Geographically, Los Angeles isn’t that big. In fact, we say that pretty much everything, from The Valley to the South Bay is about a 20-minute drive, until you account for the traffic. It’s just past eleven in the morning, and I’m stuck on Highland, just six miles (but almost 22 minutes) away from my destination, because I didn’t account for the traffic.
I call my assistant and ask her to “let them know that I’m stuck in traffic, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She calls me back a few minutes later and tells me that everything’s okay. “Patton’s already there, so just drive safely and get there when you can.”
I try and fail to be patient. I can’t make the traffic move faster any more than I can go back in time to take a different route to Hollywood from The Valley, but I’m late, and the only thing I hate more than waiting for someone is making someone wait for me.
Twenty-five minutes later (parking is a bitch in Hollywood) I walk into BLD restaurant on Beverly. I look around and find Patton, sitting at a small table, facing the door, sipping from a mug while he looks at his phone.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” I say.
He looks up, cradling his mug in one hand. “It’s okay. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” I say, sitting down. “There was construction on Barham and an accident on the 101 and–”
“And you’re fucked,” he says.
“Pretty much,” I say. The waitress comes by and I order some coffee. I pull out my recorder, and set it on the table between us.
Where do I start? I’ve known Patton Oswalt for almost 15 years, though we’ve never been particularly close. When our orbits intersect — most frequently at Comic-Con or in the lobby of a theatre in Los Angeles — we talk for a few moments before going on our respective ways, until we meet again. I like Patton, and we’re friendly, but we’re not friends. This isn’t the first time I’ve interviewed someone, but the uncertain intimacy between us, combined with my general anxiousness about being late, has made me a little off balance. Whether he senses this or not, I don’t know, but Patton takes the pressure off.
PATTON OSWALT: So you’re interviewing me for Playboy?
WIL WHEATON: Yeah. And I’m not going to lie; I think it’s pretty cool. It’s such an interesting part of our culture. Magazines like Playboy are so different to the current generation than they were to ours. Like, if you want to look at boobs today, you just go to the internet, but when we were younger, we had to, like, actually find a magazine, find that one kid who for whatever reason, had an older brother or something who got it.
PATTON: I think I actually wrote a thing for Playboy about telling the new generation buy Playboys and go leave them in the woods, just so those kids can still, it gets them out of the house. I think I actually wrote that down for them. Gets them out of the house. Because the sense of that quest, it doesn’t really exist anymore. Not only the quest, but the currency. Now you’re the kid that has a Playboy: What can you trade for it? What can you get for it, you know?
(My friends and I hid in a Playboy in a tree, covered up with some rocks, in the wash behind our house. I remember that the playmate of the month was Hope Marie Carlton, and the Internet tells me that that means we had the July 1985 issue.) The waitress comes back, and sets a small press pot down in front of it. It probably has three cups in it. “Would you like to order some breakfast?”
I look at Patton. “Yes, I’ll have the huevos,” he says.
I order the first thing that I see on the menu. “Blueberry pancakes, with a side of bacon or sausage.”
She writes on her notepad, stops, and looks at me. “Did you want bacon or sausage?”
I notice that she has blue eyes, and is pretty. She has a cool tattoo on her left forearm. “I don’t care. You choose.” I hope I’m not being flirty. That happens sometimes when I’m nervous.
WIL: By sheer coincidence my wife and I watched one of your standup specials on Netflix, right before this interview came up. I think it was about five years ago…
PATTON: I think that was My Weakness is Strong.
WIL: Yeah, it was. I enjoyed it quite a bit. How is fatherhood finding you?
PATTON: It is an ongoing thing that so far has been very, very good. I still have a lot of push back from my old muscles, my standup film geek muscles of wanting to be awake late at night. But I’m making the adjustment. Better than I thought I would.
WIL: She’s about to start school, right? Five?
PATTON: Yeah, five and a half. She’s in pre-k right now and next year’s kindergarten. Somewhere.
