Hola all. Massawyrm here.
If you’ve never had the chance to see Patton Oswalt live, you’ve not only missed out on one of the best things going on in standup comedy today, but one of the truly geeky live experiences out there. Patton is one of us – a comic book loving, genre-obsessed fanboy - whose equal passion for the craft of standup has forged an act that seamlessly blends politics and pop culture into razor sharp and hilarious social commentary. I’ve had the opportunity to see him live a number of times, and count them among some of the very best shows I’ve had the fortune of attending.
But unlike many books by successful standup comedians, Oswalt’s new book ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND (Scribner, 196 pages) is not a mere extension of his act. In fact, there are entire chunks of this book that bear little resemblance to his act at all. Fans hoping for two hundred pages of Patton Oswalt riffs might find themselves fairly confused at first. This isn’t straight comedy; it is satire. While chunks of the book are first person accounts of his childhood and teen years in Virginia, and one of the final chapters is a substantive narrative about his nightmarish first gig as a headliner, there are swaths of this book that feel like complete non-sequiturs – strange pieces of performance art amid what is an otherwise well written memoir.
From the get go, Oswalt subtly establishes the voice that will ultimately become so prevalent - even if it takes some getting used to – by offering up a list of other books “Also by Patton Oswalt”. Here Oswalt is in full on geek mode, riffing on sci-fi/fantasy titles while also offering up a few hints of his patented inappropriate humor. He then follows that up with a few more earnest pages before once again spoofing the medium with a series of bullshit quotes pulled squarely out of his comfort zone. And then it begins, following up the satire with honest, often quite self-deprecating, stories of his youth. Following that is a strange letter from Patton to the producers of an imaginary film (which from the description appears to be one of the very worst things ever to go before cameras) offering his requested punch up notes. And this is where the book becomes something else entirely.
In PUNCH-UP NOTES, Oswalt offers a voice that seems just as complicit in the bad comedy as the makers of the film and, coming on the heels of such naked honesty, is a bit jarring. It was a chapter that demanded I read it twice to try and understand what he was saying. It wouldn’t be until a few chapters later, after soaking in a series of hilarious wine descriptions and bullshit greeting cards that the depth to which he was willing to go for the sake of satirizing his target became wholly apparent.
What at first seemed like it would be a breezy afternoon read full of long form recollections would actually prove to be more of a Burroughs-esque series of seemingly erratic pieces skewering ever more random targets, only to swerve effortlessly later on to weave four or five seemingly unrelated chapters together into one seriously heady look into the way Patton Oswalt sees the world. All of his passions seem ripe for the picking as he mocks aspects of his profession, his hobbies and his own status as a minor celebrity – each getting a good walloping at the hands of his brisk, muscular prose.
While his satire is equally biting and irreverent, the times he is being purely honest and straightforward are both funny and occasionally heartbreaking. Oswalt has a way of making the truly pathetic kind of endearing, and while he often uses this to drive home a point, there are a few occasions in which you can only shake your head and sigh at just how truly sad some of what he has to say is. There is one point in the book – when a waitress asks him if he is gay for not hitting on her – that I had to close the book and down a beer, just to soak in the various levels of awfulness present in the whole of the encounter, before picking the book up again and rejoining the story.
By the time you close the cover on ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND, you’ve not only laughed your ass off, but you’ve taken a cerebral and somewhat surreal tour through the thought processes of Patton Oswalt. It is an inspired and unique work, operating well outside the realm of the disposable comedy memoir. It is exactly the type of book I wish I’d had as a teenager – one that doesn’t soak in a rags-to-riches story of success as much as it chronicles how the influences of our youth can forge a world view that turns us into the men and women we become, while simultaneously pulling comedy drive-bys on the things that get under geek skin.
It is a book for the shelf, not the sell back box; more Robert Anton Wilson than it is Paul Reiser. At 196 pages, it’s a mighty quick read. I devoured this in a single sitting and will no doubt read it again. A must read for any Patton Oswalt fan, this comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND is available from Scribner on January 4th, 2011. Find it HERE.
Until next time friends,Massawyrm