"There's a lot of people that can't go to comedy clubs. They're not old enough or don't have the money for a two-drink minimum and the higher admission. So if I'm at a rock club, I can keep the prices lower and bring in a different crowd. It just helps to spread your fan base and build different muscles as a comedian."
– Patton Oswalt
Guy MacPherson: So you're finally playing Vancouver after missing the last two comedy festivals.
Patton Oswalt: Yeah. I mean, I've played Vancouver before but this is my first festival.
GM: It's kind of an off-season festival. A little mini-festival.
PO: Yeah, it's kinda cool.
GM: I know you played a little room on Davie Street last year. Where else did you play here?
PO: I forget. I know I was there a few years back. I just forget where I was. I think I was part of a tour or something. Comedians of Comedy or something. I forget.
GM: I know you do a lot of acting. Have any of those been shot in Vancouver?
PO: Yeah, Reaper and Blade 3.
GM: I understand one of your favourite shows is Battlestar Galactica.
PO: Yeah. Yeah, they film that up there. I know that.
GM: I've never seen it but it turns out my son goes to preschool with Dr. Gaius Baltar's son.
PO: Oh, that's cool. It's an amazing show.
GM: Was Comedians of Comedy your baby?
PO: Yup. Yeah, that was mine.
GM: Do rock venues provide a better venue for standup or just a different venue.
PO: They provide a different venue but it's a really fun one and it kind of supplements doing comedy clubs I think very well.
GM: How does it supplement it? Just because you get a different crowd?
PO: Yeah, a different crowd and a wider audience.
GM: It's interesting that people will go to something based on the venue rather than what is playing.
PO: I don't think that's true.
GM: Because you say it provides a different audience. I would think that a comedy fan would seek out comedy no matter where it's playing.
PO: Yeah, but there's a lot of people that can't go to comedy clubs. They're not old enough or don't have the money for a two-drink minimum and the higher admission. So if I'm at a rock club I can keep the prices lower and bring in a different crowd. It just helps to spread your fan base and build different muscles as a comedian.
GM: How does it feel when you're performing? Is there a different feel to it as a performer?
PO: No, I mean it's fun every time for me. It's no different whether I'm in a music club or a comedy club. I just love doing standup.
GM: Have you seen the Wild West Comedy Show and Tourgasm?
GM: They're kind of structured similarly to the Comedians of Comedy. Content is completely different, obviously.
PO: Yeah. I like the whole DYI aspect is taking hold and there's all different kinds of comedy out there. I think that's great.
GM: Does that cause any problems?
PO: What do you mean?
GM: I guess in that if you're not talented and you do it yourself it dilutes the product.
PO: It's a good way to find out if you're talented. I mean, sometimes there's a lot of people that substitute drive for talent but that's not my department. I don't care about that. There's plenty of untalented people making it in comedy but it has nothing to do with me.
GM: You just do what you do and don't worry about anyone else.
GM: Have you heard anything about The Wild West Comedy Show?
PO: I've heard about it, yeah. I'm sure it's a similar thing. I don't know, I haven't seen it, though. But it's comedians filming their lives on the road.
GM: A different style than you guys, who are more indie. Would that be the biggest difference?
PO: I don't know. I haven't seen the movie.
GM: But you haven't seen any of those comics individually?
GM: Do you have a soft spot for any mainstream act? Sort of like a guilty pleasure? I saw a piece on what's in your iPod and you admitted to having lots of schlock. Is there a comedic equivalent to that?
PO: No, I don't have any guilty pleasures in comedy. If someone is funny... I don't look at comedians as mainstream or indie. I just look at whoever's funny. There's plenty of amazing, hilarious mainstream comedians just as there are plenty of amazing so-called indie comics. And I think people that just do mainstream rooms or people that just do indie or alternative rooms are really hurting themselves. So I don't look at comedy that way. I just don't divide it up. I'm not like, "I only want to see people that are like me." I want to see people that are nothing like me.
GM: Somebody who does basically set-up, punchline, obvious joke-type material, that are admittedly funny to you...
