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The 'Big Fan' Team: Patton Oswalt, Robert Siegel

The King of Queens star and the writer of last year's acclaimed film The Wrestler have collaborated on a wrenching movie about an obsessive football fan whose life is upended after a brutal encounter with his favorite player.


Other segments from the episode on August 20, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 20, 2009: Interview with Patton Oswalt and Robert Siegel; Review of the the newly remastered and released albums of the British punk band "The subhumans."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The 'Big Fan' Team: Patton Oswalt, Robert Siegel


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. After editing the satirical news magazine
The Onion and writing the screenplay for the film “The Wrestler,” my guest,
Robert Siegel, has written and directed the new film “Big Fan.”

It stars comic Patton Oswalt, who is also with us. Oswalt has a Comedy Central
special premiering this weekend. He co-starred in the TV series “The King of
Queens,” and in the animated film “Ratatouille,” he was the voice of the main
character, Remy, the rat.

“Big Fan” is Oswalt’s first dramatic role. He plays Paul Aufiero, who’s a
regular caller on his favorite sports talk radio station, where he’s known as
Paul from Staten Island. Outside of his obsession with the New York Giants, his
life is drab. He’s 35 but still lives with his mother. He has one friend. He
works in a glass booth as a parking garage attendant.

His insular world is disrupted when he spots on the street the player he most
idolizes, Quantrell Bishop. Paul sees this as his big chance to show his hero
how much he cares about the team, but as a result of a misunderstanding,
Quantrell turns on him. Still, Paul remains a fan.

In this scene, he calls into the sports show, occasionally reading from his
carefully handwritten notes. It’s late at night, and in the middle of the call
he is interrupted by his mother in the next room, who thinks he’s wasting his
time and his life.

(Soundbite of film, “Big Fan”)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Hey Paul, from Staten Island. What
have we got tonight?

Mr. PATTON OSWALT (Actor): (As Paul Aufiero) Hey, what’s up, dog? I’ve got to
tell you, I am feeling good tonight because in a little less than 48 hours we
are going to brutally shatter any flicker of hope the Cheesesteaks had going.
We’ve been messing with them the last few weeks, letting them get back in it a
little, making them think they had a chance of catching us, just so we can see
the look on their faces when they come up short. Quantrell’s back, baby, and he

Ms. MARCIA JEAN KURTZ (Actor): (As Paul’s Mom) Paul.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Paul) Quantrell is back, baby, and he is ready to make up for
some lost time against the Panthers. You better hope the scoreboard is broken
down there in St. Louis because the Eagles are going to be so crushed when they
look up at it and see the Giants-Panthers score, they’re not even going to be
able to play. It’s not even going to come down to the head-to-head in Week 17.
We’re going to wrap up the East in a nice little bow this coming…

Ms. KURTZ: (As Paul’s Mom) (Unintelligible)

Mr. OSWALT: (As Paul) Sorry, sorry. This coming weekend, after which we will
follow our pre-destiny to the Super Bowl as we ride the victory bus to the
championship. And why? Why are we riding in the victory bus to a championship
we haven’t played? Because, as I said earlier, it is pre-destiny that we will
take the Super Bowl this year while at the same time waving goodbye to the

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Thanks, Paul. Now that’s a G-Men fan.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Paul) Oh, thank you.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Thanks, buddy.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Paul) Okay. Thanks, Sports Dog, thank you.

GROSS: Robert Siegel, Patton Oswalt, welcome to FRESH AIR. Robert Siegel, have
you listened to a lot of sports talk radio, and did you ever call a station
yourself, even as research for this movie, just to see…?

Mr. ROBERT SIEGEL (Writer-Director): Have I ever been a long-time listener,
first-time caller, or first-time caller, long-time listener?

GROSS: Yes, exactly, exactly.

Mr. SIEGEL: No, purely - my experience has purely been voyeuristic. I’ve never
called in. I grew up listening to sports radio. I still listen to it, but as a
kid I listened to it pretty obsessively. Every single night when I went to bed
I would crawl under the covers and turn out the light and stay up way past my
bedtime. Listening to WFAN, the air would fill with these voices of, you know,
Murray from Flushing and Vinnie from Rego Park, and you know, Doris from
Yonkers and whatnot. And I was this, you know, Jewish Long Island kid in my
sort of middle-class suburb, and I would hear these voices from sort of far-

off, exotic corners of the New York City area that I’d never really been to.
But I don’t know, there was just something about listening in on these lives
that rally captivated me, and you couldn’t help but wonder what their lives
were like.

GROSS: Why did you think of Patton Oswalt for the role of the fan?

Mr. SIEGEL: Why did I think of him?

GROSS: Yeah, I mean, he’s best known as a comic and as an actor in comedies.
This is not a comic film. It’s not a comic performance.

Mr. SIEGEL: No, no. I didn’t do it – you know, sometimes comedians are cast in
dramatic roles in kind of – in ways that feel like stunt casting, you know,
look at the, you know, look at the funny clown, he’s really sad inside.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: I just thought he was right. I just thought he really felt right
for the role. He looked right. He was the right age.

GROSS: What does looking right mean?

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, what does looking right mean, Robert?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Can I let Patton take…

Mr. OSWALT: No, you can’t.

Mr. SIEGEL: You know, I thought if he – we discussed it, and he said he was
willing to bulk up for the role.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. SIEGEL: And stay out of the sun. He had a pretty healthy, glowing tan at
the time, and he promised that he would go method and stay in his basement for
a few months to kind of get rid of that.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, I laid off the mixed martial arts for about nine months. I
really got doughy.

Mr. SIEGEL: I thought if he would go through a really advanced, aggressive
anti-tanning process, and then, you know, then hit some Lucky Charms, we could
get him in shape. No, I just thought - Patton, may I insult you?

Mr. OSWALT: Go right ahead.

Mr. SIEGEL: Okay. I just thought he looked like he could be an obsessive, you
know, nerdy sports fan. Is that fair?

Mr. OSWALT: That’s fair.

Mr. SIEGEL: Okay. Yeah, you know, and I also thought, honestly, on a practical
level, you know, it was a very low-budget movie, and I didn’t think that Philip
Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti would be willing to – I’d be getting reamed
out by their managers every night when they found out that I didn’t supply them
with a chair to sit in, things like that. So I knew I couldn’t get, you know,
those two guys.

Mr. OSWALT: And plus, Paul Giamatti is a triathlete. He wears that shlubby
suit. That’s a fake thing he puts on for his roles. That guy has, like, I think
he’s at two percent body fat right now. He’s so cut. So he puts on this Paul
Giamatti suit, and that’s why he gets all this indie crap, and it drives me

GROSS: Patton Oswalt, now that we know you come cheap…

Mr. OSWALT: I come cheap.

Mr. SIEGEL: Not anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Thanks for jumping in, Robert.

Mr. SIEGEL: That will change now.

GROSS: Your performance is really terrific in the film. I mean, you really
capture the kind of, the loneliness and frustration and disconnection and kind
of anger and niceness of this character. What did you think about the role when
you were offered it? Did you say, yeah, that’s perfect for me? Was that your
first reaction, or was it something else?

Mr. OSWALT: Well, when I read the script itself, I just, I loved how it was
written, that style of writing which, because I’m such a film buff and love all
those movies from the early ‘70s, those sort of difficult character studies.
You know what I mean? Stuff like “Fat City” and “King of Marvin Gardens,” and I
really miss that kind of writing and filmmaking.

So there was this – I had mixed feelings because on the one hand, this is a
very dark, very, very messed up character, but as a guy who loves watching
movies, this was the kind of movie that I’d always dreamed of being in at one
point in my career. After a very short consideration, I had to say yes.

GROSS: Are you a sports fan?

Mr. OSWALT: No. I absolutely have – not only am I a sports fan – I’m not a
sports fan to the detriment of the movie - a couple of the scenes in the movie,
when me and Kevin Corrigan, who plays my best friend, we’re supposed to riff
about sports, and Robert found out very early on that we don’t have any sports

So we would start improvising, and I mean, I’m not exaggerating - five seconds
into it, we would both just stop because we had nothing. Well, that’s the
extent of our sports knowledge.

Mr. SIEGEL: You would run out of sports terminology very quickly.

Mr. OSWALT: And then I would start – I would get scared and I would make stuff
up that literally made no sense, like you think Bronco’s going to go 500 on the
blue level? And – cut. What? What did you say? It just, it made no sense.

Mr. SIEGEL: He knows the terms touchdown and ball.

Mr. OSWALT: Which I’m pretty sure are golfing terms.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know, in the movie “Big Fan,” you know, Paul, the main character,
Patton Oswalt’s character, he works in a garage, but he defines himself by his
love of football and of the Giants, but also he’s Paul from Staten Island. He’s
the guy who calls into the station, and this is who he is. He’s Paul from
Staten Island, the guy who calls in to the sports talk show. And when he calls
in, he writes down on a yellow pad what he wants to say, and he either reads
it, or at least he refers to it during the call. And I thought that that was so
perfect, that this caller, like he pretends like it’s all being improvised, but
this so defines who he is that he has to get it exactly right. I mean, it’s his
work. It’s his – like, it’s his thing.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah. He does it partially as a crutch, I think, because he’s
afraid he’ll forget what he wants to say, or he’ll think of – you know, he’s
locked in this parking booth all day with nothing but his thoughts, and he
thinks of all these great things to say, and I think he just has to write them
down because he’s afraid he’s going to forget it. And then it’s even more than
that, it’s his art, you know. It’s – this is what he was kind of meant to do.

Mr. OSWALT: I almost see it - in his own twisted way, he’s a guy that his
calling in at night is, he’s a musician with a day job, where yeah, I have to
work at a Denny’s during the day, but at night, I go out and rip it up. I’m an
amazing guitarist. So in his mind, these calls are his performances that he has
to prepare for, if you will.

GROSS: Yeah, and you know, a lot of people think that it’s pathetic that he’s
so obsessive about sports. But the thing is, if he were at the level where he
could turn that into being a sportswriter or a sportscaster or set up a really
successful sports blog, it would be a passion that he could actually make a
living at.

You know, people always draw the lines. You know what I mean? They draw the
line between the passion where you can’t make a living and the passion where
you can.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, but you know, I’ve met a lot of – because I’m very into comic
books and a huge bookworm and film buff. So I’ve gone down to, like, the San
Diego Comicon, and I have met versions of Paul Aufiero, you know, a guy. I met
a guy in this – he made his own Klingon costume, and he actually got every
single detail perfect, and it was – and I was talking to him, and I said wow,
what do you do? Are you a costume designer? And he said no, I do, you know,
risk assessment for an insurance company or something during the day. And I
said, well, you could, like, you could clearly be the costume designer on a
show. And he looked at me, had this look like if I worked on the show, I
wouldn’t have time to watch the show that I like.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. OSWALT: It’s almost like…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: …they don’t want to follow their passion that far because then I
wouldn’t have time to worship this thing, and also, I might not want to see
that much behind the scenes. I want it to be this from-on-high, almost
supernatural thing that I worship.

