Patton Oswalt On Playing A Creepy Dad, Fearless Jokes, And Becoming Neil Gaiman's Raven
The outspoken comedian says he picks projects based on what makes him happy.
Patton Oswalt doesn’t want anyone to think he’s just an actor. “I am a stand-up comedian, and then I'm lucky enough that every now and then I get to be in a film or a TV show,” Oswalt insists. “I get to write things, too, but I’m primarily a stand-up comedian. Stand-up took the longest to come to me because I stuck with it the longest. I wasn't that good at it from the beginning, and then all that other stuff followed. People saw me doing stand-up and would offer me stuff.”
Let’s define “stuff.” Rather than stand-up gigs, comedy specials, or albums, “stuff” encompasses acting (or voice) roles in a lot of high-profile projects. From his famous Boba Fett bit on Parks and Recreation to a cranky AI cat in Star Trek: Picard, to literally the best voiceover role in the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman, Oswalt is everywhere, both in the immediate present and the very recent past. Lately, though, he’s no longer an indie comedian, he’s a geeky A-lister, able to take big risks on weird projects. And to that list, we can add the new film, I Love My Dad — out in theaters and streaming on demand now.
I Love My Dad focuses on writer-director-star James Morosini, who plays Franklin, a man who has cut off all contact with Chuck (Oswalt), his deadbeat father.
I always assume that my audience will get what I'm doing in context.
Hilariously and bizarrely, Chuck catfishes his son, posing online and through texts as a diner waitress he met in passing named Becca (Claudia Sulewski). If that strikes you as creepy, and not funny, Oswalt says the risk of the premise is what he loved about the movie.
“I love the fact that it rolled the dice with, ‘Either this movie works or it goes right in the shitter,’” Oswalt says. “There's no in-between. So, that made me happy.” And does he consider Chuck a bad dad? A redeemable human?
The movie is a hilarious, tense, embarrassing ride — one that fleshes out an empathetic and rich story of two characters who you wouldn't usually see on the big screen.
“I think he's redeemable way further down the line,” Oswalt says. “This movie shows you a chunk of his life where he maybe takes the first step at redemption, but he absolutely doesn't achieve or deserve full redemption within the narrative arc of this story. He is trying, in his very fucked up way.
“He’s one of those people who thinks, ‘I should get credit for wanting to do the right thing,’” Oswalt continues. “It doesn't matter whether he actually shows up or follows through on it, in his mind. ‘I have the intention, so I should get the credit.’”
Oswalt fans won’t be surprised to see him in I Love My Dad. He’s taken risks, pushed the envelope, and poked the bear in everything he’s done, from his stand-up routines to his acting “stuff” to his social media posts. And he’s doing it today, amid the culture wars. Whether it’s playing a show with Dave Chappelle, or his classic routine about threatening to “kill George Lucas with a shovel,” Oswalt has always been a lightning rod for controversy.
“It hasn't changed the game for me,” Oswalt says. “I've seen this come and go before; different battles over what's correct and what isn't. It’s just another cycle. I always assume that my audience will get what I'm doing in context, and if I'm thinking about that before I go on stage, I'm not going to do a good show. So, I've never really thought about it.”
Oswalt’s career isn’t all about big risks, however. He’s a household name in part because he has lent his voice to more than 50 animated films and shows, including Ratatouille, Beyond Batman, Kim Possible, SpongeBob SquarePants, Rick and Morty, Archer, and The Sandman, for which he voices Matthew the Raven. Oswalt has been providing voices since well before he and his late wife, Michelle McNamara, welcomed their daughter Alice (now 13) into the world. McNamara passed away in 2016, and he’s been married to actor Meredith Salenger since 2017.
I always have to do things that interest me first.
“I just love doing voice-overs,” Oswalt says. “That was always just for me, and my own interests. I always have to do things that interest me first. I can't be thinking in terms of, ‘What is someone else going to think about this?’ Even if it's my daughter. I’ve got to be interested first or we’re not going to do a good job.
“It was one of my favorite comic books of all time,” Oswalt says, referring to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. “I could not be happier to be in it. I’m Matthew the Raven! I stood in line 30 years ago to get my Season of Mists hardcover signed (by Neil Gaiman). It's one of the best things that’s ever happened in my career.”
And how does he go about voicing a raven?
“I use my regular voice,” he replies, smiling coyly. “And try to think like a raven!”
I Love My Dad is available for streaming rental on Amazon and elsewhere.