PO: But what if the jokes are really original and well-written? That's all I care about. I don't divide people up in those categories.
GM: Is it possible to like a comic who you disagree with philosophically and fundamentally?
PO: Of course, as long as they're funny. I don't think about stuff like that. As long as it's funny.
GM: Are there any that you can think of?
PO: There's people that I know personally that have different beliefs than me and I like their comedy. It's just something that I've never really thought about. Again, it's nothing that concerns me.
GM: I just think of the example of a Dennis Miller who was sort of a liberal darling until he lost his mind. Now people on the left just hate him and those on the right love him even though they probably hated him when he was considered to be on the left. Because it's not just a personal philosophy; he's out there telling people what he thinks.
PO: Yeah, but then he kinda stopped being a comedian and became more of "I'm telling you stuff". But a lot of people do that, both on the left and the right. People get so wrapped up in something they feel politically that they lose the comedy. It happens. It's sad but it happens.
GM: Do you ever feel too close to a subject where you can't make it funny because you care so much about it?
PO: Sometimes yeah. But you know I just try to back off from it for a while until I find a really good angle on it. That's happened. But I think that happens to everybody.
GM: What did Martin Mull ever do to you?
PO: I met him and he was kind of mean to me and it was depressing because I was such a huge fan of his.
GM: And are you still a big fan?
PO: I still like his stuff. He wasn't a pleasant person.
GM: With the sitcom and your movie fame, you probably meet lots of dickish celebrities. Do you think the rate of dickishness...
PO: Now we're getting into the gossip realm. I don't care about stuff like that.
GM: No, I wasn't asking about individuals. I'm wondering if you think the rate is higher among celebrities or about the same. Because we all know dicks who aren't in show business.
PO: I think it's the same everywhere. I don't think there's any difference.
"I don't look at comedians as mainstream or indie. I just look at whoever's funny. There's plenty of amazing, hilarious mainstream comedians just as there are plenty of amazing so-called indie comics."
– Patton Oswalt
GM: You're so well-rounded in your interests. I was interviewing a comic last week whose advice to young comics is to read more.
PO: That's good advice, man. Read more, travel more, listen to people. That's great advice.
GM: Do you think it's important to good comedy to be well-rounded?
PO: Yeah, I mean I think it's important in anything you do. A surgeon, a painter, a plumber. It's just good to be aware of the world that you're in or even be connected.
GM: I really like the links you have on your web page, which are not all comedy related. Like truecrimediary. I bookmarked that.
PO: That's an awesome site.
GM: I've been reading the Best American Crime Reporting series.
PO: Yeah, aren't those great!
GM: Unbelievably great. Makes me want to be a crime writer. But I'd be afraid for my life.
PO: (laughs) Yeah, it's dark stuff, man.
GM: You're very political. And you talked about getting booed off the stage by a young crowd in Pittsburgh. Do you sense a change? Do you think you'd get booed now doing that same bit?
PO: I wouldn't do that bit anymore because at this point pointing out that George Bush sucks is the least edgy thing you could do on stage. Isn't he like at an 18 percent approval rating or something? It's pointless. There's been a massive change. It took eight years but eight years of just glaring incompetence. But at the time people were terrified. It was a different country because of 9/11 and the lead-up to the war. People just weren't rational. I wasn't rational. So it was a bad mix.
GM: And yet the Republicans could very well win the next election, couldn't they?
PO: Of course they could. It's all about power out of context with them. So of course when you live your life that way, it's very easy to just keep winning, even if there's nothing in particular you want to win or nothing even in particular you want to do with the country, as long as it's about I just wanna win. There you go.
GM: Bottom line.
GM: And of course Bush will be gone so they can distance themselves from him.
PO: Maybe. Who knows? Funny how none of them are mentioning him now.
GM: I interviewed Bill Maher and Andy Kindler before the last election and they all thought Kerry was going to do it.
PO: Yeah, me too. But Kerry ran such an awful campaign. He really did. I mean, I voted for him but good God in heaven.
GM: Does it depress you?
