Patton Oswalt’s role as a desperate father who impersonates a beautiful woman on social media to catfish his troubled son in the new film I Love My Dad just might make him the perfect person to weigh in on Elon Musk’s crackdown on Twitter parody.
In his return to The Last Laugh podcast, Oswalt talks about finding the humanity in his “monstrous” character and why he will never pay $8 a month for a blue check mark. The elder statesman of comedy also breaks down the bit from his most recent Netflix special We All Scream about realizing he won’t be “woke” forever, and shares what he learned from the backlash he received for simply posting a photo of himself with friend Dave Chappelle.
It’s the morning after the GOP’s “red wave” failed to materialize and Oswalt is feeling a sense of relief. “It’s encouraging,” he says. “I think it shows that a lot of people are not looking for thrills and insanity in place of admittedly dull but competent leadership. Hopefully people are realizing that the government shouldn’t be on your list of entertainment and distraction options. You’ve got video games, you’ve got streaming shows, you’ve got the internet. The government should be boring.”
In just the past few months, Oswalt has been busier than ever churning out content of his own, including his eighth hour of stand-up and a simultaneously hilarious and disturbing performance in James Morosini’s autobiographical comedy I Love My Dad.
Oswalt was initially drawn to the film because it felt like the type of “risky” project that “might fail in a massive, spectacular way” but if it worked, could be something really special. He saw on the title page of the script that it was based on Morosini’s real-life story, but the details seemed almost too insane to be true. When he got on the phone with the 32-year-old writer, director, and co-star and “found out how true it actually was,” he says, it “just made me want to do it even more.”
What ultimately appealed to him was trying to “find some real humanity in what really feels like kind of an inhuman character.” And as someone who has been guilty of “doing the wrong thing for the right reasons,” Oswalt liked the idea of getting inside the head of someone who takes that impulse to extremes.
“There are some monstrous things that are done with good intentions,” he says of his character. “And I’ve been guilty of that myself, thinking I’m the center, I’m the protagonist, I’m the wronged hero, and then getting my head kicked sideways.”
One of those times came after Oswalt posted what he thought was an innocuous photo with his arm around fellow comedian Dave Chappelle on Instagram—before he had a chance to assess the transphobic jokes in Chappelle’s The Closer special. When the comments overflowed with fans disappointed that someone they thought was an “ally” could support Chappelle —along with some “alt-right chuds,” as Oswalt puts it, welcoming him to their side—he decided to issue an apology to those who felt “betrayed” while also defending his three-decade-long friendship with Chappelle.
“It was a very freeing experience,” he tells me, “because it showed that no matter how much nuance and thought you put into something, people will just be pissed at it anyway. So you may as well try to do the best you can and apologize when you can.”
While Oswalt wishes Chappelle was more “open-minded on trans issues,” he said he “can’t deny his genius on just about every other fucking issue.” (Our conversation took place before Chappelle’s most recent SNL monologue.)
With that in mind, he said he has to “take the good with the bad,” adding, “He’s still my friend, I’m still a fan, I don’t agree with his stance on trans people, and I did go and watch The Closer and some of the trans jokes really did bother me. But then some of the other jokes were fucking brilliant.”
Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole thing by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
Since you play a man pretending to be someone else on social media in this movie, I felt like it was kind of a natural segue to talk about Twitter, which is having quite a moment right now. How are you enjoying our new free speech paradise that we’re all living in now that Elon Musk has taken over?
Oh, it’s fantastic, it’s so good to see the N-word coming back. I mean, that’s really the main focus of free speech, is to be able to spew as much racial bile as you possibly can. I mean, that’s what the Founding Fathers were all about—although they were slave owners, so fuck them. This is such an age-old story. It’s somebody who wants to be funny, and they’re not funny and not everybody can be funny. Not everybody can be a rocket scientist or a business magnate. Elon is a rocket scientist and a business magnate. Those are pretty great things, but he demands to be seen as funny and cool.
His fanboys are very predictable, too. When you say, “My god, he’s not funny,” they’re like, “Dude, he is rich.” I didn’t say he was poor, I said he’s not funny. Why don’t you tell me one of his jokes that is brilliant and then prove me wrong? And they’re just like, “You’re just jealous, man, that guy owns like five yachts!” Again, I’m not saying he’s poor. That wasn’t my criticism of him. I said he’s not funny. So I think there’s just a lot of damaged people out there who become billionaires because they just focus on numbers and money and they can’t understand why people aren’t excited about that. Whereas I would way rather be with somebody who is funny and is fun to be with rather than, “Well, this person I’m hanging out with never says anything startling or funny or insightful, but they do have the most money, so I guess I should hang with them.” I’ve never understood that.
