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Comedian Patton Oswalt

Listeners may know him as the neighbor on CBS's The King of Queens. He is also a regular on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Oswalt has had the distinction of being booed off the stage by both liberal and conservative audiences. His debut comedy CD is Feelin' Kinda Patton.




Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on July 26, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 26, 2004: Interview with Patton Oswalt; Review of new DVDS of Judy Garland musicals.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Patton Oswalt discusses his life and career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is comic and actor Patton Oswalt. In 2002 Entertainment Weekly named
him their "It" comedian of the year, describing him as `one of stand-up's
most scathingly literate minds.' Oswalt has done comedy specials on Comedy
Central and HBO. He's a frequent guest on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," is
often on VH1's "Best Week Ever," and has appeared on Comedy Central's "Crank
Yankers." On the CBS sitcom "The King of Queens" he plays Spence. He's
written for Mad TV and has been hired to punch up screenplays. Now Patton
Oswalt has his first CD; it's called "Feelin' Kinda Patton." Let's start with
a track from it called "How We Won the War."

(Soundbite of "How We Won the War")

Mr. PATTON OSWALT (Comedian): I don't have any material about the war or
anything like that, man. I really--I just don't have--'cause guess what,
hippies? We (censored) won! Yeah! We went in there and we met our stated
objective to uh--hang on. We went in--here's--wait a minute--to go to
liberate the--hang on. No. Here's why we went. Wait a minute. We went to
get the uh--to strike a thing--uh--we (censored) won, OK?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. OSWALT: It's like our country is being run by a bunch of, like, bad
alcoholic dads right now, or, you know, it's like, `You said you'd get me a
bicycle for my birthday.' `It's a drawing of a bike. (Censored) go out and
play. Leave Daddy alone. Daddy's drinking. Go outside.' Drawing him a
bike. Close enough.

GROSS: Patton Oswalt, welcome to FRESH AIR. What kind of reactions do you
get to your political material?

Mr. OSWALT: It's a real mixed reaction these days, and that was the main
reason I put the CD out. You know, I'm on a sitcom, so a lot of people--I
either get, you know, people that have seen my stand-up for the 16 years that
I've done it and go, `Oh, yeah, he does political stuff, whatever,' or I get
people who have seen me on the sitcom or on TV and are expecting a very
family-friendly kind of evening. And I either get, like, disappointment,
which is always depressing, or kind of condescending outrage of like, `Hey,
you dumb sitcom actor,' you know, `you don't have an opinion on'--like, you
know what I mean?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, I feel like I'm--it's almost like I'm being viewed as a
dilettante, I guess, whereas I've been doing this stuff for a long time. So,
you know, the reactions are always very mixed. I've gotten some very violent
reactions, especially in, of all places, Pittsburgh, where I was booed off

GROSS: Really? What got you booed off stage?

Mr. OSWALT: The material about Bush. They just got really, really quiet
during that whole section. And then I went back into my other stuff, and then
there was a moment of silence. And a guy in the front row said, `Why don't
you take your faggot ass back to Hollywood?'--like really sharp, like the
whole room heard it. And then I kind of went, `Ha-ha, are you still angry
about the Bush stuff?' And the whole crowd just `A-a-a-a-a!'--just all
started, like, screaming and pounding their tables. They were all--there was
300 people at the Funny Bone in Pittsburgh pounding their tables and chanting
`Bush rocks.' And I had to be led off stage by the club owner while people
were throwing drinks on me and throwing fried shrimp at me. And...


Mr. OSWALT: ...I got locked up in the manager's office because--they had to
lock me up in there because people, you know, wouldn't leave and fights were
breaking out, and people were down at the bar going, `Send him down here!'
You know, like, it was insane.

GROSS: How--I mean, at what point does it reach that critical mass where you
know time to be led off stage?

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, I think that was the worst one. I think it was at the
point when they're all chanting and pounding, and I see people, like, standing
up, and I'm like, `Ooh, this is not good.' Now at the same time I was opening
for Camper Van Beethoven in San Francisco in front of, I would say, a very
aggressively liberal crowd. And I tried to go into a bit about the kind of
warped part of my brain that wants to vote for George Bush. And, clearly,
it's not a pro-Bush bit, but I start off that way. And then I go to an ironic
end. But the minute they heard, `There's a part of me that wants to vote for
George Bush,' they booed me off stage. So I've gotten these extreme kind of
close-minded reactions from both sides at this point out there.

GROSS: Yeah, and it's interesting that, you know, like, even in comedy clubs,
the culture wars are happening. Now--so where do you put your political
material in the context of the set? Do you lead with it and then risk getting
booed off stage before you've even gotten started?

Mr. OSWALT: Well, you know...

