While he’s not quite as much of a household name as Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld, for more than 30 years Patton Oswalt has consistently produced some of the funniest comedy on earth. His persona skates a narrow line between “approachable hipster neighbor” and “guy who builds his own light sabers in his basement,” somehow managing to come across as likeable, while avoiding the negative connotations of either stereotype. On stage his style feels unrehearsed and conversational, as he expertly picks apart everything from Star Wars films to atheism to what seem to be real life accounts of the pitfalls of being a human in 2020. He has been one of the de-facto leaders of the alt-comedy movement, which served as a counterpoint to the overly formulaic style of comedy that had become the norm in the ‘80s and ‘90s while also dipping his toes into mainstream humor, playing roles on TV sitcoms such as “King of Queens” and “The Goldbergs,” as well as in feature films like Disney’s “Ratatouille.”
But along with the laughs have come incredible hardship. In 2016 Oswalt’s then wife, true crime writer Michelle McNamara died in her sleep suddenly, a result of an undiagnosed heart condition and a combination of medications she had ingested. Her passing left Oswalt a widower and a father now in a position to now have to try and be funny in the face of true tragedy. Somehow he pulled it off, facing his demons head on in his 2017 comedy special “Annihilation” which not only showcased his ability to find the humor in just about any circumstances, but served as an inspiration for anyone who has felt life implode upon them.
At 8 p.m. Saturday Feb. 8, Oswalt brings his standup act to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. We had a chance to chat with him in advance of the show. Here’s what he had to say.
At The Shore: Jerry Seinfeld said recently that he thinks all guys think they are funny. Do you agree with that statement? How did you know you were funny enough to be a comedian?
Patton Oswalt: I didn’t know I was funny enough. That’s why I started testing it out at open mic nights to see if I could possibly make a vocation out of this. I think a lot of people think they have the ‘right’ to be funny. I enjoy watching basketball, but that doesn’t mean that I am a basketball player. People see standup comedy and think ‘Hey, I like comedy, I should be funny too! ’ Just because you understand and enjoy something doesn’t mean that you are going to be good at it. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you are not. People get really wound up by that. They think ‘Oh anyone can be a comedian.’ But they really can’t.
ATS: Standup comedy sounds like about the scariest thing anyone can do. Because you have to get up there by yourself and you can be shot down in two seconds by someone shouting “Not funny!” It take
PO: It takes nerve it takes confidence it takes a certain amount of self-effacement. All of that.
ATS: You have often chosen to perform at rock clubs and other unorthodox comedy venues. Do you approach a show differently when it’s at a more traditional venue like The Borgata?
PO: I never try and pre think about a show based on where it is. I’m not like ‘well I’m in Atlantic city now’ that never enters my mind. I never have any pre-conceived notions about the audience and I hope they don’t have any pre-conceived notions about me.
ATS: You went through an awful tragedy with the passing of your first wife a few years ago. How hard was it to try and be funny again?
PO: I actually talk about it quite a bit in my last special, “Annihilation.” It wasn’t so much that I was thinking about how to be funny, it was that I had to deal with trying to figure out ‘How do I even exist?’ So the funny really came afterward.
4 fun facts about Patton Oswalt
He started at the top. While most actors spend years trying to get on a big prime time sitcom, Oswalt’s first starring role on a TV show was pretty prestigious. He had a bit part as a video store clerk on a 1995 episode of “Seinfeld.”
He’s going to Disney World! The brand new Ratatouille attraction coming to Epcot’s France Pavilion at Walt Disney World will once again feature Oswalt’s voice as the lead character Remy. The attraction is slated to open in the summer.
He knows how to salute. As a child Oswalt was a military brat, which kept him moving from state to state. His family lived in Ohio, California and Virginia.
He is a bit of a geek. Whether it’s Star Wars, comic books or horror movies, Oswalt seems to know an awful lot about some big time nerd material. In 2008 he moderated a reunion panel of the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 at the San Diego Comic-Con.