Arts Desk

Better Onstage: Patton Oswalt

patton2009_highres19[3]A comedian with the good taste to work with Pixar, tour with Zach Galifianakis, and star in the ultra-dark Big Fan ought to make a hilarious interviewee. Patton Oswalt's stand-up material braves nerdy topics like comic books alongside heavier ones like atheism, and he pulls it off swimmingly. He won was nominated for a Grammy for a stand-up album recorded at D.C.'s own Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, and you probably saw him on King of Queens at some point. This conversation should have been off the charts. Yet, somehow, I don't think Oswalt made a single joke during our brief talk. He was certainly polite and honest, but not very funny. I can't speculate as to what was bringing him down—perhaps it was simply too early in the morning for the West Coaster—but I certainly hope (and fully expect) he'll be infinitely more entertaining this Saturday at the Warner Theatre.

How long have you been doing comedy now?

About 20 years.

You're originally from Northern Virginia—did the D.C. comic scene just not cut it for you?

It wasn't really dynamic and it was really stagnating and starting to fold up. I had to find somewhere to move and other places to go on stage.

What was your first big gig?

I don't know, it all happened so gradually. I don't know what my first big gig was.

Was there any particular moment where you began to feel more successful?

There were a lot of tiny moments, but no big moments.

Early on you wrote for MadTV—when did that happen?

That was the summer of 1995.

What was that like?

It was good, but it wasn't until later that I appreciate the lessons that I learned. I was frustrated while I was there because of what I could and couldn't write. It was part of the network format. I was really young, and I was kind of idealistic and combative.

Do you ever miss working on King of Queens?

Yeah, there were really good people on that show. It was really fun, and they always wrote fun stuff for me to do.

How did television compare to stand-up or even your film work?

Well, each is its own thing. They're different disciplines, but they're all fun. You can't really compare them—they're not the same thing. There's way more autonomy in stand-up.

Do you prefer one over the other?

No, I like all of them.

You voiced a rat in Ratatouille—did you have to do anything to really get in character for that?

No, they just wanted me to act like I act. There wasn't anything really ratlike about the role, so it was pretty cool.

Do you have any especially fond memories of working on the film?

Way too many to name. Just getting to visit the Pixar campus up in [Emeryville, Calif.] was amazing.

Did they approach you with the role?

Yeah, they approached me.

What drew you to it?

Them offering it to me.

Was there anything particular about the role you found attractive?

Getting to work at Pixar.

How close to your actual life was your character in the movie Big Fan?

There are certainly elements of that guy in me, but Robert [D. Siegel] wrote him to such an extreme that it was like elements of myself were amplified—like the obsessiveness and completeism that pop culture addicts tend to get.

Was it an emotionally difficult part to play?

It was. It was a really sad twisted guy and in the end it's almost like he thinks he's gotten some kind of victory there, but he's only gotten deeper into his own obsessiveness.

Do you feel like you grew personally from that role?

I have no idea. That remains to be seen.

With the excellent Comedians of Comedy tour, you performed at smaller "indie rock" venues—were you going for street cred?

I just wanted to be in really, really packed small rooms that were more intimate. There were a lot of different motivations for that. I think when you go after street cred, you always end up failing, so that wasn't a motivation.

Did you feel like there was more of a connection between the performer and the audience on that tour?

There you go.

You won a Grammy for the album My Weakness Is Strong, which you actually recorded in D.C. at Lisner Auditorium. Why did you choose that venue?

I liked it. I'm not really sure. We had a bunch of different choices and that one I just thought would look better on film and not be overly huge. I don't remember what the decision-making process was, we just thought it would look really good.

Was the Grammy a surprise?

Yeah, I had no idea. I don't really follow the Grammys, so I don't know when they announce them or anything, I just got a call from my manager saying I got nominated.

What should people expect from this tour?

It's not a tour, I'm just doing a few dates.

What should people expect from these upcoming dates?

A man doing jokes into a microphone?

Well, is there anything special about these dates as compared to previous ones?

New material?

How many dates do you have coming up?

Four or five. I just go out, do a night, and come back home. It's not really a tour.

Do you have any other big new projects?

Some, but they're just in an amorphous stage. They're really hard to talk about when they're like that.

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  • C.F.

    Just to be clear, The Patso, I am not defending the article in the least. I'm just not surprised by it. It's painful to read any newspaper article on a topic you know more about than the writer, which is why the toughest journo gig is sports because most of their readers are Big Fans (Get it? Man, second sports reference in two posts and I don't even follow any athletic pastimes), which again, isn't to excuse the editorial quality and yeah, I might have actually been too charitable about the whole journalism thing, but it's not the place for me to go into a rant about the rat-race of journalism. Emphasis on rat.

    You pretty much nailed everything wrong in that interview point by point--the first to mention the "street cred" question too. I actually grimaced when I read that it was so painful.

    But I think at this point it goes without saying that the whole article is a wash, no? Even the guy's colleague W.A.M. didn't bother defending it and just went after a commenter. J.L.F. owned up to his Osborn goof but also didn't defend Ryan's work. No one at the paper is defending it because it can't be defended (as proven by the few commenters who tried and failed).