So he gave me that look like that’s ridiculous. I work during the day, and then
this is what I do, and I never miss my show. That’s as far as…

GROSS: That’s a really interesting way of looking at it, that what’s required
here is the ability to worship something at somewhat of a distance.

Mr. OSWALT: That’s why I think that Paul is always sitting out in the parking
lot watching on that little TV. He is the kind of…

GROSS: Yeah, well, let’s describe what you mean.

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, that’s right. Yeah.

GROSS: He goes to the stadium, but rather than buying a ticket, and I don’t
know if it’s he can’t afford it, or it’s sold out, but he…

Mr. SIEGEL: It’s just hard to get Giants’ tickets.

GROSS: Yeah, so he watches it in the parking lot with a little TV plugged into
the car.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, but…

GROSS: Yeah. Giving advice to the team about what they should be doing, of

Mr. SIEGEL: Exactly.

Mr. OSWALT: Yelling at a TV while he’s inhaling fumes from his car.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: But I almost feel like he’s one of those acolytes, if you will,
that he would – it would be insulting to his team if he was part of the mass in
the stadium, just mindlessly yelling. He almost sees the people in the stadium
as, like, these are the Pharisees that just want to worship in public.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: And I want to go to the quiet place and commune with my god. It’s
almost like I’m better than all the riff raff in there. They’re not true fans,
like me.

Mr. SIEGEL: Like, when you go to a Super Bowl party, you know, sometimes you
can get vaguely annoyed that everybody – you know, all these, you know – women…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: …at, you know, just people who don’t normally watch football every

Mr. OSWALT: They’re just there for the Super Bowl.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah, and they’re jumping on the bandwagon.

Mr. OSWALT: How dare you?

Mr. SIEGEL: And they’re excited about the commercials. It’s sort of vaguely
insulting, and you kind of want to just get away and watch alone in your room,
where you can really focus on, you know, the things that matter.

GROSS: There’s a couple of things in “Big Fan” that remind me of Scorsese
films, actually “Taxi Driver.” In “Taxi Driver,” the De Niro character is kind
of in the world but cut off from it because he’s always in a cab. He’s always
in this, like, little, coffin-like cab, driving through the streets,
disconnected from everything and looking at it through the taxi.

And Paul, you know, Paul, the character in “Big Fan,” is in a booth, and he
sees all these people driving by, but he’s enclosed in this glass booth. But
it’s also a lot like “King of Comedy,” where the De Niro character is sitting
alone in his basement, living with his mother. And in his basement, he has,
like, cardboard cut-out characters of the people he idolizes like Liza

Mr. SIEGEL: Right, he’s got the wall of the laughing audience.

GROSS: And he imagines he’s talking to them on the set of “The Tonight Show,”
and he has this really elaborate fantasy world with the people he idolizes,
which is not unlike, you know, Paul’s life, idolizing his sports fans. Were you
thinking of these movies?

Mr. SIEGEL: I love both those movies, and I tried my hardest not to overtly rip
them off, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: But definitely, I’m very excited and happy that you’re reminded of
both of those.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. SIEGEL: They certainly are two – Scorsese is my favorite director.

Mr. OSWALT: Mine, too.

Mr. SIEGEL: And those two are – is he?

Mr. OSWALT: He really is.

Mr. SIEGEL: Oh, I didn’t know. For me, pretty much from “Mean Streets” to “King
of Comedy” is the greatest run any director’s ever had.

Mr. OSWALT: Well, you know, you mentioned “Taxi Driver,” and you know, “Taxi
Driver,” that movie can almost be watched in a loop because the very last image
is of the empty rear-view mirror, which is also the very first image. We’ve
just come full-circle, that this guy is going to ride around in this cab until
the rage builds up, and he’s going to explode again. And it’s just going to
happen in this endless cycle.

And not to give anything away about “Big Fan,” but it struck me. There’s an
image, there’s a very specific image at the end, when you talk about this guy
is in a booth, and then he communicates with the world by calling in on a
telephone, and there’s an image at the end that now he’s actually gone even
further into that world.

Mr. SIEGEL: Oh my God, I didn’t even realize that. It was my…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: …must’ve been my subconscious.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, I figured that wasn’t intentional, but…

Mr. SIEGEL: No, that’s great.

Mr. OSWALT: His one – you’ll see what I mean when you see the movie, the image
at the end…

GROSS: That is good.

Mr. SIEGEL: I didn’t even realize I did that.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, where even now, his one friend has been relegated to the
other world. Do you know what I mean?

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah. I hope somebody writes that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Someone better – I’ll write it under a pseudonym somewhere.

Mr. SIEGEL: Okay.

Mr. OSWALT: But I just, I loved that aspect of – and the one thing about Paul,
comparing him again to Travis Bickle, Travis Bickle in his voiceovers does long
to connect with the world. He says very specifically: I don’t think you should,
you know, spend your life in – what is it?

GROSS: Morbid self-attention.

