Okay guys. This conversation with Patton Oswalt needs a little context. I had just seen Oswalt deliver a hilarious and incredibly well-received set in a sweaty, packed comedy tent at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. And, like any chaotic festival, music from a nearby stage was continuously bleeding in. That meant that the sounds of Johnny Marr (of The Smiths) and Kurt Vile punctuated each comedian’s set. No complaints from anyone, natch: most of the comics paused their sets to listen to the sultry sounds of ditties like “How Soon Is Now” (or, in Oswalt’s case, to sing an improvised duet along with Kurt Vile). So, naturally, our conversation began with a brief foray into the alternative music scene. I should also tell you the entire interview was conducted while driving through the festival on a golf cart. Enjoy.
Alright, so, this is going to be fun! I have to ask: you brought up Johnny Marr onstage. You’re a big fan of music. Were you one of those new wave kids back in the day?
I was a new wave kid in as far as I could be one where I was living. Not that anyone cared what you were. I was in the suburb of a suburb, so we got everything third and fourth generation. So, literally, I didn’t even discover punk rock until it was like 1984. Whenever Repo Man came out, and that soundtrack came out, then I had to go backwards a decade to get into that stuff. If I was into new wave, it was all the Top 40 versions of new wave. I didn’t even get into The Smiths until college. I just got into everything so late. It took me a while. How old are you?
Okay, so you— where were you when grunge broke in the early 1990s?
Oh God, I would have been, like, five years old?
Yeah, that’s true…
And, like, in the suburbs of Chicago, so we didn’t get much of that.
Oh! My wife grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.
In Oak Park. She was there when Liz Phair and all those people were coming up.
Yeah! That’s a great time to be there.
And she was in her twenties, so it was perfect.
I’m a big music nerd, so I’m always happy to hear about what people come up with.
So what was your big year then where you’re like, ‘Oh my God!’ That must have been the early aughts then, right?
So what was big for you?
It had to be, like, late Weezer.
And the White Stripes.
The White Stripes, definitely. Jack White is such a virtuoso.
Oh yeah. Any Holly Golightly?
That wasn’t part of it for me unfortunately, but I’ll take a listen! As you were saying, coming to music later is also part of the narrative. I was a senior in high school when I discovered The Smiths.
Yes! And there’s nothing more annoying to the people around you when you’re the person who’s 10 years late, but you’re letting everyone in on it. ‘Let me tell you something about…’ ‘No, we know. Trust me.’
God, that’s so true. So what are you listening to nowadays?
Oh, God. God, right now… well, it’s funny you mentioned that, because I have to go back and forth between the kind of newer stuff that I like… God, what am I into right now. I like the new Arcade Fire, I know it’s very divisive but I fucking love it. I really like We Were Promised Jetpacks. Still Holly Golightly. The new Julie Ruin is great.
I’m not familiar with that.
That’s Kathleen Hanna’s side project. But, you know, I’m also kind of a fogey in that I listen to a lot of early sixties garage rock, regional stuff. I collect all of those compilations. A lot of really early punk and that post-punk stuff, like The Smiths. But then I also have to go back for my daughter, who’s now four. She loves Katy Perry, she loves Beyoncé, she loves Lorde, she wants to hear all that stuff. Carly Rae Jepsen. So in a weird way, having a four-year old keeps you up on what the new pop music is.
It’s like you have book ends for your music. The now and then.
Yeah! My daughter’s like, ‘Can we hear the lions song?’ ‘Yes…’
Do you have time to see any music here at Fun Fun Fun Fest, or are you in-and-out?
This time, no, just because I said yes to this when this was going to be a big open weekend and now everything schedule-wise has gotten really crazy. I gotta fly first thing tomorrow to shoot a thing all day. And I gotta give my wife all day Sunday to write because she’s writing a book, and I’m trying to give her as many days as I can. It’s just like, I really gotta curtail my travel.
But you’ve been to Austin many times before.
Yeah, and Austin’s one of those cities like Portland… I almost took my daughter here this weekend except the travel wouldn’t have been fun. But now, Austin’s one of those cities that I want to go to where I don’t have to do a show. I like to hang around here. I like the stuff that’s here. I took my daughter to Portland and Seattle and D.C. and New York, so she’s had weekends away so my wife could write. And Austin is one of those really kid friendly cities. There’s nothing but fun stuff to do.
Do you have any favorite haunts around town?
I love Austin Books and Comics. I think it’s just a good bookstore, beyond comic books. I love, oh, God, I know it’s so goddamn cheesy, it has such a cheesy name, but Juan in a Million… amazing migas. Have you ever had the migas there?
No, I haven’t… I’m a bad Austinite.
And then barbecue, well, I mean, I know that everyone loves Franklin, and a bunch of my friends want to go to breakfast there tomorrow, which, I’m like, I can’t do that and get on a plane, guys. Sorry. I might, if one of them were to call me, I might go to Wink tonight. And I love going to the Velveeta Room if I have a weeknight free just to watch people. That’s how you get fired up as a comedian, just watching people— what’s really great if you get this far into comedy is that you can watch people at open mics who suck at the open mic, but you can see where they’re going to become amazing. And now that I have that ability, I genuinely like doing that, because you’re like ‘Oh, that’s what he or she is going to have to cut and carve out of what they’re doing.’ But you can see the voice inside of it. That is amazing to me.
That seems like something that would help keep any seasoned comic’s chops up, too, to be able to critique like that.
Not only to critique, but also to get humbled. Beyond that, the wave of comedians coming up right now, because they’re so wired in with Twitter and Vine and Instagram — the talented-to-suck ratio is so skewered towards talented. Way more than my scene. WAY more than in the scene before us. It’s ridiculous. It really keeps you active.
Do you feel like it’s harder to come up, if there’s so much talent to pull from?
I don’t, and here’s why: because people are excited about what they’re doing. It was actually harder for me to come up because, when I was doing it, I started in ’88, people were starting to become not excited about comedy. They were like, ‘ENOUGH.’ And they were right, because it really sucked. It was bad, where it was being taken. Now, because everyone is so good and has such unique voices, people are excited to see what’s next. In a way, it’s an advantage, because if you hear, ‘she’s some 19-year old, she’s really funny on Twitter,’ then people say, ‘Oh, I want to go see that.’ They know that’s going to be the next thing.
Live photo of Patton taken at Fun Fun Fun Fest by Carrie Andersen.