Published on May 20th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Patton Oswalt – I Love Everything
Patton Oswalt is back with another amusing hour of material. But does his comedy still possess the sharp, satirical teeth of older classics like ‘Werewolves and Lollipops?’
Patton Oswalt is my idol. I remember vividly listening to classic albums like “Werewolves and Lollipops” and “My Weakness is Strong” on the long bus ride to Saskatoon’s historic Roxy Theatre where I worked in high school. I remember being self-conscious of other commuters’ weird looks as I keeled over in laughter with nothing but my headphones to suggest I wasn’t a total lunatic. I remember watching every talk show appearance, every interview, every panel I could find just to soak up every bit of his endearing smarm. I’m staring at both of his books on my shelf right now. I send my friends his famous “Birthday” bit every year on their cake day. I am, in all of the stereotypical, cliched ways, his #1 fan. So, when I say that his new special on Netflix was a mild disappointment, I say it with nothing but love.
Patton will always be funny, that’s not up for debate. A person like Patton–with that exacerbated tone and throaty voice that were surely born out of geekdom–was just born to be funny. Even his moments of sincerity have a pithiness to them that put a smile on my face, comfort me. To me, he is funny like a best friend is funny. That’s not something that gets turned off and on. It’s simply present in the chemistry he concocts with his audience.
But every comedian has a window. A specific time-frame in their careers in which their on-stage savvy meshes perfectly with their anger, frustration, depression, whatever. If you look at the best years of any great comedian’s life, they were probably in a time when that comedian had some kind of void to fill, some kind of steam to blow off. For many comics, Patton included, it’s a matter of (relative) youthfulness. Despite its many blithe and unfulfilling qualities, being in the prime of your life brings about a kind of bravado—a form of uncertainty that drives razor sharp comedy.
In Patton’s earlier specials, you could sense a tension. An angst. A feeling that comedy was the only outlet in that moment—that he’d go insane without it. Ironically, that made his material feel looser and more creatively liberated. I was always struck by his famous “KFC Bowls” bit not only because it was positioned as a compendium of everything Patton felt was wrong with society, but also because he embodied the satire directly. Instead of going, “Hey, you know what’s dumb? KFC bowls,” he starts his bit in character. “Hey what’s good at KFC?” and then the clerk replies “Oh well we have chicken and mashed potatoes and corn and—” Patton replies, “Stop…Can you just pile all of that into a single bowl?” His level of exacerbation coalesced perfectly with his ability to articulate the strangeness of KFC’s bowls in the best possible way. His anger and disillusionment seemed to dictate the form. Not only was that approach satirically salient, but it also just felt cutting edge, especially to teenage me. I had mostly heard stand up comics addressing the audience, just being themselves. I had never heard anyone embody the butt of the joke so thoroughly and so effectively as Patton so constantly did.
But that prime was 10-15 years ago. A lot has happened to Patton since then. He has raised a daughter. He has dealt with the tragic death of his wife Michelle McNamara. He’s found other artistic mediums with which he can express himself (memoirs, acting, comics, etc.). It seems that, for Patton, life has mellowed him out. It’s made him evaluate his life in relation to the big, wide, scary, stupid world we live in. He’s experienced hardship, but in wake of that, has found peace.
“I Love Everything” has funny bits in it. It’s good; you should definitely watch it. But in watching it, I finally felt sure of something that I had begun to sense for a while now. Patton is still funny as ever, but he just doesn’t quite have as much to say anymore. And he doesn’t have that heart-on-his-sleeve desperation to get it all out cathartically. For example, he opens the special on a bit about how he has become disenchanted with his breakfast cereal now that he’s gotten older. A funny bit, but ultimately the punch line is that old people are old and have to do old people things. Later, he has an amusing bit about a strange wallpaper specialist he hired in his home (I really want to know what the fuck he’s wallpapering in 2020, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Its really funny. His characterization of this weirdo is thoroughly wrought. But again, it feels slightly empty. Like you’re acknowledging its funny more than actually laughing.
He has a clever bit about how he thinks Jesus is just a compendium of twenty different guys because when he tells stories about all these cool dudes he used to know, they all just get balled up together into one Franken-dude named Craig. Again, really thoughtful. Funny way of satirizing religion. But is it making anyone think? Is it reaching out and making someone deeply relate to something they previously couldn’t quite put their finger on?
Even his topical material on Trump and #MeToo feels paltry. He says it himself while prefacing his Trump bit. “I don’t really have much to say about this. You either think he’s awful or you like him in which case, you’re lost.” A valid point, yet it proves how his comedy has become somewhat defanged. He’s tired. He’s jaded. He’s done with that chapter in his life where it is imperative for him to speak truth to power. What he says about Trump or about pervy showbiz dudes are just clever ways of framing what we kind of already know.
Maybe that is because he has cultivated his audience so much that there’s nowhere left to reach out? Maybe it says a lot about the state of comedy in this day and age that battle lines are drawn ahead of time—that audiences aren’t as varied as they used to be. I can’t be sure. But what is clear is that Patton has settled into a stage of his career that is nice and amusing but lacking that deep-digging satirical verve he once had. It seems that is the cost of finding peace, the cost of finding meaning in life. So good for Patton. If you enjoy good stand-up his latest is still definitely worth a watch. But as a lifelong fan, its hard not to compare it to his salad days.
‘I Love Everything’ and other specials from Patton Oswalt are now streaming on Netflix.