Why I Love Patton Oswalt

I think Patton Oswalt is one of the five funniest comics working today. He’s one of those rare comedians who has a truly unique voice. Like Louis CK, he is capable of doing something that very few comics have ever been able to do, create an entirely new special/cd/dvd every year without the quality slipping. And that’s because his act isn’t really an act, it flows from who he is and from his particular way of looking at the world. And if you don’t already love him, I suggest reading this very long essay about stealing material, heckling and rape jokes. He tells this great story about a comedian stealing material:

And another young comedian we both knew – who had started featuring, which meant doing 30 minute sets after the emcee but before the headliner – started stealing Blaine’s material. Not a joke here or a line there. Huge, sprawling chunks of Blaine’s act [ED — Blaine Capatch, another brilliant comedian), which ballooned the material he had from about ten minutes to more than half an hour. And he used it to feature – to make more money, to have an easier time in front of an audience that had been warmed up by an emcee like me or Blaine, to get even more gigs. He made no attempt to hide what he was doing and, if I remember correctly, even did some of it right in front of Blaine at a show in Baltimore.

Blaine, ever more Zen than me, even at that young age, politely confronted the comedian and asked him to stop. “That’s my stuff, man. Could you not do it, please?”

The other comedian wasn’t angry or defensive. He was, incredibly, confused.

“But I’m starting to get feature sets. I don’t have 30 minutes of material. You’ve got more than 30 minutes. And you’re not getting feature sets.” The young comedian explained this Blaine like he was explaining the concept of the Tooth Fairy to a 3 year-old.

Blaine said, “But you’re only getting those feature sets because of my material. You wouldn’t have enough to fill a half hour unless you stole from me.”

“Yeah, I know,” explained the comedian, patiently. “You ain’t out there working to get feature sets. You’re just writing all this material and then just doing emcee sets. You ain’t featuring full-time like me, so I need that material. You’re not using it featuring.”

So there you go. Blaine got to watch his work benefit someone else – someone dumber, and less creative but, fatally, more ambitious and shameless than him. I’d love to tell you that the other club owners stopped hiring the thief but…nope. He made people laugh while the audience bought drinks and mozzarella sticks. Most comedy club owners back then – and a few, still, now – are in the Food and Beverage Industry, not the Creativity and Honor Industry. Most audiences cleave to the former as well. What could Blaine and I do, still at the dawn of our careers? Two emcees struggling to find an audience and get work? We had zero power to stop anyone stealing anything. We just had to write more, work harder, out-create the little fucker.

Don’t worry – this story has a happy ending. Blaine and I eventually moved west. So did the thief. But when it came time for him to make the transition to television, to movies, to big-time fame and success? He had nothing. And, without going into details, he flamed out, rather spectacularly, on national television. Like, spectacularly. It was gorgeous for Blaine and I to watch. By that point we’d built solid careers for ourselves and when Kid Thief’s career hit the killing floor? It drained away through the sluice gate. I’ve never heard from him since. Kelly Oxford wrote something, during this latest joke thief debacle, about how the stealers and joke-thieves can often get themselves through the highest doors only to find, when they’re at the top and people want to hear their ideas…they’ve got nothing. Kill floor. Sluice gate. Oblivion. I don’t need to name names here. We’ve seen it happen. It’ll happen again. It’s always fun when it does.

The next section is about hecklers. And if you’ve ever heckled a comedian, please read it. And stop thinking you’re part of the show. You’re not. So shut up. But it’s the last section that raised my already immense respect for him to another level, as he rethinks his initial rejection of the idea of rape culture and learns to see the world through the eyes of others. I’m not even going to quote it here, just go read it.

14 comments on this post.
  1. watry:

    I know there are a few DnD players here, so I’ll mention this: Capatch is currently doing a podcast called Nerd Poker (Dungeons and Dragons with Brian Posehn and Friends). Oswalt has made a couple of appearances, and the whole show is absolutely hilarious.

  2. leftwingfox:

    Yeah, ok. Wow.

    I really enjoy Patton’s comedy (especially after his excellent performance as Remi in Ratatouille) and was seriously disappointed in his reaction after the Tosh issue

    It’s a really powerful piece of writing that not only explains where he;s coming from, but only to point out HOW he got it wrong, rather than why he’s not responsible for getting it wrong, or why he wasn’t wrong in the first place. He’s actually listened to arguments, and took them as arguments, not strawmen caricatures, not personal attacks.

    Respect regained.

  3. theschwa:

    Odd. I read that exact same story – word-for-word – on Carlos Mencia’s website.

  4. Timid Atheist:

    I notice that while he seems to have come around on the rape jokes, he doesn’t seem to regret defending them in the past. Or perhaps he is and I’m just not seeing it? I hope he goes forward with this and has more to say against rape culture.

  5. Bronze Dog:

    Read the whole thing, and it’s something I can generally agree with. I have a very average funnybone. On rare occasions, I can produce a rough gem of an original joke. I really have to hand it to those people with the natural gift of humor. I’ll copy and allude to other people’s jokes in conversation, but I won’t take credit for it. There is a lot of stealing in the comedy business, but that’s what I try to bear in mind when I think about good comedians. The wanton thieves generally aren’t going to last unless they’ve got good ghost writers. Even remixing or expanding a joke, changing it enough to make it your own, takes talent.

    I think heckling for positive effect is possible, but it’s best reserved for use against bigoted comedians.

    I did get a sense that he regretted his first reaction to the Tosh incident, since he did the self-criticism of the naive thought process and narratives he went through at the time. I hope he manages to stay out of them and pays careful attention from now on.

  6. Gretchen:

    I finally watched Louis CK’s “Oh My God” last night, and enjoyed it. At the very end he did a bit on the part of his mind which knows an obvious moral truth (“Of course”) and then the part which knows it’s wrong but wants to take exception anyway (“But maybe…”).

    Two things about that:

    1. A person could watch that, and come away saying that Louis CK did a joke about killing kids with allergies. They would be telling the truth, but they would be dishonest. It’s way too easy for English speakers to confuse the concept of joking about something and endorsing that thing. I think Lindy West has done a great job of illustrating that the problem is not comedians making jokes about the subject rape, but rather them making jokes about rape at the expense of rape victims. For this, she has been castigated by many– including Patton Oswalt– for trying to tell comedians what they may joke about.

    2. I would really, really like to see Louis CK and Oswalt turn “Of course/but maybe” into a game where they try to screw whoever gets stuck in the “but maybe” role. This probably won’t make sense unless/until you see the bit I’m talking about.

  7. MyPetSlug:

    Patton Oswalt said he doesn’t want to name names, but fuck it, I want to know who he’s talking about. Anyone got any idea?

  8. edmundog:

    Timid Atheist – I think he’s saying – and I hesitate to put words in his mouth – that he now realizes that rape jokes where the ‘humor’ is in the rape (as opposed to those that target the rapist or rape culture) are bad, but he’s not sorry he defended a comedian against a heckler who went after him before he got to his punchline, particularly as the joke was as yet unpolished, and the rhythm could be off.

  9. sinned34:

    Oswalt voiced Wonder Boy on The Venture Bros, so I like him.

    “You mess with one boy adventurer and you mess with ALL OF US.”

  10. baal:

    @#7 re-read #3, i think that’s a hint.

  11. Who Knows?:

    Why I love Patton Oswalt – He’s so damn cute and cuddly looking.

  12. Abby Normal:

    One shiny internet and a box of fish sticks to Theschwa @3.

  13. mjmiller:

    I did a little bit of google on this but have to cut it short. Can someone clue me on the identities of the “Preacher, Validictorian and Actor”?
    Thanks

  14. bmiller:

    That’s a pretty ugly story, Theschwa. Physical altercations. Multiple accusations. Mencia being “in therapy” now because of the accusations?

    Wikipedia.

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