Patton Oswalt talks I Love My Dad, Cringe Comedy and Cancel Culture

Patton Oswalt agrees that you squirm. After all, the actor and comedian once performed a number called “The Cringe” on an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a title that could describe his approach to making people laugh.

“Real comedy comes from those moments,” says Oswalt. “I wholeheartedly subscribe to Tracy Morgan’s ‘cool is the enemy of the funny’ maxim. Creeping and awkwardness is real humanity, and that’s where the really funny stuff comes from.”

He is a comic book comic revered by peers and viewers for his wry, observational humor, which often gets his share. He has also proven himself to be a skilled dramatic actor, most recently playing Nixon’s hatchet, Charles Colson, in the limited series Gaslit.

But his new film, I Love My Dad, heightens the unease, offering Oswalt a starring role that’s alternately hilarious and tragic. Written and directed by James Morosini, the film is loosely based on his own true story. Morosini also plays Franklin, a young man who cuts his father Chuck (Oswalt) out of his life. Desperate to reconnect, Chuck creates a fake Facebook profile based on a young woman he knows – and eventually fishes his son.

The film, which won the audience award and grand jury at this year’s SXSW film festival, defies easy explanation, which was positive in Oswalt’s book. “It’s a really rich, complicated story,” he says. “And any film that defies easy categorization is my passion.”

Morosini has nothing but praise for his leading actor. “He has a natural ability to balance light and dark,” says the filmmaker. “He can bring incredible lightness to dark subjects. He’s also just such a lovely and personable presence, and I knew I was going to need some help getting the audience interested in Chuck.”

Although the character is an absentee father who uses deception, Oswalt is sympathetic to Chuck. “He’s that guy – and sometimes it’s my fault – who thinks, ‘But I want to be good. Isn’t that enough?’” says Oswalt. “But you don’t get credit for wanting to do the right thing; you get it for the damn follow-up.” Likeability wasn’t that important to the actor: “I don’t have a problem with difficult or off-putting characters. I just have a problem with badly told stories, and this one wasn’t it.”

While he’s shown his range in darker films like Big Fan and Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, audiences will likely still be amazed by the depth of the actor’s performance in I Love My Dad. It’s even more impressive considering that acting wasn’t part of his plan. When Oswalt did stand-up, people asked him to come to auditions. But he was a natural. He had an early role as a video store clerk on “Seinfeld” dealing with George, and was later informed by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld that they were casting him because he had unknowingly been looking for another employee to fill the gap redirect customers to. “I didn’t even know I did it, but it came from my retail days,” says Oswalt.

His first HBO special led to him being cast on King of Queens when he realized he needed to take things more seriously. “When you’re with really brilliant actors like Kevin James, Leah Remini and Jerry Stiller, you see what makes them geniuses,” he says. “And you can see them getting to work. They spent so much time working on those scenes, and I realized I had to start doing that.” Oswalt began working on Young Adult with acting coach Nancy Banks, whom he still sees on certain projects.

Alongside I Love My Dad, which hits theaters August 5 and VOD August 12, Oswalt has a busy year ahead of him. He will lend his signature voice to Matthew the Raven in the upcoming Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and is collaborating with MODOK co-creator Jordan Blum on Minor Threats, a dark horse comic about minor supervillains. The first issue will appear on August 24th.

Oswalt’s latest special, which he also directed, We All Scream arrives on Netflix September 20. I’m defiantly silly and goofy.”

Oswalt has apologized for remarks he’s made in the past and publicly reverted to his earlier defense of comedians making rape jokes. “I have the wrong alpha male view of ‘Men never apologize!’ never understood,” he says. “Yes, damn it. Because everyone shits. I’ve made jokes using the R word. Or I used the N-word ironically to make fun of racism. But I didn’t realize that I was laying out a blueprint for a lot of real fucking racists, so it’s okay to go: I screwed that up. I didn’t know what I was doing. Or I didn’t know any better. And now I know.”

He adds that some people use the term “cancelled” to “make themselves seem more dangerous than they are.” He adds, “It’s like people used to say, ‘Buckle up guys, it’s getting dark.’ no If you have to tell people you’re nervous and dangerous, you’re not. You should just go up there and make damn jokes.” Patton Oswalt talks I Love My Dad, Cringe Comedy and Cancel Culture

Charles Jones

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