Before Patton Oswalt was Spence on The King of Queens or a rat in Pixar’s Ratatouille, he was just a stand-up comedian. Fortunately for us, his new album Werewolves and Lollipops, is proof that will never change.
By Dylan P. Gadino
Comedian Patton Oswalt is in the fortunate position of having the respect of a large group of underground stand-up comedy fans as well as the eyes of mainstream entertainment consumers. Although his nine-year role as Spence on The King of Queens has come to an end, Patton’s secured his position in big-budget Hollywood by voicing the lead part of Remy in Pixar’s Ratatouille, which has — as of press time — earned $67 million. He’ll also be seen in August’s Balls of Fury, a comedy based around the sport of ping-pong and penned by the writing team of Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant. This fall he’ll even be taking a dramatic turn in All Roads Lead Home.
Most important, however, the Comedians of Comedy tour founder’s new album, Werewolves and Lollipops, will soon be out on Sub Pop records. The album, his second, is an amazingly funny mix of Patton’s observations on U.S. politics, societal ills and his personal life. Punchline Magazine caught up with Patton on the Fourth of July to chat about his new album and everything between.
So, it’s the Fourth of July. I thought you’d be out celebrating our country’s birth. Why do hate America?
You just totally exposed it. There’s no way I could defend myself. It’s embarrassing.
How do you maintain that balance between the mainstream success you’ve had in television and movies and the more underground success and respect you’ve gained in your stand-up comedy career?
I think it’s because it’s pretty clear that all the mainstream success that I get and pursue is so that I can keep doing stand-up the way I want to do it. I think people can understand that. It’s hard to make money doing stand-up these days. It’s harder to travel. So why not do stuff that’ll help that along. I think people know that if they’re stand-up fans of mine, there are other things of mine they don’t need to watch. Then there are people who like my mainstream stuff, and they’re smart enough to understand that my stand-up is a little bit more adult.
Do you ever hear from your stand-up fans that you’re a sellout?
No one’s ever said it to my face. There are people that will say it online anonymously. But then someone will point out that he’s not doing TV and movies in the mainstream so he could sit back and live in a big house and drive a nice car. He spends it on doing more Comedians of Comedy tours and putting out his own albums and stuff like that.
There’s not really much of an argument. If someone says something like that it’s either they’re very young and immature or they’re very old and bitter. It’s like saying ‘I can’t listen to Richard Pryor ever since I saw The Toy and Superman III.’ Well then you’re a fucking idiot because he’s really funny. That’s just silly. Not that I’m comparing myself to Richard Pryor.
That’s a strong argument.
I’m not making an argument. Other people are making the argument for me. I don’t really care either way. In the long run — and I know this sounds kind of crass — I don’t care what people think of me. When I was just a comedian, I didn’t care. Now that I have “quote, unquote” mainstream success, that hasn’t changed.
Also, mainstream versus indie is like Red State versus Blue State: it doesn’t exist. You get to the age where you just like everything, ya know? Or you just find value in everything. There is no mainstream and there is no independent and street cred goes sour very quickly. There’s no shelf life to it, so I don’t worry about it.
So if it’s good, it’s good, and if its bad its bad. Enough with the labels?
Exactly. How many so-called little indie films have you gone to see and they’ve fucking sucked? Then you go see some big-budget movie like Speed or the new Die Hard and they’re much more entertaining and fun. So who gives a shit?
Your new album, Werewolves and Lollipops, has a strange title. Where did it come from?
The title came from me trying to think of a title for the album and having every single one rejected by Sub Pop. Then, I finally threw my hands in the air and said, “Fuck it!” I just came up with that, and they said, “Hey, we like that. That’s good.” It was like the worst title I could come up with and the one that had nothing to do with the album.
What were some of the titles Sub Pop rejected?
There were so many. Comedy Costs You; I wanted to call it My Penis for some reason. Yelling was another one. Those are the ones I could remember.
