Patton Oswalt’s ‘Closed Letter To Myself’ On Thievery, Hecklers And Rape Jokes Is A Must Read

Undoubtedly one of our favorite people in the world, Patton Oswalt is a rare triple threat in that he’s a great comic, good actor and excellent writer. So when he announced a new post on his website yesterday, we couldn’t wait to gobble it up for all of its intelligent hilarity, only to discover that it was so much more than that.

With all of the fuss surrounding the story of Sammy Rhodes – AKA @prodigalsam, AKA The guy who rewrote and repackaged other comics’ tweets and passed them off as his own, only to eventually defend what he did by comparing himself to a cover band – Oswalt not only took some more time to explain that people who steal jokes are terrible, but he also re-tackled the Chicago Tribune’s declaration that heckling, like standup comedy, is an art form, and he even weighed in on the ongoing rape joke debate with his essay, “A Closed Letter To Myself About Thievery, Heckling And Rape Jokes”.

I strongly encourage any fans of comedy, writing or creativity in general to read the entire piece, because it’s always great to see a performer really open up about his craft and try to dispel myths, especially for something like standup comedy, which most people believe is limited to: 1) Think of joke, 2) Stand on stage, 3) Tap mic, 4) Tell joke, 5) Bask in the Haha.

But here are some of the finer points on each topic…

On thievery:

But why is it – and this only seems to apply to comedy – that some people so deeply resent those that can write jokes, can invent new perceptions of the world that actually make people laugh? Resent them so much that they have to denigrate the entire profession, just so they can feel better about themselves? Do they really think they’re less of a person if they can’t make up a joke, or be funny in the moment? Why is it so crucial to them? Is it because all of us, at some point of darkness or confusion or existential despair, were amazed at how absurd a thing as a simple joke suddenly lit the way, or warmed the cold, or made the sheer, horrific insanity that sometimes comes with being alive suddenly, completely, miraculously manageable?

Those people – the public and, sadly, a lot of journalists – those people were my target, in all of my seemingly “unmeasured responses” to thievery. Because I can’t stop joke thieves. They’re always going to be there.

On heckling:

Hecklers don’t make a show memorable. They prevent a show from being a fucking show. Comedians do not love hecklers. They love doing the original material they wrote and connecting with an entire audience, not verbally sparring with one cretin while the rest of the audience whoops and screams, disconnecting from the comedian and re-wiring itself as a hate-fueled crowd-beast. And most comedians, including me, can barely remember a heckler. We go into automatic pilot shutting them down – not because we’re so brilliant and quick, it’s because we’ve dealt with hecklers so many fucking times that we can do it in our sleep. And why do we have to deal with hecklers so many times? Because of all the stupid, misinformed rationalizations I’ve listed above.

Heckling and joke stealing do have a common ancestor, and it’s the creative resentment I talked about earlier.

On rape jokes:

Just because you 100% believe that comedians don’t write their own jokes doesn’t make it so. And making the leap from your evidence-free belief to dismissing comedians who complain about joke theft is willful ignorance on your part, invoked for your own comfort. Same way with heckling. Just because you 100% feel that a show wherein a heckler disrupted the evening was better than one that didn’t have that disruption does not make it the truth. And to make the leap from your own personal memory to insisting that comedians feel the same way that you do is indefensible horseshit.

And just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.

Again, read the whole thing, because from his own revelation of stealing a joke as a young comic to defending a comic’s right to get things wrong, it is at the very least a thorough explanation of one great, experienced comic’s insight into the biggest issues affecting his industry.

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