GROSS: Do you put it in the middle where you can kind of sneak it in or...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah. I never lead with it. I remember a long time ago when I
was starting out and I was just such a--you know, `I want to be edgy da-bi,
da-bi.' And I would just come right out of the gate trying to freak people
out. And I was working with, of all people, Bill Hicks in North Carolina, and
he said, `You need to walk them towards the edge. Do you--you've got to walk
them towards the edge, man.' So I've always remembered that.

So, you know, I just do jokes that have nothing to do with politics, and then
I do jokes that are very personal and then jokes that have to do with
politics. And I think I've learned now how to mix it in a little better and,
you know, get them to at least trust you and go, `Oh, OK, he's funny. You
know, he knows what he's doing as a comedian,' and then start edging in. And,
I mean, I think now I make fun of both sides equally. But the minute you make
fun of one person's side, they just--you know, arms folded across the chest
and superangry.

GROSS: You've said that you sometimes sit at the bar after one of your shows
and talk to people there. And I was surprised to read that for a couple of
reasons. First of all, some performers really like to maintain this kind of
performer image, which means not, you know...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: ...being elevated from the crowd, being on stage, being in the
spotlight but not being at the bar. And, second of all, some people don't
really want to hear that kind of direct feedback after they've done a
performance because you have, like, a hundred critics who want to dissect your

Mr. OSWALT: That is true. No, no, that's true. But at the same time--yeah,
I used to be very, like, kind of stiff-arm; I used to stiff-arm the audience a
lot. But I guess in these last few years in trying to get into, like--you
know, now that I'm writing films and hoping to make them in a few years and
also acting in films, everything that ever used to intimidate me about any
kind of art form was because it had this mystification level to it. And I'm
out to just demystify what it is I do, so that other people will also go, `Oh,
I can try it too,' like, and get more voices out there. So I don't mind--and
not that I think of myself as some kind of rock 'n' roll god or some, you
know, artist in an ivory tower or something. But when you are standing up on
a stage with a light on you and a microphone, you know, there is this kind of
distance, and I sort of what to get rid of that. I want to just demystify
everything about what show business is, so that, you know, more people will do

GROSS: Could I get...

Mr. OSWALT: And, also, I mean, sitting at the bar you--when people argue with
you and don't agree with you, you get other viewpoints and more ammunition to
make your bits and arguments even stronger later, if you're sitting there
talking to someone that doesn't agree with you.

GROSS: My guest is Patton Oswalt. He's a comic, a writer and he is a co-star
on "King of Queens." And now he has a new CD, which is called "Feelin' Kinda

Let's hear another track from your CD, and this is a track called "The World's
Most Amazing Father."

(Soundbite of "The World's Most Amazing Father")

Mr. OSWALT: If I ever have a kid, I'm going to be a (censored) amazing
father. I will rule as a father, and here's why. Because I'm going to be the
most boring, hateful father on the planet. I'm going to do what fathers
should do--parents should do. When I grew up in Virginia, all my friends
either had these boring, square, like government-employee parents, like my
parents, who I at the time hated, or they had these (censored) hippie parents.
They're all--they, like, you know, skorted out a couple--like they're at a
(censored) music festival and, `Oh, there's a kid on our blanket. Hey, man,
what the (censored) happened?' and then moved to the suburbs and settled down
and then raised our kids. And all my friends had (censored) hippie parents.
And it drove me crazy because their parents, like, let them get high. Their
parents would get high with them and take them to concerts and let them watch
X-rated movies on HBO. And my parents were like, `It's 9:00, sucker. You got
soccer practice tomorrow.' `(Censored) you, Dad!' I could not wait to get
the (censored) away and move to California and travel the world, and indeed I
did out of hatred for my parents.

All my friends who had hippie parents, you know what they did when they got
out of high school? Got married, had kids, settled down, moved to the suburbs
and ruined everything: put stickers on albums, took toys off the markets
because some dumb-ass kid choked on a plastic missile--because secretly they
hated their parents. They hated them because their parents were fun, but they
were also kind of scary. They were like, `Hey, I signed us up for belly
dancing lessons, and I had to sell your beds because I forgot to pay the
(censored) rent, man. I don't know what's going on. Oh, man, it's so
(censored) heavy.' So to rebel against their parents, they (censored) ruined

So here's my advice. If you ever have kids, do your duty for the future and
be boring, square parents. (Censored) all this coolness right now that you're
involved in? Hide it. Don't let their kids know about it. Don't let your
kids know about it. You took like eight hits of like Ecstasy and (censored)
punched out a cop and, you know, (censored) someone from the Dandy Warhols.
Don't tell them any of that (censored). All right? When I have kids, the
most recent CD that I will own: Phil Collins, "No Jacket Required." That'll
be the most recent CD I own. Oh, my God.

GROSS: That's Patton Oswalt from his new CD.

So how do you get along with your parents now?

