Q&A: Patton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt may be the ideal comedian to play Las Vegas right now; it’s hard to find someone who better embodies the idea that the show must go on. The veteran stand-up comic, writer, actor and voice-over expert digs deep into the difficult past year of his life in his Netflix special Annihilation, a groundbreaking performance equally hilarious and sad. Oswalt’s wife, writer Michelle McNamara, died suddenly at age 46 last year, leaving him with their 8-year-old daughter. He explored the struggle to move on in Annihilation, miraculously but unsurprisingly mixing in plenty of laughs. And he’s donating half of his pay from this week’s performance on Dec. 2 at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel to the Las Vegas Victims Fund. He spoke to Las Vegas Magazine’s Brock Radke recently.
It’s been a while since you performed in Las Vegas.
I used to come (often) back in the day, at the Riviera and other (places). I’ve done a couple events where I was hosting at the Hard Rock, but I don’t think I’ve ever gone out there like this, with me as the show. I’m the headliner, and that’s a little unnerving. This is Vegas. That’s a big deal.
Years ago, you gave a speech to the graduating class at your high school and you told them about the five environments, a lesson about seeing the world and finding where you will thrive. Is Las Vegas an environment where you fit?
I like visiting Las Vegas, but I can’t stay there for a longer amount of time. It’s the rhythm of it. Some people really thrive there, and I’m great for a couple of days. But I’ve been there from Sunday to Sunday doing shows and it gets a little much for me. The neon desert is not where I thrive.
You never reuse material once you’ve performed it in a television comedy special, but it seems like the personal and political themes from Annihilation could keep showing up in your act.
Well, I hope the Trump stuff doesn’t last, because I hope he’s gone soon. I don’t want four more years of Trump material. People used to tell me, “You’re going to miss George W. Bush,” for the same reason, but I’d say, “Eh, I’d rather not be torturing people and have our money be on fire.” The tradeoff isn’t worth it. I hope to work in more general themes rather than speaking on the outrage or depression of the moment, but we’ll see.
There’s also the expectation of Trump jokes. Is it difficult to focus your comedy in another direction when it’s such a dominant topic?
If anything, it forces you as a comedian or writer to be even more present or aware of the little moments in life between people rather than the macro-outrages you’re checking out on Twitter every day. Maybe one good thing that comes out of this is that we have to be more tuned into life. … Annihilation was so inward-looking, but maybe by being so specific, it becomes universal and (people) will find parallels with their own lives. There are different ways to approach connectivity when you’re onstage, and there’s no one way that’s right or wrong. One way is to lose yourself and another is to amplify yourself, but each can lead to a deeper connection to the audience.
What do you have coming as far as film and TV projects? You’re in a movie next year called Sorry to Bother You that has an interesting story—a black telemarketer who makes his voice sound white.
That’s Boots Riley’s film. I don’t want to say what we did because it’s kind of a surprise. I have a series coming to Syfy called Happy! with Chris Meloni. And right now, that’s kind of it. The other stuff is very embryonic and I don’t want to talk about it yet until it’s fully formed.
Is directing a film still a goal?
Yes. Eventually I will direct films. It will happen. I just don’t know when.