[22 May 2014]
Watching a comedian grow and evolve over time is a curious thing, particularly as said comedian becomes more successful. You start to notice how their craft has improved, how they’ve read so many audiences that their timing and beats have become so on point that their routines become well-oiled machines. With that, though, comes the inevitable shift in subject matter; while the old stand-up cliché about how comedians get boring after they get married and have kids isn’t nearly as true as people would have you believe, navigating the travails of domestic life for new, humorous anecdotes can be tricky, especially given that most comedy fans tend to prefer a dark, bitter edge to their comics that doesn’t translate well to marriage and parenthood.
Fortunately, these aren’t issues that curb Patton Oswalt, as his work has always stemmed more from insecurity and righteous outrage rather than outright bitterness. That worked wonders for him in on earlier albums like Feeling Kinda Patton and Werewolves And Lollipops, which stand as some of the most original stand-up in recent memory. Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time doesn’t quite hit those early heights, but Patton isn’t in the same position that he was on those early records, something he implicitly acknowledges on the special’s centerpiece anecdote about a show he performed in front of a drunken, rowdy Vegas crowd who seemed ecstatic that a famous person was there. Still, even though he’s not the hyper-intelligent raconteur he used to be, his takes on his newer, somewhat more conventional life are as witty, acerbic, and hilarious as ever before.
Of course, Oswalt wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t mine his frustrations at the world’s absurdity for comedy gold, and Tragedy opens with his take on one of the easiest comic targets: Florida. It’s a moment that’s almost vintage Patton, filled with the sort of bile and confusion that flowed through his takes on fast food monstrosities and depressing liquor ads. It’s also the only moment of its kind on the album; for most of Tragedy, Oswalt focuses on his own insecurities about getting older, being a father, and finding a level of success that few stand-up comedians ever reach. Fortunately, Patton’s creative enough that he can find ways to make these changes in his life funny. His pieces about his daughter and his supposed screw-ups as a dad present hilarious takes of newfound fatherhood without the bitter edge that, say, Louis C.K. brought to his discussions of fatherhood.
The big theme of Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time, though, is Oswalt’s success. Once again, insecurity pops up as Oswalt admits to not being comfortable with fame in the centerpiece Vegas story. Still, other bits are colored by Oswalt’s success and how it has—and hasn’t—affected him. No Patton Oswalt special would be complete without the comedian addressing his weight troubles, but his bit on Tragedy brings John Varvatos into the mix. It presents a curious position that Oswalt is in: he’s famous enough to afford designer clothes, but he’s still not quite comfortable in those clothes, metaphorically speaking.
There’s nothing really tense about Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time, even though there are discernible conflicts within Oswalt’s material. He’s an older comedian, one who has reached a point in his career where each set seems like he’s just going through the motions. Thankfully, he’s too creative of a mind to phone in anything, and Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time hints at Oswalt becoming an even sharper comic mind in the coming years.