Mr. OSWALT: I'm sorry. I'm just basking in how brilliant I am. Oh,

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, my God, that was fantastic. I gotta buy that album. My
parents and I get along a lot better now, and it's probably because of that
bit and all the realization that led to me writing that bit because, looking
back on when I was growing up, I wasn't like a bad kid, but I was the classic,
overeducated, rebellious teen-ager but rebellious within just disagreeing with
stuff for no reason. So I was the kind of kid when my parents would go,
`Well, it's raining outside, son.' I'm like, `What do you mean? Just because
there's water coming out of the sky doesn't mean it's raining, man.' You
know, just--I was like the safest, plushiest suburban punk. You know what I
mean? Like, I had never felt any real doubt or pain or anything like that,
but I wanted--and it was so sad, too, because I realize now I was like the--I
missed the whole--all the great movements of music I missed.

Like, all during the late '70s I was just listening to, you know, Kansas and
Styx. And then in the mid-'80s I saw the movie "Repo Man" and thought I had
discovered punk. And I was the classic, like, unhip letting-you-in-on-it kid.
So, like, it's 1985 and I'm in Sterling, Virginia, going, `Hey, man, have you
heard of a group called Fear? 'Cause you got'--and they're like, `Yeah,
we--that--yes, five years ago, Patton. What are you babbling about?' Like,
you know, I could not have--I missed the whole--I was living outside of DC and
I never saw Fugazi, for crying out loud. I went and saw Genesis on the
Invisible Touch Tour, so I had no basis for my rebellion.

GROSS: Your father was a Marine. So was he even more into discipline when
you were into being rebellious?

Mr. OSWALT: My dad actually, I feel like, was rebelling against his
upbringing in that I think he had a pretty strict upbringing, and he was
going, `Well, I don't want to put that on my kids.' I do remember one night
he told me, `I don't want to ever see you and your brother go to war.' So I
think he was the kind of warrior that had, you know--which, unfortunately, we
don't have in power right now--who had seen, you know, three years of combat
and realized how, I think, pointless and brutal and impersonal it was and, you
know, was very much a man of peace because of it. Even though, you know, he
was still every much--he and my mom are very conservative people, and yet
they're embarrassed by--they're not like just, you know, cold ideologues. So
as far as discipline, you know, my dad had a much more kind of passive way of
going about it. He was smart enough to let me alone, to just read and
daydream and, you know, come up with my own thing rather...

GROSS: Were you named for General Patton?

Mr. OSWALT: Was named for General Patton. And you know what? Parents, don't
put that on your kids. Don't name your kids after world-changing conquerors
'cause there's no way they're going to live up to it. You know what I mean?
`This is my son Alexander MacArthur Tecumseh,' you know, `Rommel. That's him.
And he's ready to take your order at the Starbucks.' Like that's--don't do
that to them. It's horrible.

GROSS: So now when you were a kid and you were being funny, was that
considered in your family a discipline problem?

Mr. OSWALT: It depend--I mean, I could be funny, and they would appreciate
it, and then other times I was just a loud mouth and I would just embarrass
them. Or I'd get into arguments with my grandfathers, who were both very
conservative, and just ruin family dinners. And it was always a drag. I
was--again, I look back on some of my behavior and go, `Oh, man, if I'--I'm
amazed my dad just didn't hit me with a pipe 'cause I would--if I could go
back now and see myself with my Dad, I would tell my Dad to hit me with a

GROSS: Did your father want you to be more macho?

Mr. OSWALT: I think when I was young he sort of wanted to, and then he just
sort of said, `You know, it ain't happening with this kid.' But he could
tell--I was reading poetry. I'd read like all of Edgar Allen Poe by the time
I was nine and, you know, was drawing cartoons, and I was just such a sissy.

GROSS: My guest is comedian Patton Oswalt. He has a new CD called "Feelin'
Kinda Patton." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comedian Patton Oswalt. He has a new CD called "Feelin'
Kinda Patton."

What was your early comedy like, when you first got up on stage?

Mr. OSWALT: Just really superforgettable because I came along--I started
comedy in '88. It was a really good and bad time to start. It was good
because the boom was dying, but it was bad--and I'm seeing this happen again
with "Last Comic Standing"--where there were these certain things that
everyone knew you had to do as a comedian. And there was this mentality of
`You've got one shot. You've got one shot. You spend your time now getting
ready for that one shot, and if you blow it, you're done.' And it was also
all about you get into comedies, so that you can get out of comedy, so that
you can get a sitcom or get into movies and not have to do this anymore,
whereas I was very confused because I thought doing comedy was great, like I
thought that was the reward.

