Tag Archives: Patton Oswalt

Stand Up Wit…Patton Oswalt

A failure pile in a sadness bowl…

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.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Literary Laughs

“Looks like we got us a reader…”

Ever since a relative spoke that horrific (and ironic, considering the skull it was emanating from) comment about one of my young daughters, it stuck in my head like glue. I don’t know if it’s in the DNA or it’s just a nice skill to develop, but yeah, I raised a couple of “reeedurzwho will hopefully continue and enjoy the science of mental absorption until they take their final dirt nap.

Arguably, as an adult with a busy schedule, it is hard to find the time to plow through books; even my pop magazine consumption has fallen off the cliff. When I do get in the swing of it I tend to grab a few things with a common theme, be they historical recollections, humorous fiction or pop culture biographies. For example, a recent viewing of Public Enemies whetted my appetite for the golden age of FBI vs. bank robbers, so I grabbed a few books about crime during the Depression Era. Similar spontaneous tangents have seen me devour a few books at a time on political corruption, alien invasions and the birth of the television industry.

I am a Renaissance Man ready for my day on Jeopardy.

So I noticed that a gaggle of books by or about comedians was hitting the shelves and thought I’d pass along a few tips. I haven’t read most of them, but I’ve got a few in hand and some of the others seem to be no-brainers considering the source. I’m not sure why such a plethora of comic pulp has descended upon us in such fashion; maybe a certain relative wandered into a publishing house and dropped a famous observation in the lobby?

Of course, like the environment I created for my children, I had a loving mentor making sure I was exposed to the wonders of the written word from the moment I could pay attention. My Mom wasn’t a career woman, the word they had back in the day was housewife. Of course, we know now that a housewife not only cooked and cleaned and shopped and managed the household but also had the ultimate responsibility of talking these little lumps of flesh called kids and molding them into people. In my house, Mom was the moral compass who taught by example first and words second; how to be kind and unselfish, how to be confident without being boorish, how to develop an independent personality and find your voice in a world that was increasingly pushing vanilla.

And yes, how to read. By the time I entered first grade I could read at a middle school level, understood basic math and had a fairly voracious vocabulary. And although that description screams nerd, I wasn’t. That jump-start on my education provided an incalculable advantage for me throughout my life, even if I didn’t always seize the opportunities that came my way. She also had a great sense of humor, something that she encouraged me to nurture, and although our tastes in comedy would eventually veer off from the basics, she was the one who celebrated my attraction to the comics I would see on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson (and hear during the first great wave of recorded comedy).

I drift off onto this tangent because today marks twenty-five years since my Mom died from cancer, far too young and far too suddenly. There’s so much that she never got to see, and it pains me that I never got to share so many events and accomplishments with her. But I am comforted that I carry her spirit in my heart every day, and I see her best qualities in my daughters , the ones she never got to meet. So as skeptical and confused as I am about life and religion and human condition, I know that whether you call it DNA or a soul, there’s a bit of her sweetness and greatness that is preserved beyond her time.

Twenty-five years? That sometimes seems like an eternity and other times like yesterday. Thanks for everything, Mom.

I doubt Mom would have read these books to me as a child. But here are Ten Literary Laughs – books by comedians for those of us who need a little diversion in a difficult world. The brain exercise is just a side benefit.

And yes, Mom, they’re in alphabetical order by author

(01) – Mike Birbiglia: Sleepwalk With Me

(02) – Jim Breuer: I’m Not High

(03) – Adam Carolla: In Fifty Years We’ll All be Chicks

(04) – David Cross: I Drink For A Reason

(05) – Tina Fey: Bossypants

(06) – Greg Fitzsimmons: Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons

(07) – Gilbert Gottfried: Rubber Balls and Liquor

(08) – Paul Mooney: Black Is The New White

(09) – Patton Oswalt: Zombie Speceship Wasteland

(10) – Sarah Silverman: Bedwetter

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Tweety Birds

Six months have passed since my last Tweet, so I am wondering if I should blast out another message. Since I post every day, I guess I don’t see the need to tell people that they should stop by, since twenty-six months of daily posts should be enough to subtly infer that you might want to stop by regularly. I mean, after all, I’m trying to attract readers and thinkers, not someone with the attention span of a gnat on fire.

