has a “Hell gig” story, but Oswalt’s well-told tale here is a surefire reminder that Hell can be of your own making. Tragedy and comedy, crashing together in time.
Patton Oswalt, “Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time,” is available now: