Published Apr 22, 2016Patton Oswalt has been a standup comedian since he was a teenager and Talking for Clapping (on Netflix starting April 22) marks his seventh stellar standup special.
"I never have a starting point for a new special," Oswalt tells Exclaim! "I did the last special, retired all of that material, and I work on new stuff until I think, 'Hey, I think I have a new hour.'
"It's not like a novel where you have an idea for a story, 'Here are the characters, I'm going to build it around a theme,'" he adds. "It's just, 'Now I'm talking about this stuff happening.' It doesn't have a specific beginning ever."
Over the years, Oswalt has worked with music-related labels like Chunklet, Sub Pop and Warner, as well as Comedy Central, to release his records and specials. In partnering with Netflix now, he suggests there's some through-line to his past in their methodology.
"It has that feeling of music sharing to it. Like, 'Hey, I love this thing. You should check it out.' I don't know much about the business model or its rise, but they asked me to do this special, and they've made a lot of shows I like with great people, so I said yeah. It was a great fit. They're a great company to work with."
While some standups bemoan the current ubiquity of amateur open mic nights and the forum that twitter offers to any would-be comic, Oswalt is the first to RT some total unknown if they've struck gold with a joke.
"Everyone thought they were a comedian before social media, believe me," he says. "Now they just have a platform to make their attempts, but that's nothing new. If comedians have a problem with that, then make your shit funnier than the lame stuff you see out there."
Even in a crowded comedy field, Oswalt stands out and Talking for Clapping finds him in classic form. Among the smartest, most dynamic, and simply funniest standups of his generation, he delves into personal stories with a healthy mix of incredulity and firsthand knowledge of how fucked up life can be.
He discusses his own battles with depression and sleeplessness, which leads him to discover that while his own physician is a tad stingy with the Ambien, his elderly parents can access a seemingly endless supply of the stuff and more.
Oswalt touches upon broader socio-political issues, laying into homophobes and anti-trans people who decry biological transitioning with this gem: "If the thing that nullifies your argument is the word 'pants,' then you didn't have an argument."
Recorded at the historic Fillmore in San Francisco in fall 2015, Talking for Clapping includes a timely takedown of word police who scrutinize inappropriate language with as much rigour as they do intent. It seems to dovetail nicely with the recent furor over political correctness spurred on by figures like Donald Trump, but Oswalt resists breaking the bit's meaning down or discussing its broader resonance in any way.
"Ugh, I'm not gonna do that dude," he groans. "A joke is a joke. Either it works or it doesn't. Why pick it apart? What's the fun in that? That's no fun. As a comedy fan, that seems like zero fun to me. If I heard the joke, I would know how [a comedian] got there. I can see how that works. Part of the fun of a joke is, you can see how the person got there.
"Everything I wanted to say, I said in the bits," he adds. "So, if you already found insight in the bit, I don't know why there's a need for further insight when the bit contains the insight you're asking me to expound on."
Oswalt, who generally comes across as quite discerning in his work, doesn't take any shit. His work is fuelled by incisive analysis and a certain believe that not all of us are thinking enough about the things we say and do.
A conversation can be a prime example. "I remember I was doing an interview and someone asked me to define 'alternative comedy' and I said it was comedy where the audience has no expectations of the comedian and the comedian has no expectations of the audience," Oswalt recalls. "And he said, 'Expand on that,' and I said 'No.'
"What I did was distilled something expansive to something that already explained itself and he just didn't wouldn't buy that. He wanted more to something that explained itself pretty succinctly."