From stand-up comedian to writer and actor to voice over extraordinaire, Patton Oswalt is one of comedy’s most unique and versatile voices. Hailing from Portsmouth, VA, Oswalt grew up under the influence of Richard Pryor, the slapstick of Looney Tunes and the adventures of comic book superheroes. Although his first attempt at stand-up went south, he knew it was his passion. Realized Oswalt, “The thing that I love that is giving me no immediate reward is probably the thing that I should do with my life.”
Oswalt performed stand-up in college while attending William & Mary and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote sketches for Comedy Central and made brief appearances in Down Periscope and “NewsRadio.” After a successful stint as a writer for “MadTV,” Oswalt landed a breakout role alongside fellow comedian Kevin James in “The King of Queens.” Numerous opportunities would follow, from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia to Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon. And he would become recognizable as the voice behind Dr. Dementor in “Kim Possible,” Shecky Chucklestein in “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and Remy, the rat turned super chef, in Pixar’s Ratatouille.
Today, Oswalt enters new territory. This time, as the lead in Big Fan, Robert D. Siegel’s follow-up to the widely acclaimed drama, The Wrestler (which Siegel wrote). Portraying a die-hard New York Giants fan who unexpectedly gets beaten up by his favorite player, Oswalt forgoes his comedic roots for the dramatic. “It was exactly the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. The kind of role that might make everyone an even bigger fan.
Mark Sells (MM): What made you take that first leap on stage?
Patton Oswalt (PO): I was always into comedy as a kid, watching Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Monty Python and Steve Martin. But what made me go on stage was just the fact that it was one of those summers between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I was trying out a bunch of different jobs, none of which I liked, and decided to try an open mike—not thinking it was going to be a career, not knowing what I was going to do with my life.
It went horribly and I loved it. And I just decided, logically, that the thing that I love that is giving me no immediate reward is probably the thing that I should do with my life.
MM: Who or what makes you laugh today?
PO: My friends. I have a very, very funny circle of friends. They’re all comedians, who I think are amazing. And I’m very lucky that they’re my friends because they’re all funnier than me!
MM: Robert Siegel wrote The Wrestler, one of the most acclaimed films from last year. He also wrote and directed Big Fan. How did he find you or how did you find him and become a part of the movie?
PO: You know, I don’t know how he found me. We had a lot of friends in common, he knew about my stuff and offered me the role. It was as simple as that. We had breakfast in New York one morning and he said, “I’ve written this script.” So, I read it, and thought it was amazing.
He said, “I want you to be the lead,” which was great because it was exactly the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to do. So, I jumped at it.
MM: You’ve been in dramatic films before, like Magnolia and All Roads Lead Home, but this is a little different. This is a leading role in a film that tackles some serious issues. What challenges does he face?
PO: As far as the character is concerned, the challenge he faces is that I don’t think he wants to be a complete person. He wants the world kept at bay and he has to fight that off. His challenge is kind of unique in the sense that he’s actively fighting to stay in his bubble.
MM: Everybody has had the experience of being the enthusiastic fan. Sometimes with disappointment or frustration. Have you ever had this experience?
PO: You mean meeting someone and they were a hero of mine and it kind of went ewww? (laughs) Yeah, that happened a couple of times but I don’t want to name names because I might still run into them now!
MM: How about on the receiving end?
PO: Yes, but that happens so rarely. For the most part, fans are so nice. I think that’s just the exception to the rule. There are as many people that don’t understand fandom and cross boundaries as there are celebrities that are in it for the wrong reasons. It goes both ways.
MM: This particular role would be a dream come true for many—playing a sports fan, doing research, tailgating, etc. Are you a big sports fan? How did you prepare for the role?
PO: No, I’ve never followed any kind of sport ever. I approached it more from the angle of how it would be to have something overtake your life; something that’s outside of yourself. I think we’ve all had, to a lesser or greater degree, that kind of impulse. And I took it from that perspective rather than trying to learn about sports.
MM: Did you have any favorite moments from the making of Big Fan?
PO: I really liked the scenes I got to do with Marcia Jean Kurtz, who played my mom. She was amazing and getting to riff with her, on my character’s life, it was so lively and fun.
MM: I really enjoyed your work on “King of Queens.” What do you miss most about the show? How did it impact your career going forward?
PO: I miss the people I worked with. They were all really, really fun. And as far as impacting my career, it gave me lots of exposure and I was able to do more clubs and sell more seats, which was all very positive!
MM: You’ve done a lot of voice over work—“Kim Possible,” “Aqua Teen” and, of course, Ratatouille. What’s been your favorite voice and why?
PO: Definitely Ratatouille, because I got to work with Brad Bird. And I got to visit Pixar, which is an amazing place. It was just so much fun for so many reasons. I absolutely loved it!
MM: Where did “Wackity Schmackity Doo” come from?
PO: I have no idea. It just kind of happened on stage one night. I have no idea where my bits come from! Something just happens in my life and I talk about it.
MM: I read that you were somewhat of a fanboy—Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Batman, etc. Have you ever had a complete geek out moment, where you just kick yourself because you’re standing next to the cast of Twilight?
PO: (laughs) I’ve actually never seen Twilight, never read the books and never met those guys. But I guess my big “geek out” moment was becoming friends with Harlan Ellison and visiting his house. That was geek nirvana for me and I don’t think I can do anything to top that!
MM: Talk to me a little about your writing process. What have you learned as a writer in the business and do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
PO: My saying in stand up is “do it every day.” Don’t read books and don’t think about it. Just do it every day and you’ll get better. It’s really that easy!
MM: With all that you’ve accomplished, what are your current aspirations?
PO: I’ve actually let myself go blank for a little bit. I don’t know what my next aspirations are, I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing right now instead of trying to make plans. And just see what comes along next for once.
Also, I just had a daughter and I’m way more into that than anything in my career right now.
MM: Out of all the work that you’ve done, what are you most proud of?
PO: I probably wouldn’t pick just a single thing. I’m really proud that I’ve gotten to do stand up; I love the albums that I’ve put out. And I’m proud of stuff like Ratatouille and “King of Queens.” So many things, I could never pick just one!
Big Fan is in theaters now. Visit http://www.bigfanmovie.com for more information.