Interview: Patton Oswalt

On staying sharp
By RYAN STEWART  |  February 2, 2010


For someone who came up as part of the "alternative comedy" scene of the 1990s, Patton Oswalt is becoming increasingly mainstream. In 2007, he voiced Remy, the gourmand rat at the center of Brad Bird's Pixar smash Ratatouille, and released the well-received CD Werewolves and Lollipops (Sub Pop), which offers both assaults on Middle American values, like his analysis of the popularity of Kentucky Fried Chicken's "Flavor Bowls," and tales of his own nerdiness, like his description of how he felt compelled to correct one of his old college professors' Star Trek errors in the middle of a final exam. His most recent stand-up collection, My Weakness Is Strong (Reprise), earned a Grammy nomination.

Do you think we've reached a point where some of the things you have loved are considered more mainstream-acceptable?
Somewhat. If there's something that I love that used to be obscure and is now getting big mainstream success, then I'm happy, because that's someone that was always doing good work, and it's now being rewarded. So that's always good. It is interesting how things change in importance. I used to write on the MTV Movie Awards, and it was always this very pirate-y "Fuck the Academy Awards, and we're doing things weird and different." And then I watched it morph into something more important than the Academy Awards in terms of selling a movie.

There is an edge to your comedy. Do you worry about mellowing with age?
No. All the comedians that I've loved the best over the years actually got better as they got older. Bill Hicks really got great when he got sober. Louis CK is doing his most amazing stuff now that he's been married, has kids, and is going through a divorce. I actually want to embrace the events that have normally taken comedians down a hackneyed, boring path and find where the darkness is in those things. Why not have every possible experience you can have and see if you have an original take on it? If I had stayed the way I was when I was 22, now that I'm 40, (a) it would look kind of creepy and sad, and (b) that experience has actually been chronicled way more closely than parenthood, marriage, divorce, death — all that stuff — has been in a weird way, so why not try to bring my perspective to this?

One thing I like about great artists is, you realize as you get older that you go through periods of creativity, and then you go through valleys of stagnation, and then you come out of that valley and that leads to more creativity. When you're younger, you get into that headset of "Yeah, he had two great albums, now he's all washed up," and then as you get older you realize, "Oh, no, it's a much bigger arc" that you're starting to see. You don't see when you're younger, because when you're young, you want to act like you know everything. There's no better way to act like you know everything than to be bored by everything, because that's a very safe place, and also to dismiss things is a very safe stance to take. It's much riskier to take the stance of "I actually see a much bigger arc for this person."

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