I mean, when I became an emcee and was making 25 bucks a set, you know, I
wasn't rich. But if I did four weekends a month, I could pay my rent and buy
enough Ramen noodles to survive. And I thought that was amazing. Like, I
couldn't believe that I only had to work three nights a week, and everyone
else was--back then you had to get your clean five minutes and get on "The
Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and hope that he called you over to the
couch. And that was it. And everyone structured their stuff to be a clean
five minutes.

And I was constantly being pushed and pulled between, you know, trying to be a
normal-looking comedian in a suit. I remember I went down to the Potomac
Mills mall and bought these awful, awful double-breasted, cheap suits, like
four of them, like an orange one and a yellow one and a blue one and a black

GROSS: Blah.

Mr. OSWALT: ...with a bunch of colorful shirts and skinny ties. Like,
that's what I was going to do. Here's my--it was awful. But then I was
also--luckily, I had friends like Blaine Capatch and Mark Voyce, who were
comedians back then who just were not paying attention to any of that and were
kind of the freaks. But I got along with them better because they would
reference books that I read and music that I was listening to at the time, but
that was kind of how the alternative comedy movement was starting in its own
way, so that when we all moved to San Francisco and then, later, LA, it was
just the people that--because then once Johnny Carson left "The Tonight Show,"
these guys' plans were in ruins...

GROSS: So...

Mr. OSWALT: ...because there was nothing to do.

GROSS: ...what was the first thing you did on stage that really killed?

Mr. OSWALT: The first thing I ever did on stage--you know, the first thing I
ever did on stage, the very first set I did, which was awful--I mean, I got no
laughs, but I did one bit that made both Blaine and Mark laugh. And because
those are the only two guys that made me laugh at this open mic, it made
me--it helped to skew me in the right direction. It was just a thing where I
said that the word `of' should be changed O with an apostrophe because then it
would make things a little more festive. Like, you wouldn't come home and go,
you know, `Honey, I have cancer O' the cervix.' Oh, that doesn't sound--you
know, that sounds kind of festive, you know.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: Like, that kind of got a laugh. I remember just hearing Mark and
Blaine laughing, and the rest of the crowd was just staring at me literally at
2:30 in the morning at a club called Garvin's, which is now not there anymore.
So that was--but early on, you know, I wish--there's no eureka moment for
comedians. In movies they always, like, show--like, if you watch "Punchline,"
Sally Field is not funny, and then she breaks through one night. And that
just--it doesn't happen that way. It just happens--you don't even realize
it's happening.

GROSS: Now you've said, `You can't argue comedy with anyone.'


GROSS: `Comedy and eroticism are beyond argument and qualification. If
something makes people laugh or arouses them, then the argument is over.'

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you ever feel like arguing with an audience and explaining, `No,
it's funny. Let me explain why'?

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: `Laugh. It's funny.'

Mr. OSWALT: I know exactly what you're saying. Yeah, it is hard to--it's
hard on both sides. Yeah, you want to argue your point, like, `Don't
you'--you know, like the people that were booing me off stage in San
Francisco. I literally said, `Do you really think that after the half-hour
set you've just seen,' where I compared Bush to Lex Luthor and said that he's
literally the Antichrist--I literally said that--`do you now think that I'm
actually pro-Bush? Like, you must know that I'm being ironic right now.' I
felt like a college professor, like, you know, begging a class not to walk out
on me, and they still booed me off stage. And, also, at the same time you get
frustrated because you see people laughing at something that's so easy and so
pandering and hackneyed. But you don't want to be the one going, `Don't you
people see how empty and unnutritious this is?' because then you feel like a
slob. Like, it's so frustrating both ways.

GROSS: I think it would be great if, at the end of your act, you left and
then you came back on the stage; instead of doing an encore, you critiqued the

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: That would be...

GROSS: That would be fun.

Mr. OSWALT: `All right. Let's review. Now you did not--you laughed hard at
this bit and yet were silent for the one after. But that doesn't make sense
because it would follow that if you saw the irony in this, you would
naturally'--like, really come on with a blackboard.

GROSS: Well, you...

Mr. OSWALT: `Those who want to stay and take notes, yes, fine.'

GROSS: Patton Oswalt. He has a new CD called "Feelin' Kinda Patton." He'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up: TiVo, Alvin & The Chipmunks and punching up screenplays.
More with comedian Patton Oswalt. He has a new comedy CD.

And classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews Judy Garland movie musicals
now out on DVD.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with comedian Patton Oswalt.
He has a new CD called "Feelin' Kinda Patton." He's been a frequent guest on
"Late Night with Conan O'Brien," has appeared on Comedy Central's "Crank
Yankers" and VH1's "Best Week Ever." He co-stars on the CBS sitcom "The King
of Queens," has written for "Mad TV" and is now writing a screenplay.

I want to play another track from your new CD. And this is something totally
apolitical. It's called "My Christmas Memory."

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of "My Christmas Memory")

Mr. OSWALT: When I was growing up, my favorite Christmas memory was the
Alvin & The Chipmunks album because we had it on LP. And you know what I'm
talking about? The, you know, (singing mimicking Alvin & The Chipmunks)
`Christmas, Christmas time is here.' Remember that song?

Audience: (In unison) Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: The little chipmunks are singing, and then there's that guy,
Dave, going, `All right, now, Chipmunks, let's all,' ber, ber, ber. My
brother and I had that on an LP, so what we would do is we would play that on
the slowest speed possible on the record player. So then it sounded like four
normal, monotone guys just singing this boring Christmas song and then this
demon from, like, the nth level of traitors and murderers just screaming at
them. And then it just was so different. It was like, (singing) `Christmas,
Christmastime is here, time for toys and time for cheer.'

(Soundbite of growling)

Mr. OSWALT: Simon (growls).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: OK. `We adore you, little ...(unintelligible).' OK. `Alvin

GROSS: That's from Patton Oswalt's new CD.

And, you know, I grew up listening to Alvin & The Chipmunks, and my brother
and I used to slow it down. And I don't...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: I think this is just, like, really funny. Can you talk a little bit
about how you decided to make this just, like, childhood memory into something
to do on stage?

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, that's a bit I really like because I feel like I'm kind of
unveiling an actuality because the way people react to that, it's something
that I think a lot of people did do and didn't realize how funny it was, like

GROSS: Exactly, yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah. Nothing's funnier than when you're just doing something
that you're not intending it to be funny or weird or memorable. It's just
something you compulsively want to do out of fun. And so I just--it wasn't
like I decided to make it a bit. I think that was another one of--because I
don't sit and write. I just go up with some general ideas, but all of my bits
usually get written when I'm on stage. And I think I was doing a show near
Christmas, and I was doing a couple other bits about Christmas, and then that
memory on stage just popped into my head because I think that's when I really
started getting good or at least happier with what I was doing--was when I was
comfortable enough on stage to just start talking about something and trust
that it would go somewhere, you know? And sometimes it doesn't, but when it
does, like the Chipmunks bit, it's like, oh, I get a really good, solid, real
bit out of it.

GROSS: Now how did you end up playing `the neighbor' on "King of Queens"?

Mr. OSWALT: The producers saw my HBO half-hour, which I did in '97, and then
brought me in to read for the role. And I got it, and then it just kind of
took off from there. The writers on "The King of Queens" are so good, and
they really just started going to town with my character. And I was very
lucky, you know, that they just kind of imbued him with a lot of personality.
And there's a lot of like--a lot of the suppressed anger that the writers
have, I think they put through in my character. There's just a lot of rage in
his failure. And I think that they--you know, I'm kind of like the vessel for

GROSS: Let's hear a clip from "King of Queens." And...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: ...this is a scene in which you're talking about just getting TiVo.

(Soundbite of "The King of Queens")

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) Oh, hey, hey, hey, do you want to see my new

Unidentified Woman: Oh, your Spider-Man suit? You modeled it for me last

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. It's my TiVo. See,
it's this thing that records TV shows, but the cool part is it's intuitive.
See, once you program in some shows you like, it gets to know your tastes and
then automatically picks out `record shows' for you.

Unidentified Woman: Wow. See ya.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) No, no, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) Wait. Come here, come here, come here. Just sit.

(Soundbite of patting)

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) Now the other day I programmed in "Sex and the City,"
"Six Feet Under," a few other favorites and now--Presto--a whole list of
shows TiVo recorded just for me.

Unidentified Woman: Oh. "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) Never heard of it, but TiVo knows I'll like it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman: "Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) Oh, OK. I...

Unidentified Woman: "Decorating With Style."

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) I don't know why it would...

Unidentified Woman: "Queer as Folk."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: (As Spence) Oh, my God, TiVo thinks I'm gay!

GROSS: That's Patton Oswalt in a scene from "King of Queens."

Now you talk about TiVo on the CD, though it's different. Did you write the
TiVo part in "King of Queens" that we just heard?

Mr. OSWALT: No, that was, again, another--it's weird. When I first started
doing that TiVo bit, when TiVo first started coming out, it never got huge
laughs because not a lot of people had a TiVo. But the few people in the
audience that had TiVo reacted so strongly to it, like--you know, again, it
was another one of these--I wasn't really saying it to be overly funny. It
was just something that I noticed about my TiVo and then--because it's just
this weird, new technology. I'm like, `I don't know if this is going to catch
on. What is'--you know what I mean? It's like me doing a bit about a
tamagucci pad(ph) or something. But then it just became the norm. And I
remember when I first did that bit on "Conan O'Brien," Conan came over, it's
like, `I go through the same thing. It's like the TiVo takes on this weird
personality, and you feel like it's making judgments about your life,' like we
really had a--and so I realized it was like a thing that was catching on.

