[3 September 2009]
Patton Oswalt is probably best known for his portrayal of Spence Olchin, one of Kevin James’ buddies in the long-running sitcom “The King of Queens.” But Oswalt, 40, is also a popular stand-up comedian and voice-over artist whose vocalizations have been heard on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and as Remy the rat in the animated feature film “Ratatouille.”
Also a character actor with a solid string of credits — “Magnolia,” “Blade: Trinity” — he has his first leading role in “Big Fan,” playing an obsessive New York Giants fan. Lewis Beale caught up with the bright and funny Virginia native to discuss his latest role, and the state of stand-up today.
Q. Your character in “Big Fan” is a real loser. He’s in his late 30s, lives with his mom, does not date, works as a parking lot cashier and, after his football-playing idol beats him up, refuses to press charges. How do you make a character like that sympathetic?
A. I just didn’t judge the guy, try to play it with one eye to the camera, as if I were saying, “I’m better than this guy.” I played him with zero irony. Here’s a guy who truly wants to be left alone in his own little world, which in a weird way makes him kind of sweet.
Q. I’ve been told you’re not much of a sports fan yourself. So how did you connect with the character’s mania?
A. I don’t follow sports, I never followed them. What I did was, there are things I am obsessed with in my life. It’s the same fuel, just a different spark that drives those obsessions. I’m a movie buff and comic book nerd; it’s the same kind of energy.
Q. How did you get started in comedy?
A. It was the summer between freshman and sophomore year of college, I was doing a lot of different jobs, none of which were very fun for me. I started going to open mics, which were not fun, but were hard, and I loved them. I always loved comedy, but I wasn’t the class clown, it was me and a bunch of guys. That was good training for being a comedian — I could hang out with guys funnier than me, and bounce ideas off of them.
Q. So who were your influences at that time?
A. A lot of early Bill Cosby, the Richard Pryor stuff, Jonathan Winters, everything that was out there on TV and on records. They were just so funny. Monty Python records, it was just the enthusiasm of their imagination.
Q. Your stand-up act riffs on everything from old Stella D’oro commercials to why “Cops” is your favorite TV show. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. I don’t know, and I have stopped questioning that. When I was starting out, it was things I hated; now, it’s things I love and am enthusiastic about. As I get older, I feel I should ignore the things I hate; that’s a worse insult than hating them.
Q. You organized the 2004 Comedians of Comedy tour, featuring offbeat young standups like Zach Galifianakis. What’s your assessment of the stand-up scene these days?
A. It’s amazing, it’s never been as good. There are so many amazing people who are doing it. They really love doing it, and that’s a rare motivation in show business. It doesn’t matter what they’re talking about, it’s how they go about it. Every night in L.A., for free, you can see amazing people you’ve never heard of who will be huge some day. It must have been like going to the Comic Strip in the early ‘80s.
Q. So now that you’re a leading man, what path would you like to see your career take?
A. What I would most like is a constant variety of stuff. Just to be allowed to do the stuff that Paul Giamatti does, or the way that (George) Clooney and (Johnny) Depp do (by alternating “big” and “small” films) — one for them, and one for me. Here’s the big moneymaker that allows me to do something I’m passionate about. Or an Albert Brooks, who’s pretty much autonomous. I’d love that.