Mr. SIEGEL: Morbid self-attention.

Mr. OSWALT: Morbid self-attention. You should try to be a – what is it?

GROSS: A person like other people.

Mr. OSWALT: Other people, and Paul, for all of his faults, and he has a lot of
faults, he does not desire to reach out to anyone. He is actually non-
judgmental in his isolation.

Mr. SIEGEL: I don’t think of him as being as complex and conflicted as Bickle.

Mr. OSWALT: No. He’s not a yearning God’s lonely man. If anything, his battle
is to keep the world away from him. That’s his heroic battle is when the world
sends its tendrils in to try to pull him out into the wider world, he’s
fighting them off.

Mr. SIEGEL: If he could just be left alone, I think he would be happy. I think
he’s a happy guy.

GROSS: My guests are Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt. We’ll talk more about
“Big Fan” after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt. Robert Siegel wrote the
movie “The Wrestler,” and he wrote and directed the new movie, “Big Fan,” which
is about a really obsessive sports fan whose main interest in life is calling
into this sports talk radio station, and the role is played by Patton Oswalt,
who is best known as a comic but is also an actor. He was on “King of Queens.”
He was the voice of the rat in “Ratatouille,” and he’s got a comedy special
coming up.

Mr. SIEGEL: And if I may give the logline of the movie – is that what they call

Mr. OSWALT: Logline, yeah.

Mr. SIEGEL: One sentence, the way it will eventually be described in TV Guide
Magazine, with any luck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Obsessive sports fan gets beaten up by his favorite player is the
hook of the movie.

GROSS: You know, I wasn’t sure how much to give away.

Mr. SIEGEL: You can give that away.

GROSS: So let’s go there.

Mr. SIEGEL: That’s the premise.

GROSS: So he gets beaten up by his favorite player. You know, you were talking
about how worshipful he is and how he wants to keep this all at a distance so
he can worship it until he actually runs into his main object of worship, and
then he follows him to a bar, a strip club basically.

Mr. SIEGEL: A gentlemen’s bar.

GROSS: Gentlemen’s bar, yes, and then has to figure out, well, what does he do.
So he offers to, like – he sends a drink over, like the guy’s going to be
really impressed with that, like he needs a fan to buy him a drink.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Right.

GROSS: It’s so kind of all wrong, his expectations, like, he’s so removed. But
to not give too much away, the football player ends up beating up the fan.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: And then the fan has to decide – Patton, what does the fan have to

Mr. SIEGEL: The bulk of the movie is how does he deal with the emotional
fallout of the fact that the thing that he’s built his whole life around has
literally and figuratively punched him in the face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, that’s a good way of – I mean, look: If you’re a tormented
Christian who’s frustrated with the God who will not answer, be happy that he
doesn’t answer you because this is what happens when the God you worship
answers you sometimes.

Mr. SIEGEL: There was that Onion story years ago.

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Which you edited. Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. SIEGEL: God finally – yes. I’m going to misquote it, but it was: God
finally answers prayers of – what was it? - answers prayers of little boy?

Mr. OSWALT: Something like that.

Mr. SIEGEL: And then the subhead is: No, says God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: The other one I loved was God diagnosed as bipolar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Bipolar disorder.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, bipolar disorder. Wow, this guy’s crazy.

GROSS: Well, you know, another thing that this movie gets to is that the fan
has a sense of we. It’s our team, it’s us. You know, even if you’re alone in
your room, there’s this we that you’re connecting to. But then, like, when the
player beats you up, what does that do to the sense of we? Can you maintain it
anymore when you realize how insignificant you are to your hero?

Mr. SIEGEL: That’s the thing. In the original poster for the movie, it’s now
gone, but the original poster, as I mocked it up, the movie had a subtitle. It
was “Big Fan: A Tale of Unrequited Love”…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: …which is kind of how I see the movie. It’s kind of what do you
love – what happens when the thing you love most doesn’t love you back.

Mr. OSWALT: Well, what I loved most about that portion of the movie is that he
is basically beaten into a coma, a very brief coma. And when he comes out of
it, he’s still, the faith and worship is not gone at all. He has to then
wrestle with it.

GROSS: Robert Siegel wrote and directed the new film, “Big Fan,” starring
Patton Oswalt. Siegel and Oswalt will be back in the second half of the show.
I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with screenwriter and director,
Robert Siegel and comic and actor, Patton Oswalt.

Siegel is the former executive editor of The Onion and he wrote the screenplay
for "The Wrestler." He wrote and directed the new film "Big Fan," which stars
Patton Oswalt as an obsessed football fan who's a regular caller on the sports-
talk radio station, that's where he shines.

The rest of his life is drab. He's 35, lives with his mother, and works as a
garage attendant. This is Patton Oswalt's first dramatic role; he's a comic and
has a special premiering this weekend on Comedy Central.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from the film, and I think this is a really good
scene in showing the main character's relationship with his mother. He's 35
years old but, you know he lives with his mother. In his bedroom, his bed, it
has a bedspread that has the names of all the sports teams on it. I mean that's
the emotional level that he's still at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's kind of like having a "Star Wars"...

Mr. SIEGEL: There's a lot of those on eBay actually.

GROSS: know, bedspread or something.

Mr. OSWALT: Oh yeah.

