Patton Oswalt’s Finest Hour
Patton Oswalt is a comedian, a bloody good comedian in fact and his particular style of comedy is what’s referred to in the industry as ‘reference humour’, wherin the jokes are based around the perverted regurgitation of familiar cultural terms, artifacts and experiences: the old delivered in a new light, it feels shocking and yet still inherently true. Given that we all currently live at a time in which the geek has inherited the earth this certain sense of humour is at both its most prevalent and its most potent levels and yet, and yet this is quite conclusively not Patton Oswalt’s most successful show, despite what the referential moniker would have you believe (an hour, is of course the industry term for a Comedian’s set).
Though maybe I am being too harsh, it’s just that what Oswalt delivers in Finest Hour isn’t what I watch comedy for in fact to me it’s not comedy at all. Whereas he can usually bring such wit and wonder to his de and re-construction of the current cultural zeitgeist, referencing Dungeons and Dragons manuals and the latest MTV fad in the midst of the same philosophically/politically relevant bit; here his referencing is, at best, reduced to a semi-relevant namedrop of a much loved band or movie, though unfortunately not one that is particularly relevant to the bit, or imbued with any additional insight by the process. In this way the reference half of his humour has been reduced to a similarly low spot as that of later series South Park, wherin we are supposed to cheer simply because they said words that we’ve heard before and not, as we once did, because they had waddled them into the form of a good joke.
The other half of the term ‘referential humour’ is of course ‘humour’ and this word I have to question even more, because Finest Hour actually has me questioning Patton’s sense of it. Certainly he is still a very funny guy, much funnier at his worst than I will ever be no doubt, but his instincts here all seem very off. I have to blame his new young daughter for this because the material is, for lack of a better term, entirely childish. The punchlines aren’t words, they’re fart noises and not short, sharp ones utilised for dramatic effect but rather long, drawn out stretches of his trademark sound effects. Now these and his few in voice riffs (the country rock singer for example) are funny in small doses and are understandably a part of his method, they are the intermission or sorbet of the hour, but here he slathers them on far too thickly and the taste grows stale by the ten minute mark, leaving you nauseous from the rest of the meal.
The worded sections of his jokes are really no better; all the bits are incredibly localized, simple stories from his everyday that aren’t particularly funny on their own and havn’t really been spruced up any for the presentation. It almost feels as if this is the first draft of a set, rough notes of new material that he might try out next year after a number of re-writes. They’re also all remarkably small minded stories in that there is nothing to be gained from having heard them other than the laughter, which in this case is also not forthcoming. Comedy doesn’t need to also be philosophy, but for me it certainly helps if there is some truth to be found underneath the giggles.When Oswalt does actually hit on a nice laugh – lowbrow though it may be – he then stretches this too out to insufferable lengths, wringing the bit long past dry as if parched of laughter, as if he hadn’t any other material, as if padding for time.
Patton prefaces the performance with a little speech about the current state of his life, specifically the high levels of stress and low levels of sleep inherent in raising his young daughter. ‘I’m actually asleep right now’ he says at one stage but unfourtunately we had already noticed by that stage; his eyes – half glazed over, half lidded – told us that before he was able to. While it is great that he is able to keep touring and testing new material despite his the set backs of his personal life one must wonder why Patton felt the need to record this show as a special, to have it set still in carbonite, reigning over him for the rest of his career. Surely it would have been better off set aside and forgotten forever.