Patton Oswalt’s new stand-up special Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time hits Epix on Friday. It’ll get plenty of well-deserved attention, as Oswalt has built a loyal following over the course of four stand-up albums, tours big and DIY and a slew of well-received acting roles (including the voice of a beloved rat). He’s a successful artist, but it’s important not to forget the lowlights, weirdness and unadulterated horror that made Patton Oswalt the singular voice he is today.
1. A Dangerously Boring Upbringing
Few horrors come as banal as the planned community of Sterling, Virginia. According to Oswalt: “We’ve got a 7 Eleven, we’ve got a gas station, there’s a pizza joint. There, shut the fuck up go to bed.”
That horror actually pushed Oswalt into everything in his life that followed, because as he describes on his first album, his “boring square government employee parents” convinced him he needed to live the opposite of that life at all costs.
2. His First On-Camera Role
Watch the video if you can stand it. Otherwise just revel in this GIF and be glad 1990 is behind us:
3. Open Mics
They’re a nightmare slash necessary dojo for every comic. And one of Patton’s best early bits comes from his best open mic war story, about the enigmatic “Dr. Pepper.”
4. Losing His Shot at a TV Credit
Other chances came, but Oswalt’s audition for Late Night with Conan O’Brien (REMEMBER?) in 1993 crashed and burned because it was the Laugh Factory’s Latino Comedy Night.
5. Crappy Comedy Writing Jobs
Oswalt worked for many years as a Hollywood script doctor, a job he describes and eviscerates for the layman better than anyone has before or since.
Before that he toiled as a sketch writer for MADtv, a job that cost him a shot at writing for Mr. Show and left him deeply frustrated by network interference:
Even working on Best Week Ever, a job Patton describes as “making fun of celebrities who I think should be dead”, drove him to a breaking point (and new material.)
Not only has Patton struggled with his weight, he hasn’t even gotten to feel cool doing it.
He even gave away his very own Carvel Black Card (unlimited free ice cream cakes) because of its insidious side effects (eating unlimited free ice cream cakes).
7. The Mightiest of Stomach Flus
It brought on his worst bombing experience ever, and a separate agonizing bout of the stuff spoiled the latest Hobbit movie for him, while improving it for every Conan fan:
8. New York City
“You live [in New York] full time, it turns your skull into a cage, and your brain into a rat, and the city is just a stick poking the rat all day.” — Patton Oswalt in his incredible album-closer on Finest Hour, which goes so much further from there into how deeply unpleasant his brief experience of living in New York got.
The crackhead blowjob days weren’t even the only bad ones. Oswalt digs more into the Big Apple’s summertime terror in an AV Club interview:
After a month in the Lower East Side, during the New York heat wave, I was like, ‘Okay, you know what? I’m 42 years old. I think I’m done. I’ve had enough of the ‘real.’ This would’ve been great when I was 19, this is friggin’ horrible now.’ I would open the doors to the hotel in the lobby, and even the two doormen would look back, like, ‘All right, dude, here it comes,’ and just this wave of garbage air would pummel you.
9. Playing the Role of the Beaten/Tortured/Killed Guy
That famous “frozen for a whole King of Queens scene” clip is actually part of a positive, lucrative time in Patton’s life. As he told Jimmy Fallon, that particular scene was the idea of the show’s genial stoner writer-producers, and his nine years there were a time of getting paid to learn acting from Kevin James. Oswalt put that skill set to use for critically acclaimed turns in Young Adult, Ratatouille...and dozens of roles where his character gets throttled to death.
10. Everything Happening Behind the Scenes When He’s That Guy
Patton Oswalt only got one clear direction from Paul Thomas Anderson on Magnolia: “I can’t say [what’s going on] right now, but I’ll just say that you are the first frog that falls out of the sky.” (Anderson said this as Oswalt overheated in a wetsuit in the Nevada desert.) Then Oswalt endured constant Vancouver rain to film Blade: Trinity, during the production of which Wesley Snipes only communicated with the director via Post-It Notes, signed “Blade.” And even the lighthearted movies Oswalt’s been a part of had moments like this table read: