I know there are many sitcom watchers who know about Patton Oswalt from his supporting role on King Of Queens. I’m not certain why, but I just never got around to watching that show. My introduction to Oswalt was strictly through the world of stand-up, where lines like the above would roll off his tongue and be simultaneously absurd and perfectly fitting. It’s the chalk line in humor that divides fans of the genre from the more conventional set-up punchline rinse repeat that some sadly feel is the only game in town.
Fans know he’s a brilliant writer and might expect his book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland to be comparable to his stage show. In a way, it is - Oswalt’s storytelling is engaging and magnetic; a John Cheever for the alienated sect. He might call this a collection of essays and be technically correct, but he’s also given us a thinly disguised biography, albeit an incomplete one.
Growing up a short drive from Washington DC yet not having the means to get there made Oswalt like a bird in a cage – smelling the freedom yet feeling the frustration of the locked door. His stories of Dungeons and Dragons, working in a subterranean movie theatre and defending against bullies in snow forts are palpable memories and show how a boy forced to rely on his imagination could develop it into a weapon, now used only for good (and our undying respect and amusement). Tales of adulthood include slumming in a Hollywood gifting suite and enduring what has to be among the worst road stories in stand-up comedy.
Most of the essays have their own comic pulse, but the asides and footnotes are priceless. There’s one that tangents off a thought about actions being perceived in so many different ways by onlookers who don’t have the back story for perspective. One involves a childhood friend who could no longer delay a bathroom break on a paper route, so after deciding the coast was clear, he defecated on a stranger’s lawn:
Who was in that house? Hopefully happy, sleeping people. But what if, in the depths of winter, there’d been some desperate soul who’d been awake all night, pondering his sorry lot in life, and had decided, around 3:47AM, “I’m going to throw open the curtains at dawn and decide whether to go on or end this pathetic charade right here and now.” Come five AM he peers out on God’s creation, sees the paperboy shitting on the lawn, and hangs himself with a jump rope in the basement. Worst Beckett play ever.
I was laughing at the imagery of the story, but the Beckett line killed me. If you are this twisted, you will love Patton Oswalt, and this book. If not…enjoy KFC.