Comedian Patton Oswalt is on the phone at his home in California, where it’s 7:30 … a.m. Though it was not my idea, I nevertheless apologize for the earliness of the interview to discuss his upcoming stand-up show at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City this Friday.
“Oh, it’s OK,” he replies, before unleashing a lengthy yawn. It quickly becomes apparent it is not.
A perfunctory, standard-issue courtesy query about whether there’s anything he’d like to ensure we discuss is met with annoyed befuddlement. “I don’t know. Like, in this interview? In the show? What? I don’t know. It’s early. Why don’t you ask me some questions?”
Oswalt is an Emmy- and Grammy-award winner widely known for his roles in TV series “The King of Queens,” “Veep,” “A.P. Bio” and “Parks and Recreation,” and for such films as “Big Fan,” “Ratatouille,” “Young Adult,” and, most recently, “The Secret Life of Pets 2.” He earned widespread acclaim for his 2017 stand-up special “Annihilation,” an alternately scathing and heart-wrenching piece that drew heavily upon the aftermath of the sudden death of his wife, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara.
Given that he’s now more than three years from that tragedy, and is remarried, how far removed does he find his act now from that? “Well, it’s an hour of all-new material, so it’s nothing like it,” he replies tersely.
Okaaay … well, then, can you give any general ideas of its direction? “I do jokes for an hour. I don’t want to reveal the subjects — that would spoil the fun,” Oswalt said. “That’s the whole idea of stand-up is you don’t know what the guy’s gonna talk about.”
All right … ummm, given that you frequently note how these modern times are crazier than any satire, can you at least discuss the process of how you sort through all the insanity and settle upon what you think resonates most?
“I do sets until I winnow down the new hour of jokes. And then I have a new hour of jokes,” he replies. “I write down stuff and then I try that onstage.”
Sigh, facepalm, deep breath. This is not going well. What salvages it — at least for a bit — is a question about McNamara.
“Annihilation” was full of poignant moments. In one, Oswalt recounts how his wife’s death was only the second-worst day of his life. The worst was the day after, when he had to break the news to their young daughter, Alice: “I looked at my daughter and destroyed her world,” he said in the show. “I had to look at this little girl that was everything to me and take everything from her.”
Did the heaviness of it all give him any pause about using it in his special? How did he ultimately make the decision to go for it?
“It never felt like I had a decision-making process in it. It felt like it was out of my hands a lot of the time — it was something that I had to talk about rather than I chose to talk about,” Oswalt said. “So I can’t really describe it in terms of a decision-making process; it was more of, things were being decided for me because it was so huge emotionally. I didn’t have any other choice.”
Finally, some cracks in the previously impenetrable fortress of snark.
He goes on to explain — and, as a result, answer that earlier question about the differences between his comedy now vs. then — that because his stand-up is a reflection of his actual self, as opposed to some kind of character performance, the material he’s honing now in preparation for his next special, scheduled to be recorded in September, won’t be any kind of sequel to “Annihilation.”
“Everyone’s always in a fundamentally different place when they’re doing a new special, because life is constantly changing around you, both for good and for bad,” Oswalt said. “Any special that I do is just a snapshot of where I am at that point. It’s always been different — there’s not a set persona or a set place in the universe for me.”
There is, however, a set time — which, fortunately for attendees of Friday’s show, is 8 p.m., rather than 7:30 in the morning.
Patton Oswalt — Live 2019 Tour
When • Friday, 8 p.m.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $35-$55, Smith’s Tix