Patton Oswalt Paints Hilarious Portraits of Weirdness

Patton Oswalt Paints Hilarious Portraits of Weirdness

Patton Oswalt

 loves a weirdo. He loves other things, too — the title of his new Netflix special is i really like Everything, and in his hour-long performance, the list of what he loves includes but isn't limited to the chain restaurant Denny’s, his daughter, his wife, the concept of consent, and therefore the bread company Ezekiel 4:9. He features a special pervasive fondness for weirdos, though, albeit that’s never a particular a part of his material. It’s the baseline mechanism for many of the special, the place his mind seems to travel perpetually and perhaps in spite of himself. He casts himself as a cheerful , hopeful Everyman, a generic dad figure doing his best and begrudgingly eating boring breakfast cereal now that he’s past 50. But he’s most animated and most comfortable when he’s putting himself within the mind of some very bizarre, possibly murderous, personality.

Oswalt’s early joke about breakfast cereal may be a good demonstration of the places his stories like better to run. It begins as a complaint about the stultifying breakfast cereals you’re alleged to eat as an adult: They’re tasteless and unappetizing; they’re filled with ancient grains; the rear of the box not features entertaining characters and games. Even worse, Oswalt says, is that responsible grown-up cereals have boring, novel-length origin stories. “The idea for Sorghum Farms happened outside a Phish concert in 1990,” Oswalt narrates, imagining he’s reading off the rear of the box. “‘We were both selling tie-dye within the parking zone and that we wondered aloud at an equivalent time why our gorp couldn’t be tastier, and that’s once we both said, Jinx, I owe you a kombucha, and that we bought a touch farm …”

The box isn’t about the cereal (although it's , because the cereal is hilariously boring), and it’s not really about Oswalt either (although it's , because the entry point of the joke is that Oswalt’s now sufficiently old that he has got to eat amaranth flakes). The box is usually about the way it allows Oswalt to follow the thread of who makes it, envisioning the imaginary hippie couple who’ve dedicated their lives to making healthy breakfast foods. But even that’s not weird enough. The hippies aren’t distinct enough, so Oswalt next imagines a more interesting version of the ancient-grains origin story, one where the hippies run a murder cult, planting the bodies of their corpses to become fertilizer for the grains. “Sweetie, it’s a murder farm!” Oswalt imagines saying at the table . The breakfast hippies would be such a lot better if they were after Oswalt for his “roomy, fertile torso,” which he’s sure could “grow tons of buckwheat.”

It’s a pattern that repeats throughout his material, but it doesn’t feel repetitive because each Oswalt-invented weirdo is individual and surprising in their own way. There’s the house construction contractor who’s a wonderfully nice, reasonable guy. on the other hand there’s the vast world of subcontractors he introduces the audience to — people just like the wallpaper guy who keeps yelling for somebody named “Kirby,” albeit Kirby doesn’t exist. There’s the weirdness of the low-rent wedding DJ, and therefore the people who’d be willing to rent him. It’s most noticeable at the top of the special, within the impressive final scenery that becomes an extended consideration of the restaurant Denny’s. It’s a cheerful, bland chain restaurant that Oswalt remakes as a crossroads, a stopover point for people close to turn their lives around or instead make them much, much worse. Denny’s, an area designed to be as indistinct as possible, in Oswalt’s mind becomes a neutral place that draws people that operate at extremes. Even the anodyne breakfast-food characters who populate the kids’ menu become fully formed people, including a prostitute dish and her regular customer, a shriveled sausage link.

The returning cycle of it — the apparently innocuous thing, Oswalt because the comfortable and nonthreatening observer, and therefore the inevitable arrival of the highly strange or stressed person — also works because Oswalt’s stance tends to hit a spot somewhere exactly between judgment and generosity. The wallpaper-hanging subcontractor who keeps yelling at an underling who doesn’t exist is goofy, and Oswalt sees how absurd he's . in fact he sees it, and in fact what he’s saying is, “That guy is weird!” But he’s simultaneously delighted by it. He’s truly joyful about how bizarre this person is, and he relishes imagining how they need to be that way. It’s a pleasure that spins outward. If this is often the wallpaper subcontractor, what could the tile guy be like?

It’s never truly open generosity. Oswalt himself is above it, an edge which will feel just the teensiest bit mean, and maybe the littlest ounce self-congratulatory. All of those stories and every one of those characters require Oswalt’s ability to empathize with them only enough to imagine them. they might not be as entertaining if he were sincerely mocking them. None of the Denny’s bit would work if Oswalt weren’t so clearly conversant in exactly what it’s wish to be the opposite quite Denny’s patron — not a pleasant father out together with his daughter, but a hulking, incoherent mumbler, jabbing furiously at a menu while glaring at nothing out the window. But he also can’t be them. Not now, at least. Not when he’s in pleasant comedian mode, when he’s the guy drawing the portrait instead of the portrait’s subject.

There’s a whole mode of comedy where the comedian flays themself for public consumption, displaying all their darkest, most unnerving vulnerabilities to be laughed at and laughed away. In Oswalt’s i really like Everything, that impulse remains there. All the weirdness, after all, still comes straight from Oswalt’s own vision of the world; it’s him up there, imagining that a serial murderer has left a note on his windshield rather than his own wife, or trying to see the porn made for guys who only want very begrudging consent. But his power is in his ability to separate himself in two. He’s both the great guy and therefore the conduit for aberrant strangeness. He’s sitting in Denny’s, having an idyllic outing together with his young daughter, and at an equivalent time, he’s staring out the window plotting his revenge.

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