Patton Oswalt is currently one of the biggest names in comedy -- in fact, the night prior to his headlining gig at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival he'll be performing at the Just For Laughs festival in Toronto. Even if Oswalt's name isn't immediately recognizable, you've almost certainly seen or heard him. He was a recurring character on the popular CBS sitcom "King of Queens," starred in the CharlizeTheron film "Young Adult," made appearances in everything from "Dollhouse" to "Community," and was the voice of Remy the rat in Pixar's "Ratatouille." The geek-culture icon has also had five televised comedy specials, an equal number of comedy albums, and in 2011 he released his first book, "Zombie Spaceship Wasteland."
Oswalt will perform his stand-up act Saturday, September 22, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival. Rochester's Jamie Lissow opens the show. Tickets cost $15-$55. Oswalt recently did a phone interview with City in anticipation of his Rochester appearance. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.
CITY: You've achieved major success as a stand-up comedian, comedic actor, dramatic actor, voice-over actor, and author. Which of those accomplishments means the most to you?
Patton Oswalt: I don't really rank them in terms of what's the most valuable. I try to make each one fun in its own way.
At this point in your career, do you get to sit back and enjoy the spoils of your labor, or are you hustling more than ever to capitalize on your successes?
I'm definitely still hustling. I like working. I like doing stuff. The sitting back and the enjoying the fruits of your labor gets boring. I always like to do more stuff.
What's the difference between writing stand-up and writing a humor book?
It's different formats. Jokes versus narrative, paragraphs versus sentences. Any kind of writing, by virtue of itself, is different.
What is your approach to writing new material? Does it start as a germ of an idea that you build out, or is it a series of things that you work to connect?
It's a germ, and I try to develop it on stage. At this point it takes about nine months to get to a full hour.
With so many comics citing you as an influence, what about the next generation of comics excites you? Who are some comedians to be on the look out for?
I love the fact that they have a very nonjudgmental view toward stand-up and are very open to doing new stuff. They're very well versed in the grammar of comedy, and that makes them comfortable enough to take risks .That's what makes this next generation so exciting. In terms of who to watch out for, way too many name.
With controversies like the Daniel Tosh rape joke, and the way it and things like it quickly spread through Twitter and other social media, does the internet's knee-jerk reaction to controversial topics impact how you approach comedy now?
I try not to let it, because if it did I think it would adversely affect any kind of risk-taking on stage. Anything you do is going to offend somebody.
With nerd culture becoming more mainstream, are the geeks finally inheriting the Earth? Is that a good thing?
I think what's happening is everyone is able to get their voice out there, so everyone is inheriting their own patch of the earth and doing their own thing. Which so far is pretty good.
What's next for you? What else do you hope to accomplish in your career?
A lot more stand-up, and TV and film stuff that's in amorphous stages. I stopped trying to make plans.