And then, totally not connected to my bit, that happened to the producer of
the show, where he was like, `I think my TiVo thinks I'm gay,' because it kept
recording all these gay programs. So, again, they wrote it in for the Spence
character. And then I told them--it was like, you know, `I do a bit about
TiVo and having problems with it.' I'm like, `Well, that's cool.' So it was
just a weird parallel.

GROSS: Now you've started writing screenplays and TV pilots?

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, I co-wrote a movie a few years ago that was bought by
Miramax and went in a turnaround. And then I had a blind-script deal at
Paramount, where--I don't really know what's--that is also in limbo. And then
I sold another movie to New Line, which they are sitting on for some reason.
I don't know why. It's one of those classic, `This is great! We've got to
start shooting this!' And you're like, `Awesome!' Then they go, `We'll talk
to you in a few months.' And then you never heard from them again. Like, you
know, you're paid. You know, they've given you this giant paycheck, and
you're going, `Shouldn't you maybe make this if'--you know, you feel bad just
taking the money.

GROSS: So none of the things you've written have actually gotten made yet.

Mr. OSWALT: No, not yet. They always want to rewrite it or give it to
another writer. And Merrill Marco said something really funny to me one time.
We were talking about--because she goes through this, too, where, you know,
you always write a first draft. They never use it; they always pay someone
else to write it or rewrite it. Or she--like, I also rewrite a lot of movies,
so they're always giving me someone's first draft to rewrite. And Merrill
Marco goes, you know, `They should just let homeless people write the first
draft of screenplays because they don't use them anyway.'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: `You know, that could give them some money.' And it kind of made
a bizarre sort of sense...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: ...because I can't think of any first draft that's ever just been
shot, you know? And there's plenty of first drafts I've read, like Joss
Whedon's original script for "Alien: Resurrection" was maybe one of the best
things I've ever read. I'm like, `All you have to do is shoot this.' And, of
course, they rewrote it and tweaked and made sure it was a horrible movie.

GROSS: Can you mention any of the screenplays that you had to rewrite?

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah, I've done a lot of table sessions on movies "Meet the
Fockers," which is coming out. I've done, like, punch-up in scenes on "Blade
III,"(ph) although that script was pretty--that was kind of a hard script to
do any punch-up on because it was so good. When I read it, I was like, `Why
are they punching this up?' But the guy that wrote it was like, `I just want a
couple little jokes here and there, like some dark humor.' So, you know...

GROSS: So what's the process like when you're doing punch-up on a script?

Mr. OSWALT: Well, there's three different processes. One is where they just
give you the script alone. I rewrote a movie, God, years ago that apparently
has been in the hands of eight other writers, too, called "The Hardy Men,"
which is "The Hardy Boys" grown up. And it was originally like a Ben
Stiller-Owen Wilson vehicle. Now, you know, who knows who they'll give it to?
So you can do that by yourself, or there's one where they give you a script,
and you--they just go, `Would you go through and point out, like, you know, 10
or 15 scenes that you think could use, you know, a little punch-up or can we
cut?' And so you submit that, or you do what's called a roundtable, where you
and a bunch of writers sit around a table with the script, and you go through
it scene by scene and punch it up. Or I also do a lot of work with the
Farrelly Brothers, and that's me and a bunch of writers, and we take just a
week on a script. And we go out to, like, this beach house and just sit and
go over every scene and, you know, talk it out and, you know, punch it up, and
that's really fun.

Those guys really have--as far as, like, how to structure jokes and something
like that, they've got really, really sharp instincts. But that just shows
you that even guys who are as sharp as them, the studio can still mess with
your product.

GROSS: My guest is comedian Patton Oswalt. He has a new CD called "Feelin'
Kinda Patton." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comedian Patton Oswalt. He has a new CD called "Feelin'
Kinda Patton."

When you were growing up, who were the comedians that made you want to be a
comic, too?

Mr. OSWALT: When I was really, really young: Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby's
early albums were like--"Why Is There Air?" I think is one of the best comedy
albums I ever heard. And then there was a Richard Pryor album called "Are You
Serious?" which was this--it's the album that covers his transition from being
this kind of Las Vegas, Bill Cosby, clean-cut clone to then being the really,
you know, raucous kind of comedian that he became. But it's called "Are You
Serious?" And he's sort of making the transition, like he's got one foot in
the, you know, "Richard Pryor: Live in Concert" thing, and he's got his
other foot still in Bill Cosby world. And it's so raw and real. And it was
so captivating to listen to a guy that was just that comfortable in being able
to put a clanky transitional thing out as an album and be that real and in the
moment on stage.

