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Patton Oswalt: A “Fan” for All Seasons

Patton Oswalt: A “Fan” for All Seasons (photo)

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One of the most irreverent, quick-witted and prolific stand-up comedians working today, Patton Oswalt is instantly recognizable from his TV appearances (“The King of Queens,” “The United States of Tara”), voiceover work (“Ratatouille”) and cameo roles in movies (“Observe and Report,” “Starsky and Hutch”). So the most surprising fact about Oswalt’s first film leading role is that it’s far too unsettling to be called a comedy. “Big Fan” marks the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of last year’s “The Wrestler.” A convincingly sincere Oswalt stars as Paul Aufiero, a sad-sack Staten Island parking lot attendant who obsessively follows the New York Giants, and spends his free time writing triumphant rants about his beloved footballers to be unloaded on a sports radio call-in show. Oswalt has joked that the movie should be called “Fattsy Driver,” but the more accurate Scorsese reference is “The King of Comedy,” as Paul becomes dangerously fanatical about his favorite linebacker. In town to promote the film and his new comedy album “My Weakness is Strong,” Oswalt sat down with me at a midtown Manhattan pub to talk about comic books, why Staten Island isn’t entirely depressing and the last time he got his ass kicked.

So you’re a comedian doing drama, working with a former Onion writer now recognized for drama, and you’re shooting this quick and dirty little indie. How unusual was this project?

[laughs] Quick and dirty is correct! What was challenging was the lack of any kind of facilities. You change your clothes in the back of the van, you stay in the car with the heater on to stay warm, or we’re all on location at someone’s house. Because I’m such a film buff, [I had] that nerdy exhilaration: “This is what it probably was like to do ‘Mean Streets’ or ‘The Rain People’ or all these early movies when they had no fucking money.” It was all “Quick, grab the shot before we get arrested,” or “Call your friend tomorrow, we got a mock-up. Doesn’t he have a room that’s really white? We’ll make it look like a hospital. Fuck, what are we going to do?” It was all [about] who can pitch in where, and I loved that kind of moviemaking, where we used the world around us, rather than depend on sets.

Do you get pampered working on studio projects?

Well, there’s a level of comfort from being on a much bigger budget thing. Something like this, it didn’t take you long to get into the character: “What is the effect of staying in this room my whole life done to me?” I’ve been here for eight hours, and it really is starting to affect my worldview, and pissing me off a bit. There’s something beautiful about that.

The film was shot all over Staten Island. Is there any place more depressing?

It’s not that the place itself is depressing. There’s just been no effort towards any kind of design or aesthetics. It’s like that Oscar Wilde quote — “Why are Americans so violent?” He goes: “Well, you guys have such ugly wallpaper.” That sounds funny, but there’s something psychological to it. If you surround people with ugliness, then they’re going to be in a bad mood all the time. But a lot of the [restaurants] were all family-run, so that part still had a lot of humanity to it. It had this cool dichotomy that I loved.

I know you’re not a sports fanatic, so let’s talk comic books. What’s the most obsessive thing you’ve done in the name of comic collecting?

I don’t collect them, but I do read them, so I do get very obsessive. I want my new comics on a Wednesday. I fucking want them. I’ve gotten in cabs and driven to the outskirts of Las Vegas to find a comic book store on a Wednesday, so that I’ve got my pile. But I’m not obsessed with the characters — I very much follow the writers and artists that I like: the Luna brothers; everything Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, Daniel Way or Matt Fraction does; or Warren Ellis, his 19 titles a week. [laughs] That stuff jazzes me up. The things I love… I try to have them enhance my life, not replace my life.

08252009_BigFan3.jpgSo what’s the through line of your taste? What appeals to you in modern comics?

The only genre I have left is just “good.” I tend to trust writers, and I also read reviews. When people say, “Oh, there’s this new writer, you should really check him out. He’s doing something great,” that’s what I follow. I don’t sit there and go, “I like robots. I like werewolves.” It doesn’t matter. Dave Mazzucchelli has this new one — “Asterios Polyp,” about an aging architect — that I could not put down. At the same time, Darwyn Cooke adapted Richard Stark’s “The Hunter,” and I could not put that down. I just like good stuff.

Besides being obsessive, your character Paul’s fandom is communal. Do you have any hobbies you share with a collective of friends?

There’s nothing I meet up for anymore. It’s all solitary. I’m so busy working, writing and performing that I don’t have time. Going to see movies with friends, and sitting and arguing about them afterward, that’s still an abiding passion. But I wouldn’t say that that’s a hobby-like meeting — tt’s just me and my friends going to see movies.

From my limited exposure to your onscreen buddy Kevin Corrigan, he seems like a real-life eccentric.

That’s really how he is. He’s not “Oh, I better put on the weirdo character now.” It’s just the way he interacts with the world and the way his thoughts come out of him. You realize he’s moving at a different and random speed. That’s what gives him his genius.

In so many ways, Paul just wants to be left alone. Being in the limelight now more than ever, is there anything you want to be left alone about?

Not really. I’ll discuss anything with anyone. There’s nothing I feel like I have to hide, or just… [in a whiny voice] “Oh, guys, just leave me alone.” I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you like it, don’t be guilty about that.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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