Patton Oswalt Talks Occupy Wall Street, New York vs. L.A., And 'Finest Hour'
This winter, Patton Oswalt will be seen in what may be his biggest onscreen role yet: opposite Charlize Theron, playing her former high school classmate in "Young Adult," directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. But never fear, comedy nerds -- Oswalt hasn't completely gone Hollywood. In November, he'll star as a feral man-child who inherits a Southern town in the wonderfully bizarre "The Heart, She Holler," a live-action Adult Swim show created by PFFR, the offbeat minds behind "Wonder Showzen." His latest stand-up special, "Finest Hour," premiered on Showtime last month, and the CD of the special was released on Comedy Central Records.
HuffPost Comedy had the pleasure of talking to Patton about his new projects, as well as his disenchantment with politics, and how Wall Street bankers are a lot like Fred Durst. Read our Q&A with him below.
HuffPost Comedy: Your stand-up is very honest and personal and autobiographical, but in your film and TV work, you usually play a character. Have you considered embarking on a project outside of stand-up that is more autobiographical?
Patton Oswalt: Well, I kind of combined them with "The Comedians of Comedy." Showing me offstage, and going around. But as far as a documentary... I do memoir stuff in my book, and the one that I'm working on now too, but that's probably as far as I can take it. I don't know how much more personal I could get. I don't know what would be the personal medium for that, at least for me.
HPC: The book you're working on right now, that will be in the same vein as "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland"?
PO: Yeah. Even more long, personal essays.
HPC: I watched the first few episodes of "The Heart, She Holler," and they're incredible. I can't remember the last time I saw anything like that.
PO: Oh, you did? Yeah, that's [creators] Vernon Chapman and John Lee for ya, man. Those guys are fuckin' geniuses.
HPC: How do they even pitch something like that? How do you build a character like that?
PO: We had lunch in New York a year ago, and they told me about it. I re-read Michael Lesy's "Wisconsin Death Trip," and kept my mind in that world. We shot it all in the month of July. That's as much as I can tell you. It was so much fun. God, I had fun doing that.
HPC: Are you done doing your residency in New York at this point?
PO: Yes! Yes, I'm back home. I was pretty glad I was there for so long, because now I know I'm never going to be more than five days away from my wife and daughter again. That's just unacceptable for me, and I fought a depression the whole time because I wasn't around them. Now I have an actual, indelible memory of what my limit is for being away.
HPC: Were you surprised that your "New York vs. L.A." meme you mentioned in interviews got picked up on in a big way?
PO: Yeah, I was really pleased about that. I was really struggling to be articulate about that. Because even as cliched, hacky bit as "New York vs. L.A." is, a cliche must come from a real place on some level, if it affects things on a mass mind level like that. So I was really trying -- and I thought failing -- to articulate how it is representative in entertainment, and in work that comes out of L.A. and New York. But I guess I accidentally unveiled an actuality there. There are obviously much, much bigger and deeper differences that other people have explored better than I have, but I was really kind of gratified. It helped because it made something make sense to myself that I hadn't been able to make sense to myself for a long time. So I was happy in that it was so helpful for me.
HPC: So was that the extension of the embryo of a thought that resulted in the bit that is on "Finest Hour"?
PO: Yeah. A year away from that incident, thinking about it, and going back to New York as a visitor, became then an even longer resident, July August and September, I guess I had more time to really think about that. And also, because now I have friends that make things, and am closer to the process of how they go about making the things they make, in terms of TV shows and films, and I have friends in New York and L.A. that do both, so I can see the difference in processes.
HPC: When you do your "New York is terrible" bit for New York audiences, such as the Williamsburg Waterfront show this summer that nearly got rained out... by the way, was that a fun show to do?
PO: I had so much fun. That was fascinating! Especially from where I was standing. And I felt really bad for the crowd getting pelted, but it looked weirdly beautiful. The rain made the audience look so dreamlike, because you were being seen through a shimmer of moving water, so it had this -- and I hate to say it in this way, like [adopts haughty voice] but it was delightful to watch everyone get rained on. But everyone in the crowd seemed to have such a good humor about it. Like they were laughing about it: "Can you fuckin' believe this?!" Nobody was saying, "Fuck this, fuck this show." They all were digging it. So the whole experience was really gratifying and it made me really happy.
HPC: Were you worried the show would get canceled?
PO: The only thing I was worried about would be if the lightning got too crazy. But even then, none of the performers wanted to leave, we all wanted to get out there. 'Cause it was such a great crowd. We were all, "I want a piece of that crowd! I wanna work that crowd! Let me drive the sports car!"
HPC: Anyway, did you ever sense resistance from the New York crowds when you did the New York material?