I really don’t want to waste anyone’s time telling them daily what the daily post is about – you can sign up for email or use an RSS feed for that. and frankly, I don’t think you’d really care that I ate a really great cheeseburger or that I went to a movie in a theatre for the first time in four months or that Mountain Dew still tastes like dog piss, or at least how I imagine dog piss would taste, not having actually sampled the nectar first hand.

But I do occasionally check in on some comedians who Tweet, and for them, the recent Oscar broadcast was like shooting fish in a barrell. I’ve had a long week, so let’s keep it light with Ten Tweeters you should check out – at least for their Oscar wit! Have a great weekend!

(01) – Norm MacDonaldBy the time the dead guy montage starts, Kirk Douglas will be in it

(02) – Nick KrollStutter is the new retard

(03) – Bill MaherIf you’re black and want to make it in Hollywood you better be a swan

(04) – Joan Rivers The smart nominees get Botox injections before the Academy Awards so if they lose, we won’t see the rage lurking behind their frozen faces.”

(05) – Chelsea Peretti I know nothing about fashion but I wanna say shoulder cut-outs were a miscalc

(06) – Drew Carey To everyone disappointed in last nights Oscars: Serves you right for watching in the first place.”

(07) – Moshe Kasher Wow Franco is ruining lines that were pre ruined by the writers.”

(08) – Natasha Leggero Anyone know what corporation is shoving Anne Hathaway down our throats?”

(09) – Patton Oswalt  Whoever hugs Reese is gonna slit their jugular on her jawbone…”

(10) – Whitney Cummings When did Gwyneth Paltrow become the Sarah Palin of country music?

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #3-2-1

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

Maybe the most amazing thing about my list – and I didn’t realize what was happening until after I locked everything down – is that nine of the top ten were debut albums. That is partially due to the likelihood that an established seller will more likely get the financial backing for a DVD project. But it also signals the fact that a group of brilliant writers and performers (many of whom have been staff writers for successful and established shows and performers) are getting an opportunity to get their unique voices out there. 

It’s heartbreaking to realize how many great comic minds we’ve lost in recent years, but it’s reassuring to know that so many have picked up the torch.

Finalizing a top ten was tough, determining the top three was exasperating.

But here we go…

***

#03: Kyle Kinane, DEATH OF THE PARTY

Great imagery and material; immediately captivating with an incredibly original style. Sure, he looks and sounds disheveled, but this album straddles the line between stream of consciousness riffing and nuggets of cosmic gold. I will always marvel at the way Mitch Hedberg’s brain worked for puns and one-liners; and I think Kinane’s storytelling presentation is on that same level of greatness.  (A Special Thing Records)

***

#02: Anthony Jeselnik, SHAKESPEARE

He might be the smartest writer out there; if you don’t believe it just ask him! Deliberate slow pacing, where he clearly enunciates every word to squeeze every nuance, silence and twist for maximum effect. You have to be very skillful to present yourself as an arrogant know-it-all constantly baiting the audience, but when your CD is one perfectly constructed joke after another, you are acquitted. (Comedy Central Records)

***

#01: Auggie Smith, SMELL THE THUNDER

A great combination of social exasperation, political/religious commentary and brilliant writing. Smith’s album is a blend of Patton Oswalt, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope – basically everything I like about standup comedy. Great pacing, exceptional delivery and inflection, and even his throw-away lines are hilarious. In a year when many strong comedy albums were released, this was the cream of the crop. (Rooftop Comedy)

***

Next week: The Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Comically Bad Advice

Thanks to an event that occurred last night, I sought out some words of wisdom and comfort this morning. Along with the obvious and the occasionally inspirational, I decided to go for the absurdly comedic angle as well.

There’s no Chicken Soup for the Funny Bone, but there is this:

You’re A Horrible Person But I Like You

The pretense is a twisted version of the advice column, where someone (often fabricated) writes in with a question so the columnist can dispense some words of wisdom. Over the years these responders have been straightforward helpful types, wiseass sarcastic vipers or pompous amateur psychologists. and almost without exception, the columns were popular, the printed version of a train wreck that can’t be avoided.

In this book, a group of comedians take a whack at the same Q&A task, asking and answering a few apiece. While the results are uneven, each comic usually has at least one good one, with several (Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Todd Barry and Paul F Tompkins) especially strong.