GROSS: But anyway, so his mother, he still have to respect a lot of his like
his mother's rules about what to do in the house and he feels very much under
her thumb, but he doesn’t know how to get out and be an independent person yet.
So here they are, the mother and the son, driving home from Paul's nephew's

birthday party.

And at the party, his brother-in-law has offered him a job at Price Club. But
he doesn't want to do that. He just wants to stay - work in his garage, and
he's really offended by the pressure of him to take another job.

So here he is with his mother in the car driving home. And his mother is played
by Marsha Jean Kurtz and, of course, Paul is played by my guest, Patton Oswalt.

Unidentified Woman: We need to learn more about that program. We can't

Ms. MARSHA JEAN KURTZ (Actress): (as Paul's Mom) What do you have against the
Price Club?

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) I'd rather not discuss my career.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) You have a career? News to me. You could actually go
somewhere at Price Club.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Yeah, like Dennis? Please.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) He's doing extremely well for himself.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Okay.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) Who knows? You could probably meet somebody.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) And what does that mean?

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) Your brother and sister both found people at work.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Yeah. Gina was Jeff's secretary. He cheated on
his wife with her.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) She's a lot better for him than that lousy Roberta.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) He's a cheat. He (bleep) while he was still

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) Don’t say that word in my car.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Which one, (bleep) or cheat?

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) You know. I don’t want that language in my car.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Oh, so it’s worse for me to say it than for him
to do it.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) Cut it out Paul. You should only meet somebody as
good Gina has.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Oh boy, that'll be tough to top.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) Yeah, for you.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) Yeah, give me about an hour.

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) You have to actually date someone to top it.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) I date.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) Oh, sure. You’re dating lots of girls.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) You don’t think I date?

Ms. KURTZ: (as Paul's Mom) I know exactly who you date, your hand.

Mr. OSWALT: (as Paul Aufiero) What did you just say?

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So that was my guest, Patton Oswalt with Marsha Jean Kurtz in a scene
from "Big Fan" which was written and directed by my guest, Robert Siegel.

Patton Oswalt, what did you tap into to get into this character's loneliness
and frustration and sense of isolation?

Mr. OSWALT: As far as those were concerned, I kind of tapped into a lot of the,
you know Robert talked about listening to a lot of sports radio. I, you know, I
listen to stuff like Art Bell and The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling,
where they just - they are these sort of fringe magnets where these people call
in, and they're so odd and weird, but clearly happy in their oddness, that you
realize that it only looks like loneliness from the outside.

So I didn’t play Paul as this yearning, you know, lonely guy. I played him as a
guy who, in his mind, he thinks I've - it's all settled. It's perfect and it's
up to people that are watching him. I didn't… I judged him… I didn’t judge him
at all because the script didn’t judge him.

So I, as far as tapping into the loneliness, what I tried to tap into was, in
his mind, his satisfaction with the circumstances of his life and his
frustration with pointless, pointless exotic trivia and game - the facts and
things like that. Which I think is - that's what kind of brings out the sadness
in - you know if you look at him.

And also, the scenes, the scene that you just played and the other ones that I
have with that actress who plays my mom, Marsha Jean Kurtz, she was so amazing.
There's another scene where we really have a, you know, knock down drag out
screaming match and she was so amazing in those scenes that she was just so
good at bringing out the frustration and that - there's almost an edge of fear
in my voice in those scenes, because this is the one person that can get to me
and maybe try to pull me out into the world and I don’t want it happening.

So, and she was in stuff like "Panic in Needle Park," and "Dog Day Afternoon,"
so she was there for a lot of that early 70s new Hollywood and it's just so
good at working with other actors that… Those were the scenes I improvised the

GROSS: Oh really?

Mr. OSWALT: Oh yeah, because she just constantly kept me off guard because she
was so - you know her readings were - she just chose to be so blunt and totally
straightforward in those scenes. She wasn't, she's not...

GROSS: In a way that mothers often feel privileged to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, totally. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: There's no easing up to the hard revelation she's giving me. It's
just boom, you need a girlfriend. You need a better job. Your life is horr -
and I'm just… I'm under attack all of a sudden.

GROSS: Robert Siegel, you wrote in some details for the mother that I think are
so perfect, like she saves all the duck sauce and soy sauce packets from
Chinese takeout....

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah, my...

GROSS: zip-lock bags. And she has like bags and bags and bags of them.
I've seen that so much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: I had no idea how many people would relate to that. Apparently a
lot of people....

GROSS: Oh, I've seen so much of that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: those duck sauce packets.

GROSS: Yeah. And then you have her, there's a phone answering tape that she has
like for her answering machine.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah.

GROSS: And it's so perfect. It's the kind of message left by some woman who
believes that no one has ever heard a voice message before so they have to

Mr. SIEGEL: People of a certain age will still, when they're...

GROSS: Exactly.

Mr. SIEGEL: ...they'll follow the rules of the instructions for what to do when

GROSS: They have to lay out the rules in really enunciated voice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Please your name, number, and the time you called.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Were you trying to bring out that there's some people who leave messages
as if no one's ever heard one before and they don't know what to do.

Mr. SIEGEL: Well I just thought that's the kind I, you know that scene required
an answering machine outgoing message and that's the way I imagined she would
leave it.

GROSS: The person who plays the sister-in-law in the movie, Serafina Fiore.

Mr. SIEGEL: Sera, the great Serafina Fiore making her acting debut. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. She apparently worked at a gentlemen's club when you were making
"The Wrestler" and she reprised it?