WIL: I remember when my kids were little because I had the same, I was doing sketch and improv and I was on that…it was uncommon for me to be out of bed before 11:00 in the morning.
PATTON: Yeah and you get home at midnight. So then you need an hour to unwind and come off of it.
WIL: After five years, have you found the ability to balance out the performer aspect and the dad aspect?
PATTON: It comes and goes. For the most part I can, but there are times, like last night I got on some e-mail rabbit hole thing where I ended up being in my office until midnight and I had to get up early. It’s like, “Okay, that’s gonna happen.” But that’s not all the time. I’m not gonna have perfect days all the time where I’m up early and getting stuff done. There’s other days when I have to go “Well, that impulse is still with you and you’ve gotta roll with it a little bit. Sorry.”
WIL: It sucks, but it’s there. Is she old enough to understand your job at all?
PATTON: Vaguely. She’s seen me on TV. She visited a set that I was on but she was so little I don’t think she remembers the visit, I don’t think she remembers being there. She’s never seen me in a movie in a theater, she’s only seen me on TV so in her mind I’m just on TV. Even if it’s a movie that’s being shown, that’s just a TV show.
WIL: I remember when my kids were little I worked on Flubber for Disney.
PATTON: Oh boy. How old are your kids now?
WIL: They’re 25 and 23.
PATTON: Oh wow.
[This surprised response isn’t uncommon. My wife and I had kids young. They were three and five when I met her, and I’ve raised them ever since. Most people know I have kids, but presume that they’re in their teens. Having survived their teenage years, I’m very glad that they are not.]
WIL: So they stay up later than me now. But when they were little I worked on Flubber and they came up to the set. It was their first experience on a set.
PATTON: Were you filming it here in LA?
WIL: No, we shot in San Francisco. They converted old hangars on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay into sound stages. It was pretty cool. I think that was the first time they understood what I did because they could see me doing it in front of a camera.
PATTON: Michael Keaton told this great story years ago about his son, who at the time was really young. I think he was doing a Batman movie so his son came and visited him on the set. He was pretty impressed, his son, seeing as he’s a pretty cool dad. They were having career day at school and each kid was talking about what their dad did. He was thinking, “Well, my son’s gonna have something cool to talk about.” Then he was talking to the teacher later at some conference and asked “How was career day?” The teacher said, “Does your son know what you do?” And [Keaton] was like, “Yeah, he’s been to the set. And the teacher was like, “Oh, on career day he got really quiet and just said, ‘My dad lives in a trailer.’” That’s all he saw him doing, he didn’t understand. So I thought that was really funny. He just sits in a trailer all day.”
The waitress brings our food. I get a side of bacon, and it’s the most delicious bacon I’ve had at a restaurant in recent memory. It’s thick, cooked perfectly. Two pancakes the size of my plate are stacked on top of each other, a little tin of real maple syrup shaped like an actual log cabin on one side.
We eat for a few minutes, and talk about D&D around mouthfuls of food. He doesn’t play any more, because he doesn’t have the time. “Having a kid and all this sort of stuff happening to me I just had to give it up,” he says. “A night, a free night, meant a lot to me. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t swing it.”
I remember those times in my own family, during the years until my boys were old enough to play tabletop games with their mom and me. Gaming was one of the things that held our family together when they were awkward and rebellious teenagers who had to deal not just with the usual teenage issues, but also a biological father who did everything he could to make all of our lives miserable. For a moment, I envy Patton, and his wife and daughter, who will be able to grow together, as a family, on their own terms.
I refocus on the whole reason I’m here today: to talk with Patton about his upcoming book, Silver Screen Fiend, a memoir about bingeing on hundreds of films at the New Beverly Theatre in the ‘90s. The New Bev is owned by Quentin Tarantino, and it screens double features of classic films almost every night of the week. The movies are always 35mm prints, and the theatre draws audiences small and large that are consistently filled with passionate movie nerds.