And then much later, when I was starting, Jay Leno I thought was one of the
greatest comedians I've ever seen live, which is why I think a lot of
comedians are so frustrated with him because we don't know what happened to
him. He was unbelievable as a live comedian: smart and sharp and, really,
kind of irreverent and just didn't seem to care if the audience liked him or
not but, like, just a rock star. And then he got "The Tonight Show," and all
of those qualities--it's like he sat on them. I don't get it. And then when
he's a guest on other people's shows, he's the old Jay, like supersmart,
superquick, superfunny. I mean, he just did "Inside the Actors Studio" and
so subversively mocked every single thing that James Lipton was trying to do
with him. I was like, `What happened to this guy? That's the--ohh!' You
know? It's just so frustrating.

GROSS: Well, you know, two of the comics who you mentioned who were really
influential on you, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, are African-American comics
who used, you know, their upbringing as the subject of their comedy.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you feel that your upbringing would be worthy of that?


GROSS: You know, that your suburban upbringing would have the same kind of

Mr. OSWALT: No, absolutely not. That's why I was so desperately, in my
teens, flailing to be dangerous, you know, like--oh, man, I remember after I
saw "Repo Man"--again, "Repo Man," that's how out of touch I was. It took
till "Repo Man" for me to get--I bought, like, a cheap pair of handcuffs, and
I would clip them onto my belt loops, like, `I got handcuffs on my belt. Look
out!' You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OSWALT: Could not have been a less-dangerous kid if I tried. Like, I'd
roll one sleeve up and, like, wear my boots but not tie the laces up because,
also, I thought, like, the idea of a rebel was like Judd Nelson in "Breakfast

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: That's how out of touch I was, just absolutely no edge, nothing.
So, yeah, these guys--like, the thing that also blew me away about, like, Bill
Cosby and Richard Pryor was it wasn't that they were comedians talking about
`the black experience.' They just were amazing comedians who happened to be
black. And they would talk about stuff in a way that would just be universal
to--a martian could come down and watch Richard Pryor's contra(ph) movies and
go, `Oh, that's what relations are like between men, women, black, white.' You
know, like they--anyone can understand it. It's so amazing how--everyone
talks about how Richard Pryor was edgy and vulgar and profane. But I think he
was one of the most emotionally assessable comedians I've ever seen.

GROSS: On your CD in the liner notes, you give a lot of, you know,
acknowledgements and thank yous.

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

GROSS: And one of the people you thank is your cool professor in college, who
was your fencing teacher (laughs).

Mr. OSWALT: Mm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You took fencing?

Mr. OSWALT: I took fencing because I was also--(clears throat) excuse me. As
much as I wanted to be a kind of a punk outlaw growing up, I was very much
into Dungeons and Dragons. And it just could not--just, again, a clueless
nerd. So when I got to college, I think that was the last tendril that
was--still had its grip around my throat. I'm like, `I'll learn to fight with

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: And I took one year of that, and it was like, `Oh, this requires
effort. Bye.'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: You know, back to my Sega Genesis, which sad because I've come
full circle because now and a bunch of comedians have a regular Dungeons and
Dragons game. It's sad.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: `You play D&D?' Yes. I can't believe I'm saying this
nationally. So pathetic.

GROSS: Your career's over (laughs).

Mr. OSWALT: That's it. I'm done. I'm playing D&D now in the suburbs. I'm
not dangerous. Folks, not dangerous. Don't come to me for danger.

GROSS: If there was a sitcom, you now, that was called, you know, "Patton
Oswalt," what would your character be?

Mr. OSWALT: God. I would love to play--like, I would love to amplify all the
bad qualities about myself and just play that, so I could get, like, you know,
the competitiveness and the pettiness and a lot of the--as much as I try to
be--you know, as a comedian, you know, I try to come off like I don't--you
know, `These trends are ridiculous. Look at these morons,' bah, bah. But I
follow every stupid trend that's out there...

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: ...almost like a junkie, like, hiding my gear, you know, like
I've tried Atkins, I've--you know, like, all this--you know, I try to buy
whatever the latest fashions are, and they look horrible on my, you know, fat
ass. Can I say `ass'? Is that OK, FCC? Oh, God. So, like, it would be
really fun to play a character that--because I've always said I would never
be--it was really funny because right before I got "King of Queens," I
did--there was a big profile on me in the Calender section of the LA Times.
It was called "The Anti-Standups."(ph) And it was me and Karen Kilgariff and
Paul F. Tomkins. And I'm quoted in the article saying, `I would never be on
a sitcom. You know, they tried to get me to do a sitcom, and I said no.' And
literally a month later I'm on a sitcom, like could not be more of a sell-out
if I tried.

But, I mean, you know, the whole thing about--if by being on a sitcom or doing
a commercial, that makes you a sell-out or makes you, you know, not
artistically viable, then you probably didn't have anything artistically to
offer in the first place if a sitcom or a commercial can crush that in you.
Like, you know, Bob Dylan sells pretty lady underwear(ph), but it doesn't make
me go, `That guy's horrible,' because he's Bob Dylan. You know, who cares?

