chat room

Patton Oswalt on Nature Calls, ‘Internet Stress Syndrome,’ and Perishing in the Apocalypse

Patton Oswalt. Photo: Getty Images

In the comedy Nature Calls, Patton Oswalt plays a Scoutmaster who desperately wants the boys in his charge to love the outdoors as much as he does, so much so that when they opt to go to a sleepover, he crashes the party to convince them to sneak out and go camping with him instead. Oswalt’s allergic-to-the-outdoors brother (played by Johnny Knoxville) freaks out when the kids aren’t there in the morning and sets off in hot pursuit. This, of course, provided Oswalt with an opportunity to share his thoughts with Vulture about whether Mitt Romney would make a good Scoutmaster, the Internet stress syndrome that should bear his name, and what he has to offer postapocalyptic warlords.

Are you okay? Sounds like you have a cold.
I’m good. I just gobbled some DayQuil to try to find a balance between being stuffed up and not too spacey.

Is that why you took a Twitter hiatus in between debates? Your live-tweeting of the debates and other election coverage cracks me up.
I was just talking to my wife about how I have this weird combo of stress and exhaustion, because I’m constantly jumping on Twitter and Facebook and e-mail and text, especially when I’m traveling and I want to be connected. It’s this weird temperature of endorphin jolts and drops, and I’m beginning to think it might be something, some new syndrome, some Internet stress syndrome that actually hurts people. And I thought, Okay, I got to take a day or a week off, and there was nothing going on for me that I needed to tell people about until the next debate anyway. No one’s studied this syndrome yet, by the way …

Well, if they do, they might have to name it after you for suggesting it.
What if they did name it after me? [Laughs.] If you have it, and it makes you go crazy and shoot up a shopping mall with a crossbow, and they call it the Oswalt Update Syndrome? “He just had to update everything. He OUS’ed out.” I want my name to be like Molotov cocktail [named after Vyacheslav Molotov] or the Rorschach test [named after Hermann Rorschach].

Or a Voight-Kampff test? You wanted someone to ask Romney about discovering a tortoise on its back in the desert during the debates.
Wow, you got that reference?

Of course — it’s from Blade Runner!
Well, you are in a noble minority.

How do you think Romney would respond to that empathy test?
Romney would have said that the tortoise needs to think about what he did to get in that situation: “I don’t believe in this nanny state way of flipping tortoises over! My dad was born on his back, and no one flipped him over! Flipping those guys over doesn’t help them. They need to learn self-reliance and confidence.”

Do you think he would make a good Scoutmaster?
Oh God, no. He would come out with less kids than he went in with. My character goes too far the other way, because he thinks the countryside will unlock something for these boys, and that everyone has something to contribute.

Were you ever a Boy Scout?
I was a Boy Scout for less than a year. It was just one of those things. It’s not that I hated the Boy Scouts, but it wasn’t for me. I had friends that became Eagle Scouts, and I think that’s great.

Did you acquire any survival skills?
I wish! I have zero. I was just watching The Hunger Games and The Road, and man, when it all shuts down, the only skill I have is Blade Runner trivia. I have nothing to offer. I’m the first one you kill or enslave. Maybe I can write speeches for the new warlord: “Walk away from the fuel and we’ll grant you safe passage.” There you go. I’ve got a couple dick jokes you can use. But after that? I don’t know what not to eat or touch, so if all you have is me on a sunny day, people’s lives will be at risk. [Laughs.]

The film contrasts a couple of different ideas about what it means to become a man.
What I think is interesting is that a lot of it is about becoming a man as seen through the media. But it has to be from your own experience ± you can’t just John Wayne it up and think might equals right. I think overall, though, it’s about layers. And it’s not just manhood, or womanhood. I think of it in terms of personhood. The best thing you can do as a parent is just teach your kids not to be assholes.

You were joking on Conan about how your daughter became “adorably racist” after watching The Lion King. Any other movies that need warning labels?
The Wizard of Oz — there should be a sticker on it about the harsh lessons it teaches: “Sometimes mean people go away because they’re killed.”

How’s Justified going? You’ve got a guest spot on the upcoming season as a constable who knew Raylan back in the day.
I am such a big fan of the show, and getting to be in things you like is a huge dollop of icing on the icing on the cake.

Patton Oswalt Wouldn’t Survive the Apocalypse