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Interview: Patton Oswalt

Grant Walters Grant Walters Interview: Patton Oswalt
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The acclaimed comedian and actor brings a new hour to the Ohio Theatre on Sunday night

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My wife, Julie, and I sat in the audience at the Palace Theatre during Patton Oswalt’s last show in Columbus in 2017 — a set that echoed much of what would be seen in his then-forthcoming Netflix special, Annihilation. 

While his astutely acidic take on his surroundings has never failed to make me laugh, he displayed a comedic range and vulnerability that evening that I’d never before experienced through him, or, for that matter, any of his contemporaries. Still contending with the recent tragic passing of his first wife, writer and journalist Michelle McNamara, Oswalt walked us through some of the unbearably sad – and unbelievably hilarious – experiences and interactions he’d encountered in the process of grieving such a monumental loss.

It was a reminder that stand-up comedy could be as poignant and moving as it could be recklessly funny.

Oswalt returns to Columbus with a new show at the Ohio Theatre this Sunday. While he’s confirmed that he won’t revisit the emotionally bare material that he unearthed in Annihilation, he’s ambiguous about what creative direction he’s taken this time around.

“I’m still in the process of forming the new hour,” he explains during a recent phone interview. “But, it’s however I’m feeling now – kind of recovering from the despair. I’m not really talking about it anymore, and I’ve said what I wanted to say about it in that special. This is more about my life right now and living in this hell world, and trying to find some comedy and optimism in it, I guess.”

“But, you’ll see when you see the show,” he continues. “It’s hard to talk about a show before you do it, you know?”

Since his last stand-up outing, Oswalt teamed with crime writer Paul Haynes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to complete McNamara’s unfinished book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – a true crime volume focused on the legacy of the Golden State Killer, who committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in the state of California from 1974 to 1986.

Shortly after its release, the Sacramento County Sherriff’s department arrested Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the crimes. Oswalt has been touring nationally in support of the book, which is reportedly being made into a docu-series by HBO.

Oswalt is also back in American living rooms on a weekly basis as Principal Ralph Durbin in NBC’s comedy A.P. Bio, a character with the same affable underdog appeal as his previous roles on The King of Queens and United States of Tara. 

“Oh, man – thank you!” he exclaims after I divulge that the show is one of my favorites. His impetus to join the cast mirrors much of what makes A.P. Bio – and Ralph – a joy to watch from our side of the television screen.

“Before the script, it was the personnel,” he affirms. “Mike O’Brien – I’m a huge fan of his writing. Paula Pell, who I’ve been a fan of for years, you know? Glenn [Howerton] and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. That whole kind of vortex. And then once I read the pilot script, which was so good – and then the way they’re starting to flesh out that world now over two seasons, it’s just been…I predicted to myself that it would be really fun, and I was right. It’s just been a great show to be on.”

The same magnetic factors are important criteria for Oswalt as he adds new roles to his perpetually full plate.

“I’ve gotta read the script. Is it something that’s going to be intriguing and fun? Do I like the people that I’m going to be working with? I’ll sacrifice a big payday if I don’t have to work with assholes, so, that’s always…I’ve been very, very lucky so far.”

A native of northern Virginia, Oswalt’s career was born in nearby Washington, D.C., where he performed a less-than-encouraging fledgling set at Garvin’s in the summer of 1988. Thirty years down the line, Oswalt’s eminence as one of the industry’s most skilled stand-up comedians has been a labor of love.

“I liked the hang. I liked the life – hanging out with comedians and being at the source of what was funny rather than getting it second hand, you know? I liked being one of the people creating it, and so having the chance to maybe do that. But I had to really stick with it.”

Patton Oswalt performs this Sunday, April 28, 7:00 pm at the Ohio Theatre, 39 East State Street, Downtown. Tickets are $38-$68, plus applicable taxes and fees, and are available via Ticketmaster. Learn more about Patton via his official website, or you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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