Patton Oswalt on responsibilities and apologies

Patton Oswalt sat down last month with Washington Post reporter Elahe Izadi (a comedian herself in her spare time) for a spirited conversation about what it means to be a comedian in 2018.

Izadi asked Oswalt how he navigates the line in a time when every Tweet is scrutinized, and comedians are taken to task or even fired over them.

“There’s not a line anymore. The line just shifts every day,” he said.

Ironically, today, almost a month after this conversation, the Twitter trolls are attacking Oswalt over an experiment he launched five years ago to trap people trying to take Tweets out of context by splitting messages into separate Tweets.

“What it actually is, it’s fodder for the media second. But first is, it’s scalp-hunting by either side of the political spectrum. Who can we hold up as the latest outrage? And then the media follows, going, ‘Oh…’ they can smell the clicks, so they go where the clicks are.”

“It just shows how degraded the discourse has become, because it’s not ultimately a First Amendment issue. It’s a corporate issue. If ABC, which is a private corporation, feels like this person that they’ve hired is not representing them the way that they want, then they do have the right, unfortunately, to fire them. I don’t think people should be fired over, especially stuff like Twitter. Which, if people were going to get fired over Twitter, there’s all kinds of dumb attempts at jokes that I’ve Tweeted out, that my friends have Tweeted out, but Roseanne unfortunately was this — she was this prize for a big segment of whatever the political divide was.”

But Oswalt said Roseanne had Tweeted racist messages “over and over,” which is different from the President of the United States demanding a TV network fire someone — which is censorship.

He said racists are misusing the First Amendment, thinking they’re defending free speech when they’re only defending outdated, archaic beliefs and refuse to evolve with the rest of society.

“Why is it now we’re in this weird, fake-proud, no-apology culture where somehow you’re weak if you say, ‘I got that wrong,’” Oswalt said. “Saying that you won’t apologize is like saying, ‘I have no more need to evolve or learn.’ ”

And yet.

Comedians now have to test the boundaries, and have a responsibility to talk about what’s happening here and now.

“I think we have a social responsibility whether we want it or not,” Oswalt said. “You can’t just get onstage and talk about dating or airline food anymore, because there’s this huge — it’d be like going up, doing a set during Middle Earth and not talk about the huge tower with the glowing eye, looking at everyone.”

Watch the whole thing here. Roll it!

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →