Comedian Patton Oswalt is returning to Bumbershoot for the sixth time. Here, he talks feminism, cartoon rats, the idols he never wants to meet, and why he'll never regret a joke he tells onstage.
I've heard that other comedians say they consider you to be one of the best craftsmen of comedy. Do you test jokes on social networking sites like Twitter? How has social media—getting an immediate dialogue going with fans—changed how you craft jokes?
It hasn't, not really. Anything I write on Twitter or Facebook is meant for that platform. If I'm writing on Twitter, it's to burn ideas off that I'd never do onstage. But social media has definitely changed my content, and it's definitely helped me fill rooms—it's a much better way to reach fans. Usually in my standup, when I do jokes about political stuff, I talk to people after the show about it, but that's on a micro level. Instead of having a room full of 600 to 800 people listening to your jokes, and only a couple hanging out afterward, you're reaching thousands of people at once, and they all essentially have microphones.
Microphones for everyone! So who cracks you up?
Maria Bamford, Hannibal Buress, Louis CK. On Twitter, people like Kelly Oxford, Charlene deGuzman. Right now, I'm just very happy that without a whole lot of effort on my part, I can see and read a great deal of comedy whenever I want to.
In April, you wrote a stirring essay about the Boston Marathon bombings on your Facebook page, and in June, you wrote a circuitously thoughtful essay on your website in which you addressed rape jokes and acknowledged rape culture. Both essays blew up the internet. Were you surprised by the response? With the rape joke essay, how did your fellow comedians respond?
I had both positive and negative responses—I had some comedians saying that in the third section [addressing rape jokes] I drank the Kool-Aid. But I'm glad for the back-and-forth. It proves that the art form I've chosen to pursue has weight and meaning. If everyone agrees on what you do, it means it's disposable. But if people are passionate, it means that it's crucial. It has impact. I'm more grateful for the argument than the viral response.
Did having a daughter change the way you perceive jokes about women?
Any changes in your life change how you perceive life and interact with anything. Plus, you know, I try to keep things within context. Now that I have a daughter, it's not like I'll never talk about A or B again, I'll just look at the context a little closer.
After 20-plus years of doing comedy, are there jokes you've told that you wouldn't perform today?
That question doesn't make sense, and I'll tell you why: Jokes I told when I was younger were snaps of what I was like at that time. It's not a zero-sum game. I'm glad I'm able to look back and say, "That was immature, or that was too easy, or that was crass." So no, there are no jokes that I wish I hadn't done. And once I do a joke on an album, I never do it again anyway. So it's moot.
Are there any types of jokes that you hate—fart jokes, people walking into bars, anything else you'd rather never hear again?
It all depends on the teller and the message. I just like anything original and startling. I'm sick of tired approaches, but I'm never sick of subjects.
A friend of mine—a big fan—met you a few years ago and, as he tells it, was so nervous that all he could do was tell your own jokes to you. Is there anyone you admire that would turn you into a sweating, yammering robot?
A few years ago, I had the chance to meet Jonathan Winters. I turned it down because I didn't know what I'd say to him. If I met him, it'd be a waste of time. I'd be stammering. I wouldn't know what to do or say. Same with Elvis Costello. With certain people, it's like what's the point? It would waste the time of someone who's a hero to me.
Ratatouille: Everyone loved it. But do you really think we should be telling children that rats make great kitchen helpers?
I'm going to leave that up to the kids themselves. I didn't know that was the message of the movie. It's a cartoon. [Editor's note: That it's a cartoon IS THE WHOLE POINT. Kids listen to cartoons! Ratatouille taught kids that if you see a rat in the kitchen, you should give it a hug and ask it for something to eat!]
You're a jack-of-all-trades—you've written books, you blog, you perform standup, you've been a voice actor in video games, you're in movies, you're on TV... What's one role in any of those fields that you're dying to take on?
I'd like eventually to write a movie that gets made. That hasn't happened yet. That's the next step. We'll see what happens.
Given your success in these other fields, do you still primarily consider yourself to be a comedian?
Yes. I always will. That's what brought me to the dance, and that's what I'll always do.