Mr. SIEGEL: She continues to.

GROSS: She still does.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah. She's the manager of HeadQuarters, if I may slip in a plug.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: The finest gentlemen's club in all of New York City, located on
Manhattan's west side, that's HeadQuarters.

Mr. OSWALT: Bring your NPR card for discounts and for drinks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Yes. You can...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. SIEGEL: ...redeem your NPR funny money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Complimentary drinks and lap dances (unintelligible).

Mr. OSWALT: NPR listeners, make sure to drop by HeadQuarters for...

Mr. SIEGEL: Just name, just mention Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Gross is an extended two-song dance for the price of one.

GROSS: Did you get...

Mr. OSWALT: And if you can name your favorite...

GROSS: Wait. Wait. I got to stop you here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Have you guys had lap dances?

Mr. SIEGEL: She...

GROSS: Come on.

Mr. SIEGEL: In our lives?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: In our lives or during the shoot?

GROSS: In your life.

Mr. OSWALT: I have had a lap dance in my life. Yes.

Mr. SIEGEL: Singular?

Mr. OSWALT: Singular.

Mr. SIEGEL: I had two.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. SIEGEL: The year was...

GROSS: Was it for research or because you wanted it?

Mr. OSWALT: It was for a - it was for several… There was this period where all
my friends were getting married and we were, it was like a spate-o-bachelor
parties and we would… And people think that like the one thing they really got
in the - he got in right in the movie about strip clubs is usually in movies
they'll show a strip clubs as you got to approach the girl and the guys are -
the strippers tend to be kind of aggressive about giving you a lap dance
because that's how they make money.

Mr. SIEGEL: Oh yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: So they are very insistent of - hey, let's get a lap dance now. Oh
sorry. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Like you know it's just, it's really so that aggressiveness was
very accurate.

Mr. SIEGEL: Was there something you wanted to ask me about Serafina?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: I lover her. I want to give her air time.

GROSS: Yeah. Well the reason why I asked about the lap dance is that it figures
very prominently in "The Wrestler" and in "Big Fan," so and...

Mr. SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. Yes.

GROSS: Yeah. So I was just really, really curious about it.

Mr. SIEGEL: Both of which are part of my strip club trilogy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Third volume of which will - no, that should probably be it.

GROSS: I guess it won't surprise listeners to know I've never been to one of
those clubs but I always see them like in movies and, of course, on "The
Sopranos" and other TV shows.

Mr. SIEGEL: You’ve never been to a strip club, Terry Gross?

GROSS: Yeah. Big surprise, right?


GROSS: But they always look so creepy to me.

Mr. OSWALT: That was the hardest part of the movie for me was during the
beating scene, there's a shot where I had to have my face on the floor, so my
face was pressed against the carpeting of a strip club.

Mr. SIEGEL: Strip club carpeting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: So, yeah, so you tell, you know they'd show these outtakes of
Jackie Chan getting his head popped open, I give him no sympathy. I had my face
pressed to the carpeting of a strip club. I mean I don't want to hear about
these Werner Herzog actors...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: ...who go through hell in the jungle. You know, put your face
against the carpeting at HeadQuarters and get back to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: “Fitzcarraldo”'s got nothing on him.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah. I'll haul a ship up a mountain any day...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: long as I don’t got to put my face on the carpeting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you shot it in a real strip club, I take it?

Mr. SIEGEL: Yeah, that was shot at HeadQuarters, which is...

Mr. OSWALT: Which, by the way.

Mr. SIEGEL: Which is the club where Serafina Fiore, who plays the sister-in-
law, where she is the manager.

Mr. OSWALT: And what is it also known for?

Mr. SIEGEL: It's also the club where, coincidentally, Plaxico Burress of the
New York Giants was the night when he shot himself in the leg.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh. Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah because there's nothing more, nothing less dangerous than a
gun in a pair of sweatpants. That's super secure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah. Put it in your sweatpants. You’re good. Brilliant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Excuse me for using; I'm just going to go back to the lap dance thing. I
just have one...

Mr. SIEGEL: Go ahead.

GROSS: I just have one more lap dance question for you. It...

Mr. OSWALT: What is it with you, Terry with the lap dance questions?

GROSS: I see...

Mr. SIEGEL: Why don’t you just go to a club and find out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: No, I see this all the time in movies and on TV and it just seems...

Mr. SIEGEL: They’ve got them in Philly.

GROSS: it would be the most weird and, in a way, self-conscious
experience to be a man having a lap dance. I mean, it just seems so, I don't

Mr. OSWALT: I think it depends on the man because a lot of guys I think they
get, it's that whole thing of look I'm - everyone's looking at me and this hot
girl is on my lap, for me, for the lack of experience that I've had...

GROSS: Who you’re paying for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Whom I'm also yeah, openly paying for. For me it has always been
very, very creepy because it's very aggressive. I can’t stress to you how
aggressive the getting of the lap dance is. You don’t have to do anything. They
are - because that's how they make their money and they’re kind of insistent
and almost, my I say, rude about it. So it's always given me the willies, the
whole lap dance thing.

Mr. SIEGEL: There are guys who find it creepy and awkward and depressing and
then there are guys, who find it; there's a naked girl in my lap.

Mr. OSWALT: Right. I just feel because it's so public, I feel like an inbred
Roman emperor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Like look what they brought back from Gaul for me. Now dance woman.
You know it's just...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: Dance, Brazilian.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah exact...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, it’s just so creepy.