His particular interest in comedy is something I find really interesting. One of his first tweets when he took over was, “Comedy is now legal on Twitter.” And then within a week he was banning parody that’s not clearly marked as parody, seemingly because people were making fun of him.
He sees comedy the same way he sees money and status, whereas anyone who’s into comedy knows that comedy and [what’s] funny is constantly fluctuating. And we sign up to be part of a very ephemeral profession where everything we say ages immediately. But that’s kind of the fun of it, is that you’re always creating, especially to comedians. But he wants that mathematical equation where it’s like, “I will solve for ‘funny’ and forever be the funniest one.” And he doesn’t understand that that’s not how it works in comedy.
Not at all.
It has never worked that way. And so making these weird declarations, especially to comedians, also shows how he doesn’t understand comedy. Because once you make any kind of objective declaration to a comedian, they will immediately start trying to find ways around that. That’s the fun of comedy. This thing isn’t funny? Then I’ve got to write a joke about that. I’ve got to find a way to make that funny, and that’s been that way since the beginning of comedy.
It’s a challenge.
Yeah, if you watch W.C. Fields, it’s, “You can’t make fun of blind people? OK, I’m going to find a way to make fun of a blind person. I will make this funny.” So of course, when he says “comedy is now legal,” it’s like, “OK, let’s find out how legal it is then, Elon!” But again, it’s because he doesn’t understand it. It would be like me demanding to be recognized as a rocket scientist. You don’t have the aptitude for it and that’s fine. It doesn’t make you less of a person. That’s the thing that’s weird. Any other profession—basketball player, brain surgeon, violinist—if you’re not good at it, no one goes, “You can’t play the violin? Well, you must be a shitty person.” They’re just like, “Well, you don’t have that skill.” But people that aren’t funny think that it makes them a lesser human being, where it’s just another skill that you don’t have. But that’s fine, you have other skills that are probably way more important than just making jokes. And so I don’t understand people that feel like they have the right to be funny, and they demand that people say they’re funny. To me, it’s always the basis for tragedy, as we’re seeing right now. This guy spent $44 billion to be cool. And you cannot buy cool. And when you demand of comedians that they think you’re funny, you just declared open season on yourself.
“You cannot buy cool. And when you demand of comedians that they think you’re funny, you just declared open season on yourself.”
No. Although, there’s a bit of cruelty with the Elon thing where it’s like—and I’m not really defending him, because I think he’s an asshole—but there was a measure of mockery to that. He hosted SNL the same way these douchebag billionaires go hunting at a game preserve where they block off a little one-acre area and then put the slowest, oldest lions in there. That was like a rich man hunting in a game preserve, but for comedy.
It’s set up for success and still was not much of a success.
Even when these big game hunters succeed, it’s always mockery, because they block this animal off in a tiny area where it couldn’t hide. They gave you the lamest, weakest animal. You were never in any danger. And now you’re posing over this beast as if you’ve somehow upset the food chain with your alpha prowess. It’s so desperate and pathetic.
Well, I did want to congratulate you on very briefly getting your second official check mark. I don’t know if you saw that.
It’s not there now, so you won’t see it, but he briefly added a second official check mark to all these accounts, including yours—
And then within a few hours they were gone. He said he had killed it. He decided it wasn’t working. [Ed. note: The “official” check marks eventually returned, although not to Patton Oswalt’s account.]
I don’t even know, at this point, what the value of a check mark is except to protect your identity.
This was supposed to be a second check mark to protect your identity in addition to the blue check mark, which now just means you paid $8 a month.
Well, wait a minute, then I want my blue check mark gone! I don’t want people thinking I paid him $8.
I know, that’s what I was thinking. It’s going to be like a blue check mark of shame that you paid Elon.
Oh God, well if that becomes the thing, I want my blue check mark gone immediately. Holy shit.
Do you think you’ll stick around with Twitter, though? Because you’ve been loyal to it for a long time.
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been experimenting with Mastodon. I can’t quite figure the platform out yet. There seem to be a lot of extra steps that don’t need to be there. I’m really trying to beef up my Instagram, doing longer Stories, learning the tools of that. But with Twitter, I’m just hanging around to watch. It’s like hey, while I’m waiting for the fourth season of Succession, here’s season 3.5. And I get to watch it in real time. It’s fantastic.
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