The Art of Money

Patton Oswalt’s perspective: Why a wasteland outlook works for him

Kai Ryssdal Jan 24, 2011
The Art of Money

Patton Oswalt’s perspective: Why a wasteland outlook works for him

Kai Ryssdal Jan 24, 2011


KAI RYSSDAL: Patton Oswalt originally made his name in show business as a stand-up comedian. But he’s done lots of other things in Hollywood. He was Remy, the rat with the refined taste buds in the Pixar film “Ratatouille.” He had a recurring role on the TV show show “King of Queens.”

Now he’s an author. His new and first book is called “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.” It’s a collection of essays loosely grouped — very loosely grouped — around those three words and ideas. So for our series the Art of Money, what artists and others see when they look at the economy, I asked him to read a little bit of the book when we sat down to talk.

PATTON OSWALT: “Looking back on it now, I realize I am a wasteland. A lot of comedians are wastelands. What is stand-up comedy except isolating specific parts of culture or humanity and holding them up against a stark, vast background to approach at an oblique angle and get laughs. Or in a broader sense, pointing out how much we perceive as culture and society is disposable waste. Plus, comedians have to work the Road (the “R” is capitalized). We wander the country, seeking outposts full of cheap booze, nachos and audiences in order to ply our trade. I’m amazed we all don’t wear sawed-off shotguns on our hips.”

RYSSDAL: How do get through your day writing stuff like that? That’s fairly bleak.

OSWALT: How do I get through my day? I don’t think that’s bleak at all! I think that’s a very positive way of taking a wasteland outlook and making it a workable thing. This is how I view the world and I’ve made it work for me. I’ve made a wasteland point of view work for me.

RYSSDAL: The wasteland, of course, is your life and career as a stand-up comic. But it used to be, though, that if you got on Carson or if you had a spot on one of those shows, you had it made, right? Is it more incremental now?

OSWALT: Yeah, because Carson went away. That was the thing that ruined a lot of comedians coming up was you have got to to get a clean five minutes, you go on Carson with it, you kill, you get a sitcom, you’ve made it. And that was the only way to do it. And then when that went away, suddenly you had all these guys that kind of hadn’t formed a personality, they just didn’t know where to go any more. But I think entertainers, especially comedians, which are really at the bottom of the entertainment spectrum, it’s a very precarious position — especially if you’re like me. You know, I love doing movies, I like writing books, but I do all of that so that I can keep doing stand-up. I’m not trying to get out of stand-up.

RYSSDAL: Do you enjoy Twitter and Facebook and all of that stuff or does it take away from the immediacy of the actual live stand-up comedy?

OSWALT: You know, I thought Twitter was going to do all of that for me, but because my stand-up comedy is more kind of confessional and personal and more rambling anecdotes with jokes peppered in, Twitter helps me burn off the little one-liners that I would never actually say in my stand-up.

RYSSDAL: Oh, sure. Sure.

OSWALT: And here’s the great thing about Twitter: For a comedian, I really think all comedians should be on Twitter and should follow all of their friends on Twitter. Because what happens is, if some news story happens or some media kerfuffle happens, you’ve either got to get on Twitter immediately and get your joke out there first, or if you don’t, you read all your friends jokes and you know, OK, I’ve got to top all of that stuff. And it really kind of…

RYSSDAL: Well, the pressure…

OSWALT: I’ll tell you, Twitter has really helped me write better. Like, I remember when Leslie Nielsen died and I immediately, I didn’t even think about it. I wrote, surely he can’t be dead. Right? And then I realized 8,000 people wrote that joke. And then other people were saying dude…

RYSSDAL: My grandmother wrote that.

OSWALT: The guy that delivers the Sparkletts water in our office thought about that an hour before you did. And I was like, you know what? They’re right. I got lazy and just didn’t think of something clever to say.

RYSSDAL: I’m going to break down that fourth wall of radio here and just give listeners a little portrait of you as we sit here in the studio.

OSWALT: Oh dude, I wouldn’t take that risk. Are you going to do it?

RYSSDAL: Well now, I am because here you are, right?


RYSSDAL: And you’ll take this with the spirit in which it’s intended. You rolled out of bed, what, like 25 minutes ago?

OSWALT: Uh, 17 minutes ago.

RYSSDAL: You’ve got a cup of coffee going. You haven’t shaved in a day or two.

OSWALT: I have not.

RYSSDAL: And yet you are a well-established name in your industry. Isn’t that kind of cool?

OSWALT: It is kind of cool. I mean, I think that it’s because I really embrace the fact that I’m in the lunar professions and not the solar.

RYSSDAL: You work at night, not during the day.

OSWALT: I work at night, yeah. And the night people, at this time of morning, look at you, you’ve got… All right, now let me just describe Kai here for a second, sitting across from me. He has a crisp, white shirt on. And I need to stress — crisp. I’m amazed you’re not hearing that rustle in the mic. You know, when you watch old “Columbo” episodes and they mic the shirts and you hear that rustle? He is clean-shave, he’s got an awesome haircut. I’ve got sweatpants on. That guy, when they found Ted Williams under the underpass, he was better dressed than I am right now. But you’re in the solar world.

RYSSDAL: That’s true.

OSWALT: I need you to keep the world running and then you need me to amuse you at the end of the day when you’ve basically saved the world again and kept it running.

RYSSDAL: The book by Patton Oswalt is called “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.” Thanks a lot for coming in.

OSWALT: Thanks, Kai. Thanks for having me.

RYSSDAL: That was an interview, to be honest, that we should have had a webcam for. Failing that, you can check out an excerpt from Patton Oswalt’s new book on our book blog — The Big Book.

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