Mr. SIEGEL: Dance, Croatian.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, exactly. So...

GROSS: And Patton Oswalt, your character in the film declines.

Mr. OSWALT: Well yeah, because my true love is in the room.

Mr. SIEGEL: He's just annoyingly attracted by...

GROSS: So your true love is the football player. Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: ...a woman who comes to sit on his lap and he's just vaguely
annoyed that she's kind of blocking his view of the football player at first.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah. Yeah with her, please get your gorgeous naked body out of my
way so I can...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: I can look at the giant guy that's about to pummel me into a

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIEGEL: He's kind of peering, there's a great shot of him kind of peering
around the woman to try to...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. SIEGEL: ...see the football player.

Mr. OSWALT: I'm peering around a tanned and perfect flank so that I can't look
at Quantrell Bishop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My guests are Patton Oswalt, the star of the new film "Big Fan" and
Robert Siegel, who wrote and directed the film.

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, “Fever”)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guests are Robert Siegel and he wrote, not

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: He wrote the movie, "The Wrestler" and wrote and directed the new movie
"Big Fan" which stars my other guest, Patton Oswalt, who's an actor and comic.

Patton Oswalt, you have a comedy special coming up?

Mr. OSWALT: I have a comedy special coming up this Sunday.

GROSS: On Comedy Central. Uh-huh.

Mr. OSWALT: Twenty-third on Comedy Central called, "My Weakness is Strong" and
that is, two days later the DVD and CD of that special come out. That's on
Tuesday the 25th, "My Weakness is Strong."

GROSS: Tell us something about it.

Mr. OSWALT: It’s my third album and it's an hour of totally new material. And
basically, I'm just talking about - whereas my first album was I'm this young
punk in the 40 Watt yelling about the government, and in the second one I'm
getting a little older and I'm you know about to get married and I'm mellowing
out a little it.

And in this one is, I'm sort of on the way to becoming a dad. I'm not a dad
yet. So now that I'm looking at them, it's oh, it's this - these little
snapshots of a guy getting a little older, mellowing a little bit, finding, you
know, better and better targets to be angry at. You know what I mean? So it -
for me at least, I hope that people find it funny. I hope they don't go oh; I
want to watch the weft and wane of Patton Oswalt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: I hope that they just think it's full of really funny jokes. But
you know it’s a - it’s the follow-up to my second album that I worked really
hard at and I'm really, really happy with this. I mean I'm so happy with the
way that it came out.

GROSS: So where are you now in your life?

Mr. OSWALT: Well now I'm a dad and I've discovered this amazing new drug called
three hours sleep a night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: I mean, I’ve done LSD…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: …and ecstasy, and those were amazing. But I did not know the kind
of hallucinations and light traces you could see on three hour sleep a night.
It’s like a constant rave…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: …and also, not to get too sobby, but I’m watching a human being
form from nothing. I mean, people don’t understand, like, the first month, your
baby is just a blank. They don’t really – they’re just getting - they don’t
even get the world at that point. They don’t see that well. They don’t hear
that well. And then they slowly start - you see a person gelling. It’s kind of

GROSS: Robert Siegel, you got your start professionally writing for and then
editing the satirical news magazine, The Onion.

Mr. SIEGEL: Yes.

GROSS: You’re not writing film comedies. Neither “The Wrestler” nor your new
movie “Big Fan” is a comedy. Are you surprised that you’ve headed in a darker
direction instead of comedy?

Mr. SIEGEL: Not really. I see it as consistent. The Onion and “The Wrestler”
and now “Big Fan” are all kind of on a same continuum. They’re just on opposite
ends of it. They’re all blends of comedy and tragedy. It’s just a matter of the
ratio. The Onion, I would say, is maybe 90 percent comedy, 10 percent tragedy.
And “The Wrestler” maybe is the reverse: 90 percent tragedy, 10 percent comedy.
But everything I’ve done is kind of a mix of the two. I think The Onion has
this – is funny, but it’s got the strong undercurrent of sadness. And I think
“Big Fan” and “The Wrestler” are both sad with strong undercurrents of humor.

GROSS: What’s the best thing you learned about directing by watching Darren
Aronofsky direct “The Wrestler,” which you wrote?

Mr. SIEGEL: I would say, not in directing, but in casting. The key to that
whole movie is Mickey Rourke. And you put somebody else in that role, and it
just is not the same movie. And he fought very, very hard. And the studio - it
was a real uphill battle to cast Mickey Rourke in that movie. Nobody wanted to
fund it with Mickey Rourke. He could have gotten three or four times the amount
of money if he’d just stuck in, you know, a big - you know, one of, you know,
any number of big stars, Nicolas Cage on down. But he really stuck to his guns
and he said this role is – it has to be Mickey Rourke, and he was absolutely

And, you know, when I was casting “Big Fan,” I definitely took that to heart
and said this has to be Patton Oswalt. He’s just simply right for the role.
Most roles, I find, in movies, are not filled with the perfect person. They’re
filled with the biggest name who’s not overtly wrong for the role. Does that
make sense?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SIEGEL: You know, when you go to a casting director and they read your
script and they, you know, they give you a list of names for the lead role,
they’re not giving you the person who’s perfect. They’re giving you the person
who is believable, you know, but - and is a big star and won’t ruin – won’t
outright ruin the movie because they’re not right for the role, but by the same
token, they’re not the perfect person. And if you’re - and if you’ve written a
character that you think has real specificity, you know, the list is very, very
narrow in terms of who is truly right for that role, as opposed to who is kind
of right for that role, you know. And it’s amazing how quickly the list narrows
down to a tiny handful of people when you’re really thinking about it without,
you know, star power considerations.