GROSS: Well, now that you've rationalized the fact that you're a hypocritical
sell-out, we'll end the interview.

Mr. OSWALT: Completely. Thank you.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. OSWALT: Thanks, NPR.

GROSS: Thank you so much.

Mr. OSWALT: I'm a sell-out. Vote for Bush!

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Patton Oswalt has a new CD called "Feelin' Kinda Patton." He plays
Spence on the CBS sitcom "The King of Queens."

Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews new DVDs of Judy Garland movie musicals.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New DVDs of films starring Judy Garland

A batch of Judy Garland movie musicals has just been released on DVD, and our
classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz suggests it would make summertime
viewing. He says that even in the most lightweight of her films, she provides
something deeper. Here's Lloyd's review.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) I could go on singing till the cows come home.
Then the rooster starts to crow, crow, crow. When I see your eyes, I go all
out. I must vocalize till you shout, `Enough already.' I...


Although people weren't exactly aware of it at the time, Judy Garland's life
story was taking place on screen. Audiences were watching her, identifying
with her as she was growing up from "The Wizard of Oz," which its great anthem
of innocent longing, "Over the Rainbow," to "A Star Is Born" 15 years later
with its more grown-up anthem of erotic disappointment, "The Man That Got
Away," both with music by Harold Arlen.

In between came the infinitely charming piece of nostalgia, Vincente
Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis," his love letter to Garland at the
beginning of their personal relationship. Who could resist Minnelli's loving
Technicolor re-creation of turn-of-the-century St. Louis, the color fully
restored on this spectacular new DVD, or the memorable songs by Hugh Martin
and Ralph Blane? But it's Garland who gives the film its third dimension, its
emotional honesty and depth, whether in the exuberant "Trolley Song" or the
wistful "The Boy Next Door" or in the achingly poignant "Have Yourself a Merry
Little Christmas."

Garland, more than almost any other singer, revealed both her extreme
vulnerability and her determination not to be defeated by it, feelings a lot
of people shared in 1944.

(Soundbite of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) Someday soon we all will be together if the fates
allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a
merry little Christmas now.

SCHWARTZ: Along with "Meet Me in St. Louis," Warner Bros. has also just
released DVDs of four other early Garland films, each of which gives her at
least one chance to shine. In "Ziegfeld Girl," released in 1941, Hedy Lamarr,
Lana Turner and Garland play three aspiring Broadway showgirls. Garland is
the youngest and the most experienced. The best thing in "Ziegfeld Girl"
isn't a big production number but an old song Garland sings at her audition
for "Ziegfeld."

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) I'm always chasing rainbows, watching clouds drifting
by. My schemes are just like all my dreams, ending in the sky. Some fellows
look and...

SCHWARTZ: "For Me and My Gal" is from 1942, but the ea is World War I. It
was Gene Kelly's film debut after creating the title role in "Pal Joey" on
Broadway. The movie is rather unpleasant. The Kelly character deliberately
injures himself, so he can't be drafted. But his very first number with
Garland is completely delightful.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GENE KELLY: (Singing) The bells are...

Mr. KELLY and Ms. GARLAND: (Singing in unison) ...ringing for me and my gal.
The birds are singing for me and my gal. Everybody's been knowing to a
wedding they're going. And for weeks they've been sewing, they've been sewing
something old and something new so, something that is blue so. They can make
it true so for my gal. They're congregating for me and my gal. Look here,
why, that's the parson waiting for me and my gal. And sometime we're going to
build a little home...

Mr. KELLY: For two.

Ms. GARLAND: Or three?

Mr. KELLY: Or four.

Ms. GARLAND: Or five?

Mr. KELLY: Or maybe more.

Mr. KELLY and Ms. GARLAND: (Singing in unison) Love land for me and my gal.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHWARTZ: Still noticeably missing from the current catalog of Garland DVDs
are "Easter Parade," the only film she made with Fred Astaire, her best film
with Gene Kelly, "The Pirate," and "Summer Stock," in which she does her
iconic "Get Happy," another Arlen song.

Just out on DVD, though, is Garland's very last film from 1963, the underrated
"I Could Go On Singing," a classy soap opera that also draws heavily on the
Garland legend: the conflict between career and private life, a question of
child custody, even her appearance at the London Palladium. The score is an
eclectic mix of standards by Schwartz and Dietz and Kurt Weill and Ira
Gershwin with a disappointing title song by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and
new material by her longtime music director, Mort Lindsey. Garland sells them
all in a powerful way.

For all her personal and professional disappointments, a few years before her
premature death, she was still embarking into very promising, new territory.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix. He
reviewed new DVDs of films starring Judy Garland released by Warner Bros. and


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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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