Maybe you could do a limited edition, unreleased track album and call it My Penis.
Yeah, I’ll do a Billion Dollar Babies cover and everything.
How has the ending of The King of Queens affected you?
I miss going in and working with everyone there. I had a lot of friends there, so that was a lot of fun. But I was only on like every third episode, so I would only work a couple weeks a month. So it wasn’t that much of a shock for me as I think it might have been for other cast members. And I worked really hard to establish other stuff that I was doing, so it wasn’t like, “Fuck, now what am I going to do?”
You’re a big Food Network fan, right?
There aren’t actually a lot of shows that I watch on Food Network. I like Top Chef on Bravo. Anthony Bordain’s show is on the Travel Channel. I do like Good Eats on the Food Network; that’s a great show. I just like good food shows. I’m not loyal to a network.
If you ever had the chance to do your own food show, what kind or show would it be?
It would be like a dinner-club show where me and bunch of friends sit around and go to different restaurants and talk so it’s not just on me to carry the show. I like to interact with people. So I’d have different friends of mine on and we’d go to different places and eat food and talk.
You’d talk about the food?
Anything. We could let the food lead us into certain subjects. And let it lead us back out of certain subjects. Who knows?
Sounds like you’ve thought about this.
Well, they did that Dinner for Five show and Daniel Boulud is doing a similar show, so the thing is I don’t want to rip anyone off.
I just watched the Balls of Fury trailer. It looks like a spectacular film.
I have only one scene, but it was a lot of fun to do.
So what’s your role? In the trailer you’re licking what I assume is a ping-pong trophy.
I’m competing with the hero and then taunting him.
I assume you beat the hero.
Who knows? You’ll have to see the movie.
How would you describe the state of contemporary stand-up comedy?
I think right now, its great. I can’t believe there are so many good people doing it right now — especially the younger comedians coming up. They’re just fucking fantastic. It’s really fun right now.
What comedians do you especially like?
There are so many: Dan Mintz, Michelle Biloon, James Adomian, Anthony Jeselnik, Natasha Leggero, Morgan Murphy. There are just so many right now. Comedy is in a great place right now. There’s a super-strong new wave.
A lot of comics think the opposite, that it’s becoming overexposed on television and the like.
I don’t think so at all. Right now, the good part is that these really good young comedians are being left alone to develop on their own. They’re just so much more savvy as to what to do and what not to do so they’re developing in really good directions. Especially, with the Internet, there’s so much more access for people to do what they want to do. It’s great.
You’re 38 now. Are you the type of person to stress out about turning 40?
No. Age has nothing to do with anything. It’s just whatever you’re doing with your life. I just don’t think age matters.
So there will be no midlife crisis?
I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe I will; maybe I won’t but I don’t sit there and look at my life like it’s on some kind of schedule. “Like, well, I’m this age, so this must happen now.” That’s a really silly way to think.
How’s married life?
Good, it’s really fun.
Does your wife share your interests of comic books and all things sci-fi?
Nope, she doesn’t She’s not into any of that stuff. Which is kinda cool. I don’t want someone exactly like me. That would be boring.
How long did you know each other before getting married?
How did you meet?
We met at Largo. She was there to see a show, and I was on stage. I was doing the show, and we just started talking afterward, and it just really happened.
Was she familiar with your stand-up?
No, that was the first time she’d seen me.
In your act, you dedicate a decent amount of time to your feelings on our government and the war. Are these things that concern you a great deal or just things that are easy to mock?
No, it’s stuff I really care about and stuff that I’m really frustrated about.
What frustrates you the most?
Willful ignorance — the aggressive ignorance that people use so that they feel better about themselves and feel better about things. That kind of drives me a little crazy. And people cleaving to party lines rather than listening to logic on both sides gets a little frustrating. And just the state of discourse — it’s all yelling and catchphrases. It’s frustrating because you know nothing’s getting said or discussed or decided. It’s all jingoism.
For more information, check out www.pattonoswalt.com.