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Patton Oswalt: Silver Screen Fiend

Image Courtesy of the WSJ

“I can’t believe I got Carnegie Hall to chant ‘what do I gotta do to get that dick in my mouth’ as I walked out!” Exclaims Patton Oswalt as he takes the stage, referring to MC Bridget Everett’s introduction. While the venue may be mostly known for the high culture of symphonies and operas, it has a rich history of spoken word. And while a man known for his epic takedown of The KFC Famous Bowl may seem like an odd name to put next to Albert Einstein or Ernest Hemmingway, Patton Oswalt has more than earned his right to perform his brilliant stand up material here.

While many comedians are smart, few are as unabashedly intellectual as Oswalt. He has a depth of knowledge on film, music and literature that would shame many professional critics, and he weave’s it into his stand up effortlessly, not as a self congratulatory punch line, but as an extra button for those in the audience who recognize his esoteric reference. Between his usually excellent film work, stand up, and writing, one wonders where a man seemingly so professionally occupied finds time for all this culture. In his new book Silver Screen Fiend, Patton answers part of that question by taking us to his most film obsessed days in the mid 90’s.

The book opens on his first trip to the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. The theater, known for it’s double features, instantly has Oswalt hooked as a self described “Sprocket Fiend”. Patton uses this obsession with cinema (and the New Beverly in particular) as a framing device around which he tell’s his own story about coming of age as a comedian and adult. He details his experience coming in at the tail end of the comedy boom of the 1980’s, just in time to experience the gestation and birth of what would come to be known as Alt Comedy. He talks about learning the hard way that being a hit amongst your funny friends doesn’t always translate to success on the road, and how finding that balance between being a “comic’s comic” and just a comic is the key to success. He details his first experience working on a real film, and how a small role in Down Periscope influenced his approach to screen acting forever. Most of all, however, he tells us about the movies (and their corresponding in theatre experience) that shaped his evolving worldview, culminating in the birth of his daughter, and his comfortable shift into adulthood.

“I’ve told this story a million times and this part still makes me laugh” chuckles Patton as he closes out his typically excellent set at Carnegie Hall. As he finishes his encore on a now classic routine, it becomes apparent why this lifestyle is so appealing to him. The pure joy of not only making someone laugh, but doing it on his terms, with his unique references and story telling ability. Patton may never become the brilliant film director he wanted to be at the start of Silver Screen Fiend, but in the way his jokes, and now his books, are often constructed with the same prefect narrative arc’s as the best movies, we can all agree he’s lived up to his own expectations.

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