It's all about bouncing back

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Patton Oswalt, Seattle's Moore Theater, Sept. 6, 2008

I’m really not in the habit of crying tears of laughter five minutes into a comedy show. Especially when the headliner’s performance opens with a fairly straightforward (albeit long form) dick joke (no pun intended). Yet somehow Patton Oswalt managed to bring me to this state during the very first story of his show at Seattle’s Moore Theater. And I am still completely amazed.

It’s a testament to his skill. The very fine specificity of his word choice and delivery can bring even the simplest premise to an unanticipated level of funny – and quickly. I especially enjoy the way his marries that careful attention to detail with his own unique enthusiasm for his subject matter (even when that is not his own penis). The central joy of watching him perform is that it doesn’t matter whether he’s talking about his dick or the Bush Administration – whatever the topic, he engages with it fully and completely.

I don’t necessarily have anything against comics who define themselves by their cool and semi-contemptuous distance from the world around them; but Patton’s warmth and excitement for day-to-day existence is completely enchanting – and it is a big reason why he has become such an engaging performer.

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that his worldview is innocent or childlike. Quite the opposite. The natural and inevitable result of bringing such an upbeat, curious, energetic approach to the real world is, I suspect, repeated disappointment. And that disappointment provides him with more than enough cynicism to produce effective, mature commentary. In fact, he has a great piece in the show where he tells a story that comments on how the two parts of personality -- the upbeat and the cynical -- clashed while on the press tour for Ratatouille.

On the one hand, the exuberance and zeal that Oswalt brought to the role of Remy makes his character endearing to children. (In fact, I’ve heard Patton say in previous interviews that it was his enthusiasm and joie de vive that caused Brad Bird to cast him). Yet, at the same time, he acknowledges that, in his dealings with children during the press tour, he finally recognized how much he actually relies on cynicism as the basis for many of his dealings with the outside world. He encapsulates this with one of the best lines of the night by saying that: “my family coat of arms should just be two rolling eyes, a bag of Cheetos and the work “Fuck!” Crisp – perfect - awesome.

By the end of the evening, what really shone through the entire performance was Patton’s full-hearted passion– for life, and for his art. Frankly, it’s something that I, as an avid comedy follower, just don’t see enough of these days. And it truly sets him apart.

Thanks for stopping by Seattle, Patton!

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