PO: No. Absolutely none. And by the way, if you're in front of a New York crowd, and you go, "Goddamn, this city is fucked up," they all go, "Oh yeah, we know! We live here!" You can never lose a New York crowd by going, "Man, living in New York sucks." They're like, "Hey, get in line, asshole. You think we don't know that? We're in it for the long run." People who are living in New York are there for other reasons. They learn to love how horrible it is. They're not going to disagree with you that it sucks. And it especially sucks for someone who doesn't belong there. Like, I don't belong in New York. I'm not a New York person. I love to visit there, there are things I love about it, just like there are people that do not belong in L.A. I have friends that love to visit here, but it sucks for them, and I'm not going to disagree with them. It does suck for them. Because they like to walk, they don't like to be bubbled up in their cars all the time. So I get it. New York audiences do not take that shit personally at all. They think it's hilarious. They think it's fucking hilarious.
WATCH: Patton performs a bit about dieting from "Finest Hour" on "Conan."
HPC: On this last album, you have less material about specific political leaders and political actors. Was that a conscious choice, or is that just where your head's at right now?
PO: It is really where my head's at right now. Again, it has to do with getting older. I actually think that someone like Bush, who I hated so much, because of the effect he was having on the country -- I really, really do think that in his heart, he thought he was doing right and really wanted to help. And wanted to make things better as he saw it. And then [there's] someone like Obama, who I also think wants to make things better, but they're both hampered by the fact that to be president, you have to want to lead and have the ball thrown to you and get the glory. It hampered Bush, and it's hampering Obama.
And maybe that's a sign of me getting older, but it just seems like a -- and again, I'm going to articulate this so badly, but it feels like there's something -- and I'm not even talking conspiracies, because it's not a conspiracy when it's right there in view. There is a much larger corporate cabal beyond any president or leader that we've had. And just like record companies or clothing companies, they try to predict trends. They're doing that same thing, only with our president. They're like, "Well, people seemed to like the Hollywood actor and that kinda right-wing stuff. So then, we'll get his vice president in there. Oh, no, they don't like him. He's a little too stiff. We need something slick and Southern. Okay. Clinton! People like Clinton! People like the Southern thing, so how about a cool cowboy? Yeah, they'll like a cowboy! And his dad was president, so we can get -- wait, the cowboy is kinda fucking up? So, we're looking at how the demographics of country change. So how about a black guy? Well, let's go half black. Half black, for now."
It just feels the same way that any other products are tested and messed around with. You know what I mean? I think that by 2016, it might very well be Hillary Clinton's year. Not necessarily because she's the best or the worst person. It's just the idea that the steam engine was invented because it was steam engine time. Obama became president because it was black president time. And Hillary is going to become president because it's female president time. These world leaders get placed because they're in the right place at the right time and it depends on what they do with their time once they're in. Some people fuck it up and some people don't. I'm articulating this so badly! I was so disappointed in Obama for so long, and yet maybe... Am I disappointed in him, or am I just not being realistic about what the actual process is and what can get done, and what does it mean to be the president? It was more like I'm having problems with myself right now. I don't have any problems with what I believe -- I'm still very, very liberal -- [but] I'm having problems with what is possible and how can that stuff be implemented. Because that's [similar to] the bits I was doing about the war protestors, and how completely stupid and ineffectual that stuff was.
HPC: Do feel the same way about the Occupy Wall Street protests?
PO: With Occupy Wall Street, I'm hopeful. I mean, I'm glad that people are getting off their ass and doing something. I just don't know if it's the most effective thing. I just feel like... I've been on the other side of the screen and I've seen what the roar sounds like from offices on that level. It just sounds like distant ants chirping. They don't give a fuck. They truly really don't give a fuck. And trust me, I've been there. Not for very long, but I've been in those offices. And the act of shouting on the street, I just don't know if that's as effective. Again, I don't have a better solution. Obviously, I think something very drastic needs to be done, with... well, not Wall Street itself. It's not Wall Street itself. The idea of a capitalist free market, that is fucking great. Unfortunately, sociopaths have taken that. The idea of grunge rock was amazing, but unfortunately, Limp Bizkit got ahold of it.
WATCH: Patton discusses why he's frustrated with war protestors in a bit from 2004.
HPC: How was the experience working on "Young Adult"? Are you excited about its release?
PO: I'm very excited. It's really, really funny. It's really dark. I just think Charlize is so goddamn amazing. It's jaw-dropping. She does something in it that a lot of other actors don't have the guts to do when they play an unlikable character. I won't say what it is, but you'll know it when you see it. You're like, "Holy shit, that was amazing." I'm excited to go see the movie again and get to see other people watch Charlize, and have them go, "Holy crap."