    I just think to keep hammering home what is, at least implicitly, acknowledged might be mean and unnecessary. And perhaps reflects poorly on Patton's fans more than what is obviously a really unfortunate article. Maybe?

  • Jesse

    Oh look, the wagons are circling.

    Will Atwood Mitchell: Nice deflection, douchebag. Your colleague asks shitty questions, gets a boring interview as a result and then blames the interviewee for not being funny and reveals himself to be incredibly unprofessional, and your response is to call commenters assholes. Nice to see that Ryan isn't the only self-absorbed dipshit working for this publication.

  • The Patso

    To C.F. I hear ya, dude/dudette.

  • Nick

    Listen to Patton's track "Sterling, Virginia" from Werewolves and Lollipops. You are Arch Campbell, interviewer.

  • Beezus

    I also did not mean to defend the article as a work of excellence but was merely trying to offer some perspective to counterbalance the insults and name-calling. But that's the level of discourse now, so please forgive me for getting in the way of the pile-on.

    Ellen (and a few others), thanks for the reasonable and thoughtful debate. Journalism is indeed in big trouble, but I hope the cream does rise to the top and we don't have to get all of our information from blogs, Twitter feeds and other sources with even less checks and balances.

    Ryan and the paper, keep your chin up and use this to get better. Remember, every time someone comments, you can charge another dollar for web ads.

    And I really am a huge fan of Patton's work. I'm jealous he came to this town and not mine. Headed off now to drown my sorrows in a sadness bowl piled with failure.

  • Mark

    Reminds me a little of this:

  • Jack London

    You guys should check out Ryan's band.
    Their full-length is more impressive than anything you haters will accomplish in your entire lives.

  • Billy Shakespeare

    "a moron, idiot, unprofessional, mean-spirited, and bad at his job."

    "Will, I DO think Ryan is a moron and the Washington City Paper are idiots for hiring him."

    "Ryan Little? More like Ryan Shittle!! Amiright!?!?!?!?!"

    "Jesus, I just re-read the interview. Little is a moron in that he had no idea he was being subtly mocked. If he’s not bright enough to see that, he has no business with a brilliant comedian like Patton Oswalt. Stick to a paper route jackass and leave the interviews to the people who are qualified to do them."

    "Ryan, You are a moron. You should not do what you do for a living. The Washington City Paper are idiots for hiring you, for utterly failing to editor your weak-sauce work, and for running your lazy, stupid interview filled with the least interesting questions imaginable in the first place. The fact that you totally sucked ass at your job and then blamed Patton, who by the way was mocking you throughout in a pretty funny way shows that you are an imbecile. You should receive vocational training so you can do useful work in a factory putting pins into holes. You are a pin-head-hole.

    You belong in the slow-class Ryan. Suck it up and accept your fate."

    I think you guys should re-think your comments. These are all being pointed at a human being. You give mankind anonymity and this is what you come up with? I am honestly disgusted.

  • Steve

    I like how no one acknowledge's Gene's attempts at humor, yet he feels the need to post four times.

  • sarah

    This interview is just terrible. not the comedian's fault - the interviewers.

  • Gene

    I'd like to point out that Steve is a douchebag...

  • Steve

    Gene is untouchable.

  • Gene

    Again, great job (NOT) on the interview, Ryan!

    Keep up the good work!


  • Brandon J. Carr

    Billy Shakespeare, thanks for your comments. People don't think about other people. For a lot of these folks, it seems like the outcome and effect are irrelevant as long as you're clever and vitriolic enough. Kind of a shit sense of priority, if you ask me.

    Ryan's a friend of mine. He's a well-spoken, intelligent, friendly guy. I agree there were some missteps here, but that doesn't say anything at all about him as a person. So flame on, guys...enjoy your tiny victories over some fictional target you've crafted.


  • Billy Shakespeare

    Yeah man. I actually know Ryan, too. He's an awesome guy and would never purposely offend so many people like he evidently did. I also heard he's sick. Any word on that?

  • Brandon J. Carr

    He seemed fine when I saw him last week, so no word on that that I know of. Unless you mean sick like skateboarder slang, in which case he's the sickest. And illest. Or whatever.


  • Gene

    Look, it's a sock-puppet party!

  • Gene

    I wish that every shitty journalist were a work of fiction.

    Too bad it isn't true in this case.

  • Steve

    Double-post for extra douchebaggery. Impressive.

  • Gene

    You're nothing more than a troll...impressive.

  • Steve

    I'm a response troll. I only roll in when there are other trolls that need counter-trolling. And you weren't even a challenge.

  • Steve

    ...and I LOVE the taste of fresh cock in the morning!

  • Sandil

    Man, you guys need to get a life.

  • Steve

    Can I suck you off?

  • Jason

    Wow Steve, you get your official "Newfag" hat yet?

  • Tom

    Wait, what does that even mean?

  • Tom

    Pass the penis, please...