Title: Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Patton Oswalt’s fifth stand-up special, and first for premium entertainment network Epix, finds the comedian in strong form, humorously putting under the microscope his perceived strengths and shortcomings as a father, while also pondering the future of America and humankind as a whole. In large measure an engaging, curated trip into the performer’s own personal and professional lives, “Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time” is proof that wit, intelligence and innate narrative instincts are often a better foundation for comedy than rapid-fire jokes built around discrete subjects.
Oswalt is a personable storyteller, and as with many of his previous shows and appearances, “Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time” (whose title, an amusing twist on an old adage, is never mentioned or explained) unfolds as a narrative-based effort, with long-ish, shrewdly observed yarns punctuated with occasional pin-prick asides. A decent bit of Oswalt’s material comes at his own expense. Right off the bat he announces his primary fitness goal is to simply not look like he’s wearing a bullet-proof vest all the time; later, in the midst of relating shame surrounding the purchase of a pair of pants, he quick-riffs, “Yeah, me and the lead singer from Smashmouth should start a clothing line — we’ll call it Fireplug.”
The first segment of the 55-minute show is devoted largely to anecdotes involving his three-year-old daughter, and Oswalt’s bewilderment at how she is more unnerved by educational cartoons than accidental glimpses of Benicio Del Toro’s R-rated “The Wolfman.” He also susses out the cause of his daughter calling an elderly African-American man with a white beard a monkey.
This gives way to a bracing but darkly humorous bit, in which he notes how the presence of his wide-eyed daughter has caused his depression to have to take more fanciful and imaginative forms. Oswalt’s hilarious example, which involves late-morning weekday grocery shopping and the song “Africa” by Toto, will likely not win him a Lean Cuisine endorsement deal.
Sometimes, as with a lengthy story about a well-compensated show in front of a very drunken audience at a casino in Washington state, Oswalt seems to miss a chance to put a bow on certain segments, or tie them back into the thesis of one of his opening recollections and premises, which is that evolutionary advantage has reached a sort of terminus. The same feels true of the show’s end, in which Oswalt assays Germany’s collective lack of a sense of humor.
Director Bobcat Goldthwait oversees a streamlined, unfussy technical package, shot on location at San Diego’s Spreckels Theater. He eschews any lengthy filmed set-up or introduction (there’s 10 or 15 seconds of a superhero-outfit-clad Oswalt shuffling down a city street, and that’s it), and instead uses changes in background lighting to serve as visual counterpoint to some of the more natural partitions in Oswalt’s show.
“Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time” may not be the best introduction to Oswalt for neophytes, but it connects strongly for those familiar with and appreciative of his well-defined sensibility. It isn’t powered by jokes in the traditional sense, though when Oswalt drops an aside (“Part of getting old for a man is suddenly becoming interested in World War II, for no reason”) it tends to connect just fine, like a sharp jab. Mostly, this special — in which Oswalt recounts his experience with a hooker in his pre-married 30s, and other moments of personal and professional note — is the introspective work of a funnyman finding new absurdities in life, as well as reflection. When the purveyor is as gifted as Oswalt, that works fine.
NOTE: “Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time” world premieres on Epix on Friday, January 17 at 10pm Eastern time, and replays throughout the month. For more information, visit the channel’s eponymous website.
Written by: Brent Simon