PO: No, it makes me angry. When stuff like that happens, if it depresses me then they've won. But if I get angry then that's different. They've spurred me to action. That's how I try to think of it. Like, fuck those guys. They're not going to depress me. I'm gonna do something to them.
GM: Do you think comedy can make a difference in shaping or moulding minds?
PO: Anything can make a difference: a book, a piece of music. Even if you change one person, by definition haven't you changed the planet? It's different than it was before, so yeah. Totally.
GM: One example strikes me. When Bill Maher was here, he did this scathing bit on people and their cell phones. And everybody laughs and claps. Then the show ends and people stand in the aisles on their cell phones. I'm thinking, "Didn't you hear a word he said?"
PO: Well, it's a long road, man. There's no mass epiphanies anymore.
GM: I gather now that you're better known and people come to see you specifically, they're more like-minded fans. Do you ever just want to push their buttons and attack their cherished beliefs?
PO: But I do do that. I attack both sides. There's stuff about both sides that drives me crazy. I've always done that.
GM: I guess the positive for you is that the past eight years have been a gold mine. You have something to rail against.
PO: Sure. But I've always had stuff to rail against. That's never been a problem. I've never been wanting for that.
GM: I loved your analogy of alternative comic to jazz musician or chef. They need to learn the fundamentals before they can essentially improvise.
PO: Yeah, man.
GM: It's like basketball. You can't freewheel like Allen Iverson until you learn to dribble and do a lay-up.
GM: Alternative comedy looks, perhaps, easy. It's so conversational. I guess people starting out don't realize the craft and skill of it.
PO: If you're watching so-called alternative, riffy comedy, you're watching someone who's been doing it for ten or fifteen years and it's at the point where they can do that. That's what you're seeing.
GM: And the conversational aspect.
PO: That comes from years of knowing the fundamentals.
GM: And knowing how to write a joke.
GM: You and I have something in common. We both got David Cross pissed off.
PO: How'd you piss him off?
GM: It was a review.
PO: Ah, it happens.
GM: I've seen he's done that with other critics he disagrees with. And that's fair. Did you guys talk about your public spat?
PO: Yeah. It was just a joke. It wasn't what people thought it was. We were just kind of fucking around with each other. I mean, he was defending himself and I was teasing him just because we had this long relationship. We're fine. I was talking to him yesterday. So it wasn't that big of a deal.
GM: You were joking, but was he at the time in his response?
PO: I don't know. I have no idea.
GM: Would you fault a performer for doing a piece of crap movie when they get paid and have to make a living?
PO: No, that's what my whole blog was about. I was making fun of people that were going to be angry about that movie. No one seemed to read that part of the blog. They focussed on the one part, like, "Oh good, this is a fight." No. Read the whole thing in context!
GM: When you were at MAD-TV, did you just sit there wishing that you were out there in front of the camera?
PO: No, I was happy to be a writer at the time. I was frustrated with the stuff that I was writing.
GM: Because it wasn't in your style?
PO: It just wasn't satisfying for a lot of reasons.
GM: You were there two years?
GM: And you left?
PO: No, they didn't ask me back for the third season. And rightfully so because I was kind of a dick.
GM: Just a sour guy around the office?
PO: Yeah, just sour.
GM: You're doing two shows here: Patton Oswalt & Friends, and Comedy Death-Ray.
GM: If you could only afford one, which one do you go to?
PO: Well, they're not that expensive so just go see both. There'll be different stuff every night. It'll be really fun to watch what I do on Patton Oswalt & Friends compared to what I do on Comedy Death-Ray, which is a much more experimental, fucked-up show. Why would you just want to see one? Does that make sense? And both will feed into each other really well.
GM: And then Lewis Black is across town the same night.
PO: Oh wow, that's great. (then sarcastically) That's great!
GM: Do we know who your "friends" are yet?
PO: No idea. I'll know when I get there.
GM: If you could ask Andrew "Dice" Clay one question, what would it be?
PO: (pause) I don't know. (chuckles) I have no idea.
GM: Because I've got to interview him and I have no idea.
PO: Oh, geez, I don't know. I don't know what to tell you. Good luck. Have fun. (laughs)