Patton Oswalt’s last special, 2017’s Annihilation, dealt with the grief and despair of losing his wife, Michelle McNamara, to an untimely death in 2016. His latest special, I Love Everything, is something Oswalt calls “kind of a resurging of the life force,” reflecting how he is now approaching comedy at a time in his life when he is, generally, very happy.
In this episode of Vulture’s Good One podcast, Oswalt talks about the rhythm of his jokes, reflects on why he hopes the next generation of comedians is even better than he is, and breaks down the anatomy of one of his jokes as it grew from a Conan appearance to his special. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode right below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On Not Falling Into Patterns
There are certain phrases and certain rhythms that work for me. Like something is “blah, blah, blah and then a concept,” like “failure pile in a sadness bowl.” You could easily just keep doing variations on that. Like, “How about I just have a big cup of jealousy,” you know?
I remember there was an interview with Alan Moore that was like, “Whenever I start seeing a repeated motif in my writing, I go out of my way to carve it away.” And it’s hard to do that because you work hard to get to those motifs, but you’ve got to carve them away or you’ll stagnate. It’s the famous story of Benny Goodman having all his calluses surgically removed and his hands wrapped. They would heal fresh and he had to learn to play his clarinet a different way. But in doing that, he wrote completely different music that was even more amazing. It’s a weird push-pull back-and-forth because you struggle to get to a point of confidence and then that confidence can lead you to calcification. To catch those moments, it’s really hard.
I wanted to not rely on, “Oh, look at me, I’m just this helpless schlub.” I mean, I still do dumb, schlubby things. But if you’ve reached the age of 50 and you’ve been at your career for 31 years, but you’re still trying to put on the “Woe is me, I’m this overwhelmed young …” — it was fake. I know that you’re lying. You’re putting on a persona that will get that reaction.
On the Power of Doing the Dishes
If I ever start making movies enough to really prepare for the next day, I’m going to go to some restaurant and go, “Let me just do the dishes for two hours.” I actually was a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant. It was one of those things with the big classic rack: You’d load them all up and shove them in. And I had some of the most creative thoughts. But I still have that in the house. At the end of the day, I’m like, “Everyone stack the dishes by the sink. I’m going to do them.” It’s almost like, Don’t mess that thing up for me. That’s mine. Don’t do that. I get angry when I come down and someone has done them. They never put the dishes away correctly. Don’t just put a dish diagonally so it takes up four rows that you have three spoons on the top for no reason!
You’re looking at all of these disparate shapes and sizes and you’ve got to make them all fit. And a lot of times, with a story or a comedy bit, it’s all these differing thoughts, some of which conflict with each other. How do you make it all make sense? The dishes are a symbol of that. It works that muscle in my brain that I can then apply to other concepts.
On His Joke About “Serious” Cereal
Because I’m embracing the fact that as I’m getting older and my food is quote, unquote, “more serious” and “less silly,” there are still silly elements to it. I’m sure that when I have to start drinking Ensure and using a walker, I’ll find something both lovable and silly about that. The joke hinges on me going, “All of my breakfast cereals are so deadly serious” and that line in itself — that you’re taking breakfast cereals so seriously, and the cereals want to show you how serious they’re being now: “No, no, we’re not being like those other cereals. We’re not being like Cap’n Crunch or Cookie Crisp.”
And by the way, someone just pointed out there are some companies that are doing the healthy cereals, but they’re doing them like fun cereals from your youth for people that are boomers in their 60s and 70s. And it’s all, like, gluten free, no sugar, or natural ingredients, but it’s brightly colored like Boo Berry. And there’s a cocoa one. Because at the end of the day, look at the world going on around us. Can’t I have a goddamned bowl of fun cereal in the morning before I have to go face the razor-blade forest that we all seem to be living in right now?
How Comedy Hasn’t Had a Pauline Kael or Lester Bangs, and What He Wants From a Truly Great Comedy Critic
Someone who has a deep knowledge of the form first, who literally knows stand-up back from almost vaudeville days and has seen the cycles repeat and is able to actually see what’s new, what’s truly new, and what’s been repackaged, and go, “Oh, actually, look, I know why this is popular, but all this person is doing is just repackaging what Richard Pryor did or what the Monty Python troupe did” — you know, that kind of thing. I think a lot of times in comedy criticism, they just react to whatever the crowd is doing, like, “This person packed out Madison Square Garden. They must be amazing.” And they can’t look at the content or the form or what exactly they’re doing. And they get fooled a lot.
On the Next Generation of Comedians
I’m not in comedy to succeed and then slam the door behind me and lock it so that no one else can get through. I started doing comedy because before I did comedy, I loved comedy. I want this art form to keep doing well and growing and expanding and getting better and better. I want people to do it that are way better than me in ten years. I want to be the dinosaur. I want to see it get even better because as much as I like doing comedy, I like watching it. I like reacting to it. I watch comedy specials all the time. I’m not someone that’s just stuck with a morbid self-regard. So, you know, if [there’s] any little thing I could do to improve the knowledge or the perception of the audience, I’m happy to do it.
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