GROSS: So do you get free tickets to any wrestling match you want to go to now?

Mr. SIEGEL: I think Mickey does.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Of course, of course.

Mr. SIEGEL: I - that kind of trickle down perk doesn’t reach the screenwriter,
unfortunately. But I think Mickey Rourke is now wrestling royalty. But no, I
don’t know. I don’t know that I am.

GROSS: Well, it’s been really fun talking with you both about the new movie
“Big Fan.” I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. SIEGEL: Thanks.

Mr. OSWALT: Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Robert Siegel wrote and directed the new film “Big Fan.” Patton Oswalt
stars in the film. It opens in New York and Philadelphia August 28th, and later
in other cities. Oswalt’s comedy special “My Weakness Is Strong” premiers on
Comedy Central Sunday. The CD and DVD come out next week. Coming up: Milo Miles
reviews re-mastered re-issues by the 80s British Punk band The Subhumans’. This
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Subhumans’ Timeless Hardcore Punk


The Subhumans are a political punk band from Britain who were first active in
the ‘80s, but whose back catalog of six albums has now been re-mastered and
released in the U.S. Although the musical setting has changed dramatically from
those days, critic Milo Miles says The Subhumans sound more timeless than old

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DICK LUCAS (Lead Singer, The Subhumans): (Singing) (unintelligible)

MILO MILES: Not all overlooked excellent music is a so-called lost gem.
Sometimes they’re hidden in plain sight. British punks The Subhumans were
active from 1980 to 1985, and their records were never rarities, just very hard
to find in the United States, where they never got much traction in their
heyday. However, being vintage punks missed by the U.S. guarantees nothing. A
UK group called The Adicts are by far the most long-lasting punk band with
original members, and that’s the most interesting thing about them. The
Subhumans, on the other hand, will remind you why people were knocked out by
punk in the first place. They deliver short, sharp shocks of fury and anguish.
But like the best of the breed, they’re angry in a funny way or funny in an
angry way, or something like that, as here when they explaining why “Mickey
Mouse is Dead.”

(Soundbite of song, “Mickey Mouse is Dead”)

Mr. LUCAS: (Singing) Mickey Mouse is dead, got kicked in the head, ‘cause
people got too serious. They planned out what they said. They couldn’t take the
fantasy, tried to accept reality, analyzed the laughs, cause pleasure comes in
halves. The purity of comedy. They had to take it seriously. Changed the words
around, tried to make it look profound. The comedian is onstage, pisstaking for
a wage, the critics think he’s great, but the laughter turns to hate.

MILES: In their first releases, The Subhumans were an early example of British
hardcore punk, a style that stripped the sound down to its basics in the manner
of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. The goal was to attract crusaders and
purists, the only ones alive in a dead world of lies. The closest American
parallel might be the group Minor Threat. The Subhumans’ shouter Dick Lucas,
guitarist Bruce Treasure, bassist Grant Jackson and a drummer known only as
Trotsky hammered away at themes of mental disease, murder, oppression with
every breath and love as a disaster.

But they also offered a welcome British perspective with rants about class
structure, work, money and the evils of meat in a song that ends with the
perfect line: It’s the family butcher. Lock up your family.

(Soundbite of song, “Pigman”)

Mr. LUCAS: (Singing) Guilty conscience stews away in the kitchen. Knock at the
door it’s, the next door neighbor. Farming is a living, killing is a crime.
Where do the meat men draw their lines? Revenge for the timeless market
slaughter, the pig man’s coming. Lock up your daughter.

MILES: The Subhumans hit a peak in 1982 with their first LP, “The Day the
Country Died,” which is full of clever snaps of melody, rhythm and wit. Those
who prefer the punk straight up should also check out the earlier Subhumans
sides collected on the descriptively named “EP-LP.” The Subhumans themselves
began to defy one of the commandments of hardcore punk. They evolved and became
more elaborate. There were a few dead ends and blind alleys, but The Subhumans
wound up their first incarnation with the 1985 album “Worlds Apart,” their most
varied and reflective, including sighs about apathy and ex-teenage rebels. It
ends with “Powergames,” a song by purists, all grown up to warn that purity
itself is something to guard against.

(Soundbite of song, “Powergames”)

Mr. LUCAS: (Singing) Without asking it, I had called them out, without knowing
what it was all about. They assumed it was a wind-up or a con. Making sure with
a nervous glance, they re-affirmed each other’s stance, and smiled and then
forgot about it all. The passing strangers stayed that way, rotted away in
their own decay, convinced they’d got it right, the rest were wrong. By
deriding them to gain respect, they tied a noose around their neck and fell
when something different came along.

MILES: The Subhumans have reunited a few times, and they’re still semi-active
today. But still, they did their best job of blowing down complacency as youths
with brains on fire. In the 1990s, the roars of hardcore punk could sound
dated. But by now, the commitment and conviction of The Subhumans sounds like a
call to arms waiting to be heard again.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed The Subhumans’ back catalogue,
newly reissued on the Bluurg label.

You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site,
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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