How’s this for a list of advice givers? Aziz Ansari, Judd Apatow, Fred Armisen, Maria Bamford, Todd Barry, Samantha Bee, Michael Ian Black, Andy Borowitz, Michael Cera, Vernon Chatman, Rob Corddry, David Cross, Larry Doyle, Paul Feig, Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, Janeane Garofalo, Daniel Handler, Todd Hanson, Tim Heidecker, Ed Helms, Buck Henry, Mindy Kaling, John Lee, Thomas Lennon, Al Madrigal, Aasif Mandvi, Marc Maron, Adam McKay, Eugene Mirman, Morgan Murphy, Bob Odenkirk, John Oliver, Patton Oswalt, Martha Plimpton, Harold Ramis, Amy Sedaris, Michael Showalter, Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Sarah Vowell, David Wain, Eric Wareheim, Rainn Wilson and Lizz Winstead.

It’s a perfect book for a quick scan; each chapter (organized by comic) is but a few pages long and can be read in a few minutes. And although the chapters themselves can be read out of order, some of the writers have some clever call-backs that would be easily missed if their chapters weren’t read in their entirety.

It’s not gut-busting funny, but it did put a much-needed smile on my face today. As always, your mileage may vary.

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WTF Turns 100

Congratulations to Marc Maron – tomorrow will mark the one hundredth episode of his brilliant WTF podcast. Since September 2009, like clockwork, these hours of self-analysis, penetrating interviews and social observation keep popping out twice a week like gold.

The WTF Podcast page

The very first episode featured the Roastmaster General himself, Jeff Ross, and the array of guests he’s welcomed is staggering. Patton Oswalt, David Feldman, Maria Bamford, Jim Norton, Robin Williams, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, Doug Stanhope, Andy Kindler…he’s quietly assembled a library of audio documents that any serious comedy lover should savor.

And Maron, beyond being incredibly funny in his own right, has proven to be an incisive interviewer who is unafraid to broach sensitive topics (and yes, sometimes with a personal edge). Some of my favorites included a frank discussion of race with Chicago comic Dwayne Kennedy and some gutsy exchanges with two popular but controversial comedians accused of joke thievery (Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia).

Although many are recorded in his garage studio, Maron has taken WTF on the road and has even filmed a pilot for that will hopefully be picked up as a series. Not only will it bring in some welcome funding, but the show and its brilliant guests will get much-needed exposure to the vast majority of people who don’t even know the show exists, let alone where to find it. Surely there has to be room in the vast cable landscape for intelligent discourse?

For now, I’m just thankful that Maron, Bill Burr, Kevin Pollack and so many others have adopted the format and put this out there for free. With literally hundreds of hours of these shows available, there will never be another boring car ride. Ever.

Congratulations, Mark! Please try to enjoy the moment.

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Stand Up Wit…Dana Gould

Not crossing, but jumping the line.

Not crossing, but jumping the line.

I’ve enjoyed Dana Gould’s quirky and bold humor for a long time. A fixture on the alternative comedy scene (think Patton Oswalt or Mr. Show), Gould blends subversive observational humor with deeply personal confessional rants, resulting in a performance that is hilariously funny but occasionally disturbing and uncomfortable. I treasure his first CD Funhouse, and had long held out hope that he would take time away from a seven year career as a Simpsons writer to bless us with a follow-up album. Lo and behold, it took over a decade, but Let Me Put My Thoughts In You is finally here, and yes, it was worth the wait.

Dana on Kimmel performing some of the new bits.

Gould has always maintained a pulse as a stand-up despite the other career and family obligations, although more to keep his chops sharp than to circle the country in a conventional tour. As a seasoned writer/performer, his segues are sharp and logical but not blatant. It’s as if an initial barstool conversation gradually gets more perverse and then goes off the rails (with you hanging on by a chin strap, of course).

There’s a brief interview/conversation between Gould and director Bob Odenkirk that is more revealing than you would expect it to be, and provides insight into his thought process.  Dana Gould’s humor is not for everyone, but then again…what is?

Read my full review at Blurt Online.

Dana Gould

“I thought it took time to become a bum?”

Dana’s website

Dana on MySpace

Dana wiki

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