WIL: So I drove by the New Bev on my way over here because I drove straight down Highland. One of the reasons I’m really looking forward to your new book is I miss the experience of going to the movies the way it was when we were younger. We went to a movie house that was a special place. It was a single screen. There was one lobby. Most of the theaters were pretty old. It felt like a special important thing. It didn’t feel like going to the mall. I’m just interested in your thoughts on how the movie experience has changed in our lifetime and if you think there’s a relation or a correlation between the types of movies that tend to get made by studios now versus the types of movies that got made in the ’70s and ’80s?
PATTON: Well, I’ll tell you one big difference, one thing I remember very clearly was if a movie came out that you were really dying to see, waiting to see it, you had a couple of little things. You could see a trailer, hopefully see a commercial on TV, maybe there would be an article in a film magazine, and that was it. So it was easier to make something an event. Now, if you wanted to, if I wanted to, I could basically watch every step of the process of the making of the next Star Wars movies online. Leaked photos, updates. So by the time I get to it I almost feel like I’ve made the movie. So it’s harder to make it a special event. It’s hard to keep a lid on that stuff. Studios want that because a lot of their money now comes from web content and clicks and eyes so they want that stuff out there. That’s why they’re doing bigger and bigger come see this and it’s all gigantic properties. When they leaked that Spectre was going to cost $350 million that was probably going to be part of the advertising. “Hey, come look at 350 million dollars.”
WIL: Do you think it’s affected the way an audience feels about a movie, because it’s not this thing you’ve waited and waited and waited and the doors open and you get to go into it?
PATTON: Well yeah, there’s two things that are missing. I remember when I went and saw Empire Strikes Back. There was a trailer, I remember there was a Time magazine picture of Yoda, a picture of the snow speeders, and that was kind of it. So you went in like “What the hell is this!?” That’s missing. But also what’s missing is “Let’s go to a movie and have it surprise us. Let’s just walk in and see what it is.” People don’t do that anymore. Because now — I forgot who said this — now we’ve got music, books, TV, video games, the internet, movies, but everyone still has the same two hours. We didn’t get a bunch of extra time for all this new content. So people really have to go, “Do I want those two hours to be spent in this movie if it’s not gonna be fucking amazing?”
I can see and feel his passion as he talks. I’ve seen Patton the Comedian for almost 15 years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen Patton the Film Geek, and it’s pretty awesome. I realize that it’s exactly the sort of take I should have expected from someone who loves movies, who loves the mystery of them, the power behind the stories and the mystique of the filmmakers. For Patton, it seems, the actual experience inside the theatre isn’t as important as everything else that leads up to seeing a film. The way he describes it, it’s almost like the experience we sometimes get with a really great book that captures the public’s imagination: everyone may be talking about it, but the only people who really know about it are the ones who have experienced it on its own terms.
I wonder if he thinks the great filmmakers of the moment, the modern versions of the Lumets and the Altmans and the Coppolas are going to leave cinema, and instead choose to work in television, where they have more creative freedom and less pressure to produce blockbusters.
PATTON: Isn’t it weird how it’s come full circle? Because all those guys came out of TV and were TV mavericks and the one place that really supports mavericks right now is television. And that’s fine with me, because right now TV is as exciting — if not more — than movies. The stuff they’re pulling off, it’s like Hollywood 1973, in terms of character and storytelling and making things complicated and messy and difficult. That’s what’s happening.
WIL: So it’s like they’ve switched places, right? TV and movies.
PATTON: They really did. Because movies, if you’re gonna go to a theater it’d better be worth your time. But TV shows, the only thing about the TV shows that is interesting, as great as they are — I love them — a lot of these shows don’t work in reruns. You watch them once and get the full effect. Is it worth going back and watching them again? So I wonder how will that affect syndication. That’s how they make their money. It’s why things as empty as CSI or Law & Order are like these little self-contained thing people can watch. “Here’s my little story.” Whereas something brilliant, like Orange is the New Black…
WIL: But I find myself going back and watching those kinds of shows. I did it with True Detective. I have to shamefully admit that I was really not on board with True Detective at all, until I’d actually watched it. I heard it was Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey — no thanks — and I think I’m about as wrong about that as about anything I’ve ever been in my whole life.
PATTON: Fucking love that show. I did some poll where they asked for the best thing you saw this year. I was like, “The best movie I saw was the “Who Goes There” [episode] of True Detective. The unbroken shot where they’re trying to get that drug dealer out of the car. Nothing in movies is gonna beat that.
It’s the end of December, and Sony has just pulled The Interview from theaters. Neither one of us expects that Sony will release the film on VOD and limited release — Patton even quotes Mitt Romney, a person neither one of us has much respect or admiration for, who urged Sony to release the film online, for free, while soliciting five dollar donations to be given to Ebola-eradication charities). Even though I know that this won’t see publication for several weeks, and I suspect that the entire fiasco surrounding The Interview will likely be old news, we end up talking about it, because everyone is talking about it.
WIL: This whole thing with The Interview makes me feel like we’re living in, like, if Judd Apatow did Strangelove.
PATTON: That’s what I said on Twitter the other night. Ironically this whole Interview debacle would be a great first act for a Strangelove-level satire.
[Fuck. Yes, I remember reading that. I feel like I’m unintentionally plagiarizing Patton to his face.]
WIL: What do you think about the whole thing?
PATTON: We’ve given a very dangerous foothold to oppressive people and it’s not gonna get any better from this point out. Now that that toothpaste is out of the tube, what’s to stop any hacker group from fucking with anything?
WIL: I find it really interesting that a lot of the same people who are like “fuck you, Hollywood!” now want to go spite-view that movie on their way home from Chick-fil-a. Just to like, make a statement.
PATTON: If you’re cool with all the Sony stuff being out there, let me go read all your e-mails and your texts. We as a society may have crossed a creepy line now, where now it’s all been blurred. The Snowden stuff and the Bradley Manning stuff and the Julian Assange stuff, [those were leaks] to stop awful things being done to people. The [Sony hack] was just weird, spiteful. And again, how secure is anything now?
WIL: I find it really interesting that Sony, which put software root kits onto tens of thousands of computers worldwide, and is well known for having really poor security practices, has managed to really turn this into the best possible outcome for them, given the circumstances. They can bury this movie and then write off whatever they lose.
PATTON: I don’t think this is over yet. I think there’s other stuff coming that they don’t see yet. What’s to stop a studio that’s nervous about a movie coming out from another studio from hiring a bunch of hackers to stage something like this and ruin another movie’s release? Again, this is opening up a lot of bad shit.
WIL: It seems like a decision that was made in haste and likely in more than a little bit of panic.
PATTON: This is gonna change a lot of the atmosphere in Hollywood for a long time I think. I don’t even blame Sony. I understand the corner they were backed into. I get what’s going on here. I can’t think of what the better solution would be. But cowtowing to people like that, I can’t help but think that’s a terrible precedent.
WIL: I wonder if we’re gonna get Interview truthers? Is what’s his name, Alex Jones, gonna say it’s a Sony false flag operation?
For the record, I do not believe that North Korea was behind the Sony intrusion, or the subsequent terrorist threats against theaters. I, along with many security researchers who are smarter than me, believe that this was done by at least one disgruntled former employee, and the government jumped to politically expedient conclusions. Of course, as I write this story, President Obama has just announced sanctions against North Korea in retaliation for the entire incident. I stand by my beliefs.
As we sat in the restaurant in December, though, the absurdity of the entire situation sort of overwhelmed me. What happened to common sense and Occam’s Razor?
WIL: A country that can’t even feed its own people and barely got a rocket into the Sea of Japan is gonna somehow unleash a coordinated attack against America in thousands of places?
PATTON: It’s interesting how after 9/11 there were all these people paranoid about anyone from the Middle East or someone from Iraq or from Afghan, even though they’re clearly living here because they fled that shit. There’s not a single Korean in America that is pro North Korea. They’re like, “Fuck that guy.” People in North Korea are like fuck this guy but they can’t say it. There’s no sleeper agents over here. If they sent a North Korean sleeper agent over here the minute he set foot on American soil he would be like, “Guys, I’m a sleeper agent, can I get a burger? Let me tell you what’s going on. I’m with you guys. I played along with them and they sent me over here but don’t worry about it.”
Patton looks at his phone, checks the time. I ask him when he has to leave, and we have about 15 minutes left. I look at my mental checklist of the things I still want to talk with him about, and since I can only pick one, I go for the one place where I know we share a lot of common ground: Twitter.
Earlier this summer, Patton, who had been a prolific and entertaining and thought-provoking Twitter user, went offline for several months. Summers are typically very busy for me, and 2014 was no different. I hadn’t even realized that he wasn’t showing up in my feed as often as usual until September, when my friend, comics writer Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Velvet, Fatale), said to me “I’m going to follow in Patton’s footsteps and just get off Twitter. The trolls and assholes just make it not worth the effort.”
WIL: Do you know Ed Brubaker? Ed’s a really good friend of mine.
PATTON: Goddamn, what a great writer. Holy shit.
WIL: Ed was given a really hard time by the usual bunch of idiots on Twitter…
PATTON: About something. All these guys get all this shit about nothing.
WIL: He said “I think I’m going to follow in Patton’s footsteps and just get off Twitter, I’m not getting anything out of it.” I was like, “Wait, what, Patton left Twitter?” And then I realized I hadn’t seen anything from you in a while. Before we get into that, the masterful two-part trolling tweets you did were amazing. It was phenomenal. It was like, parts of it felt like this great Andy Kaufman prank and then it was so much smarter. And just the way it revealed so much about the people who lost their minds. That was brilliant. How did that happen?
[Real quick for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about: earlier this year, Patton went on a tear where he posted two separate tweets back to back that, when separated, sounded profoundly racist, homophobic, antisemetic, and just terrible. But, when you read them together, they were actually strong statements for equality, tolerance, and social justice. A portion of the Twitterverse that I call The Stupidsphere went predictably nuts, demanding that Patton apologize for their perception of what he said, ignoring the actual substance of it. It was amazing.]
When it comes to doing laundry, I firmly believe in using environment-friendly detergent and I ALSO believe— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 17, 2013
whites and “darks” should be kept separate. Sorry if that sounds too “tree-huggy” to my conservative followers.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 17, 2013
Oh, you think repealing voting laws in the south is justified, you racist asshole? I suppose you ALSO believe that— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 17, 2013
Hitler was absolutely right about the Jews. And I don’t care how many “white power” redneck followers I lose by Tweeting that.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 17, 2013
These idiots who deny that clumsy change is real, and a pressing threat are no different from misogynists who claim that— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 17, 2013
Women enjoy rape. Grow the fuck up, all of you.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) August 17, 2013
PATTON: It was partially inspired by different versions of what Jim Norton and Colin Quinn would do. But I was just seeing a lot of people — and it was weird because I actually got one of these reactions — it seemed like a new class of citizen was showing up with my profession looking for things to be outraged at. There’s capital at being pissed of at things. Like, okay, I’m going to give people something where a click away negates whatever they’re outraged by, let’s see if they’ll do that. So people were freaking out. What the hell was that? Then it started. “Oh, he’s doing this thing.” Then one guy said — and I should have taken a screen shot of this — he said, “I understand what Patton’s doing, but I still think I have the right to my initial reaction.”
WIL: Wait. Like, “I’m allowed to be a dumbass and be angry about it”?
PATTON: “That was my initial reaction, that’s my right.” It is really weird. When I read Suey Park’s Salon interview this year she said something that was really frightening, which was “Context doesn’t matter.” Those three words are so terrifying for a comedian. I can show you a 30-second clip of Blazing Saddles and say “Mel Brooks is a racist. There’s the evidence. Context doesn’t matter.”
WIL: “I’m entitled to my own initial reaction.”
PATTON: “And I deserve reparation. I deserve some kind of remedy. An apology.” We just saw the giant kaiju monster of this with The Interview. That idea of context doesn’t matter is a scary thing. Especially because the oppressive, racist, homophobic forces in the world don’t have comedy as a weapon. We progressives do. If we’re going to start giving that up and start policing progressives twice as hard as we do the conservatives and homophobes and haters, then we’re fucked. Then they get to be the rebels and they’ll find a way to make homophobia and racism look cool. Because all we’re doing is attacking each other.
WIL: You feel like it’s another area where the progressive establishment has just ceded ground to the right-wing reactionaries?
PATTON: No, there’s no right or left wing to it. It’s all corporate. “Well, we can get more clicks if we’re outraged by things. It doesn’t even matter anymore what we’re outraged by.” If they’re outraged by the same old things… But if they put a picture of Jerry Seinfeld and put the word “rape” next to his picture, ooh, people will stop and click and we can sell ad space. It doesn’t matter who it hurts. It’s all revenue. It’s all commerce.
WIL: Earlier this summer I was stuck in an airport and couldn’t get away from CNN. I’m watching all these Republican congressmen really working hard to make sure Americans are scared to death of ISIS. “They’re under your bed, they’re in your closet, they’re around the corner, they’re in your backpack. You’re gonna die and they’re gonna kill you.” I said on Twitter it seems like the GOP is spending a lot of time making sure we’re really afraid of ISIS. I’m sure that’s nothing to do with the election coming up. One of the professional-outrage right wingers went on some website and said “Wil Wheaton says ISIS is not real, is actually Republican plot.” Which I didn’t say. But I had to spend the next 48 hours just trying to correct them. It basically made Twitter useless for me because these people were spending all this time freaking out at me.
PATTON: But if you look at the people who are yelling at you they all have like ten followers. A lot of them are accounts created by the person who started the outrage to make it look like it’s a thing. It’s all one person doing it.
WIL: In my response to it I said, “Look, you guys, the people who are working you into this lather, they don’t care about you. They’re not some big champion for you. Those people, they’re using you to get ad revenue.”
PATTON: And Salon does the same thing. They are the cynical fucking with the idealistic so they can sell ads. I did an interview and talked about Bill Cosby. Obviously I’m disgusted with what’s going on, it’s horrible what’s happened to these women, it seems like he did it. That’s what it seems like. But obviously, no, I don’t want to believe it. The last reason I don’t want to believe it is because it will hurt my image of Bill Cosby. The first reason is women are getting drugged and raped. That’s awful. But what I said was, of course I don’t want to believe this, but there’s fucking 20 of them now. If there’s 20 accusations, that means there’s hundreds. It’s like when you see one cockroach in the house that means there’s a thousand in the walls. That’s what I said. So that sounds okay, right? What do you think people did with that?
WIL: Comedian compares rape accusers to cockroaches.
PATTON: Rape victims to cockroaches. There were three different articles. It’s amazing in those articles there’s just the headline and my picture, then they quote what I was saying in the podcast. In the quote it negates their own headline, but at that point it doesn’t matter. They got you to stop and scroll down. They got a view on the site. They’re good. If that’s how you’re gonna do journalism, then just go, “Was president Obama assassinated today? Nope, he’s fine. We got a view! We got a view, guys!” That’s literally what they’re doing.”
It’s nearly time for Patton to leave, and I curse the 25 minutes I lost trying to get to the restaurant. I curse myself for only allowing 45 minutes to go 15 miles, instead of, I guess, an hour. At least the weather’s nice.
WIL: So why did you quit Twitter and why did you come back?
PATTON: Oh no, I didn’t quit Twitter all the way. I just said I’m taking a three-month break. It’s June first. It couldn’t be more symbolic. The sun’s out and I have a daughter. It’s summertime.
WIL: Did you get push back from the people that work with you?
PATTON: No. I never got on Twitter for them. I even said, I wrote this long essay. I was like, here’s why I’m doing it, there are gonna be a couple of things I retweet because there’s a project I did so I promised I would retweet it, but that’s it. And then of course when I would retweet it, [people would say] “I guess you couldn’t stay off…” And then when I came back I wrote an essay for Time magazine and I said here’s how it went. The first couple of weeks I was checking my @ mentions, I wasn’t totally gone from it, but after awhile I wasn’t looking at it anymore. Sure enough, people were like, “I’ll bet you’re still checking your @ mentions.” I love it when people insult you with something you’ve already pointed out about yourself. I love that. They get so angry. They’re like, I have that loaded and you had to take that away from me.
WIL: I think there’s a psychological condition where a person can only cum after they’ve yelled at someone on Twitter. They can only finish jerking off when they’ve checked off a certain number of boxes from the Twitchy tweet. So your vacation is over.
PATTON: Every year now from June to Labor Day I’m off Twitter. Just going off doing stuff.
I pay the bill, and ask Patton how much time he has left. He tells me that he really needs to go, but he’s enjoying the conversation so much, he’ll stretch it out a little longer. I thank him, and get to the last thing I really wanted to talk about today: stand up comedy.
WIL: My friend John Rogers was a standup comedian…
PATTON: I worked with him in Montreal one year.
WIL: Rogers talks about being a comedian in the ’80s and you know, the path was essentially small clubs, road gigs, a place where you could get a tape. You try to get the tape to Evening at the Improv, one of the late-night shows, and that was how your career goes. And you don’t have to do that anymore.
PATTON: When I was coming up I got it even more condensed. You work on your tight clean five, you get on The Tonight Show, you get a sitcom. That’s the only way to get through, that’s it. Then The Tonight Show goes away; Leno takes over and it’s not the star-making thing it was anymore. All these guys that have been following that path are suddenly at sea. Now, there’s a million ways to get in. I am glad. Back then they had an argument that you couldn’t argue with because they were right for a while. Get your clean five, get on The Tonight Show. If you were doing anything different it was like, “Well, that’s not gonna go anywhere.” So yeah, I’m glad that got exploded. I like writing material. I like to write jokes. If I do a special or an album, good, I get to write more stuff. It’s good impetus to write new stuff.
WIL: I was talking to Chris Hardwick. We lived together in college and we’ve been pretty Goddamn close to best friends since we were 17. Mandroid came up. It was his first Comedy Central special. I said, “I really love it, I think it’s really funny.” He goes, “Oh God, I can’t even watch it anymore.” I said, “Why?” He said, “It just doesn’t feel personal to me.”
PATTON: Yeah. My first couple of specials are very impersonal. It’s very me trying to impress, me trying to show how smart I am and I’m pointing out how things are done rather than looking inward. That’s always the sign of a young comedian. “This is stupid, this is dumb, and this is where I said this awesome thing to this asshole.” You get older and you’re like, let me talk about this idiotic thing I did.
WIL: Do you think it’s part of the leveling experience? You just have to go through that as a young comedian?
PATTON: Yeah. There’s a couple of things. You have to go through a couple of bad sets where you’re trying to do your smartass thing and it’s like oh, fuck this. Also you have to go see people. When I was coming up and the first time I got to go see people like Bill Hicks and Louis CK and Maria Bamford, and it’s like, “Oh, way other, much cooler areas for me to explore here.”
WIL: When will you be back doing stand up? Or do you ever really stop stand up?
PATTON: I never really stop. I took a little break because I was just, all this acting stuff and all this book stuff. In January I am on the book tour. I’m doing Carnegie Hall on January 9. I’m back in. I’m in for life. I’m never getting out.
He gets up from the table, and thanks me for the time we spent together. Before I can ask him why he is thanking me, he tells me, “I really needed this. I needed to just have a conversation with someone. Please call me if you have any follow-up questions or anything.”
I thank him, but I know I won’t need to call him, because the only question I have is, “Want to come over to my house to play some board games?”