Patton Oswalt’s career is exploding. He’s the lead voice in Ratatouille, Pixar’s latest surefire hit, he just ended a nine-year run on the popular King of Queens and he’s near ubiquitous in any cool comedy project, either as a writer or as a character actor. And now he’s releasing his latest CD/DVD, Werewolves and Lollipops on Sub Pop (out July 10), which means a lot of people are going to find Oswalt at his most brutally effective, doing stand-up comedy.
It’s part of a comedian’s job description to take things one step further than normal people might, and that’swhat Oswalt does better than anyone else. From his perspective, KFC’s “Famous Bowls” aren’t just a ridiculous, gas-inducing marketing scheme, they’re a crisis of individual self-worth, each one a “failure pile in a sadness bowl.” The payoff for “The Miracle of Birth,” in which parents who had a child at 63 explain sex to their kid, is disgustingly vivid and hilarious.
Oswalt has a way of internalizing pop culture that removes it from the tacky, sterile realm of gossip and voyeurism and makes it a personal struggle to maintain standards and sanity. He doesn’t just say the Star Wars prequels sucked, he dreams of going back in a time machine and preventing George Lucas from making them, and the conversation he might have had with Lucas had they met before the world was bored to tears by Darth Vader as a child. He’s politically sharp, re-imagining the Bush administration as one unending episode of the Dukes of Hazzard. Even his personal stories avoid idle navel gazing and resonate as if he were an old friend you hadn’t seen in a while.
Werewolves also includes a DVD, containing a full-show shot at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga. At one point, one fan pees on another’s shoes in the audience. Many comedians would exploit that kind of chaos on film; only Oswalt would film an introduction urging fans never to pee on anyone at any show — not a rock show, a comedy show or a poetry reading — and actually mean it.
Oswalt seems to get stronger with every set. Compare the bits on the DVD to the same material on the CD, which was recorded months later, and you won’t see massive changes. But a few words here and there can make the difference between a really funny thought and something that makes your stomach cramp from laughing. Oswalt understands those crucial subtleties, both as a writer and a performer, and that’s what’s going to make him fun to watch for years to come.