“I’m living day to day. I’m not doing this whole, ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear’ [thing],” Patton Oswalt tells me, content to present as someone striving to maintain sanity and empathy over some imagined need to be productive or attain some kind of meme-prescribed greatness while the world is on hold. It’s a response to a question about if he feels that pressure to create or write. And it’s a good one. “I don’t really have anything right now. It’s like reality has shifted. I’m not just going to jump in and write just to write.”
The purpose of our call is to talk about Oswalt’s new Netflix stand-up special, I Love Everything (which you can stream now). And we will get to that, but I want to veer a little. Oswalt never seems to put out an air of cool detachment. He feels things and expresses them on stage and on social media with authenticity, be they joy, frustration, or bewilderment. And so it’s natural to want to gain a glimpse into how he’s spending his time right now as a dad, bad cook (he’s drinking a lot of smoothies), human person, and, of course, one of pop culture’s most knowledgeable cinephiles.
“I appreciate Netflix’s little special about COVID-19, but I’ve got to admit, the stuff that’s giving me the most joy are just big, dumb action movies and stupid-ass comedies. I just need the relief again,” Oswalt says before we briefly discuss the fight choreography and action of Extraction. “The whole car sequence, when he’s driving in and then has to go back, the way they shot that was like, ‘Wow.’ Planning that shot must have been like planning a heist, the level of detail to that was insane.” Soaking in the minutiae of these things can be a salvation. It’s what normal feels like.
When he’s not watching Hugh Jackman in Bad Education, Errol Flynn movies, or catching up with What We Do In Shadows or Better Call Saul, Oswalt is watching new classics like Groundhog Day, Raising Arizona, and The Truman Show with his 11-year-old-daughter, Alice. “She’s really obsessed with the American version of The Office. She’s watching a lot of that,” he tells me.
While low-key film school is going on at Oswalt’s house, he has thoughts on the absence of movie theaters from our lives.
“I want the experience of going to theaters to come back. I don’t know if it’s going to,” he says, mixing the want of those words with a dose of reality. “I don’t want it to come back if it’s going to mean people dying, obviously.” We’re all scouring the landscape for silver linings, and for Oswalt part of that ties to the exploration of underseen or underappreciated art, a reachable benefit from all this time if it appeals to you and, perhaps, a part of whatever the new normal winds up being. “Maybe, maybe, maybe there’s a generation of people coming up that are so much more used to pulling things out of air. [Maybe] it will make them start to go back. And with services like Criterion and Shutter and Canopy… TCM is really amping itself up to Millennial and Gen Z viewing with interviews and extras. Maybe they’ll make a resurgence in classic film. I hope. I’m being optimistic here, but I don’t know.”
Oswalt is trying to guide his audience to the under-discovered art of Bob Rubin comedy, using his platform to host the frenetic bay area comedy legend’s special, Oddities And Rarities, which plays after I Love Everything and an introduction from Oswalt. “Showing people up and coming comedians or comedians that never got the exposure that they deserved… it just makes the creative atmosphere better for everybody, I think,” says Oswalt before talking more fully about Rubin. “He’s such a huge influence on me and on all of us coming up in San Francisco in the ’90s. He’s such a legend. Almost like a Captain Beefheart in terms of his influence on the art form that he pursued.”
While Oswalt is effusive in his praise for Rubin, he’s humble and doesn’t discuss his own work with too much self-importance despite understanding that this special is being released at a time when the work can provide a service as a distraction. I Love Everything is very clearly counter-programming made before it was known that it would be used as such.
“Maybe I’m being egotistical here, but I think people are going to be relieved to see something that isn’t about COVID,” Oswalt tells us when we ask if he’d ever thought of delaying the release to a more convenient time.
Describing the special, Oswalt says that it’s “just me being goofy, again. Just pop culture and weirdness and just being silly.” The word “again” has some added relevance. I Love Everything presents itself as a different flavor from Oswalt’s last special, Annihilation, which was heavier in some places as the comic talked through the horrific experience of tragically and suddenly losing his wife, grieving, and going on from there with his daughter. Packed with an epic, wonderfully illustrative tour of the Denny’s experience, the allowances he’s willing to make for expert contractors, re-married life, missing out on touring the Millenium Falcon, and other blended moments of normality and absurdity, I Love Everything is a light affair that aims to deliver on the promise of weirdness and silliness. As Oswalt adds with regard to this special’s specific focus: “It’s about being happy to be alive and coming out of the darkness.”
As I told Oswalt at the start of our talk, seeing him perform the I Love Everything material live at the Bergen PAC in Englewood, New Jersey in February was one of the last big outings I had before things got a little crazy (specifically in the New York/New Jersey area). The show stands out as the crown jewel of a fun night of laughter and diner food that I had with my cousin and my wife, holding added importance because it took place a couple of days before my wife went in for surgery. In the months since she has experienced a somewhat bumpy road with complications and a scary ER trip in the midst of the COVID lockdown. Everything is going to be fine now, but it’s obviously easy for me to re-experience this material and think about everything that has transpired since the last time I heard it — in my world and the world at large — while growing a little wistful.
You may have had a similar experience, thinking on the last couple of months while listening to jokes about things like going to restaurants, buying a house, school art shows, and wedding receptions — the stuff that puts the color in life. But don’t. We shouldn’t. Or, at least, we should also remember that these things aren’t exclusive to the past, but something we’re all working our way back to. And in doing that, we allow specials like this to distract, connect, and be for this time without saying a thing about it.
‘I Love Everything’ is available to stream on Netflix now.