Patton Oswalt on pointing fingers and building tension

Long Patton Oswalt interview at the AV Club:

It’s one thing to be angry at something, like, “Oh, this is stupid,” and point it out. But then I think it’s important that I go, “Why would I, particularly, think this thing is stupid and get wound up about it?” and turn it back on me, which, to me, is just as fascinating. “Oh, this actually comes from this embarrassing thing, and that’s why I don’t like that.” Like the romantic-comedy [bit]. As disparaging as I’m being about romantic comedies, and how I know all of their beats, and especially how all the gay characters talk in these movies, all that comes from the fact that I still am a sucker and go see all these goddamn movies. I can bitch about it all I want, but I’ve given them my money. That’s why I’m so well-versed in this stuff. [Laughs.] I also bitch about all these stupid action movies, and I go to see every fucking one!


Advice I read somewhere recently that stuck with me: Start with the word "I." Begin a joke or premise with "I" and you're talking about you, how you feel, or something that happened to you. Immediately guides you toward the personal and self-examination as opposed to just pointing fingers at the rest of the world.

And here's Patton on building tension:

You want laughs! Silence, if you’re doing a comedy, or no reaction when you’re doing some other kind of movie, is really scary. And you want those. Sometimes you get fuckin’ greedy as a comedian. I know from the times when you just don’t know when to let go and you want to jump in over other people. It’s just fear. Fear and greed...

The show "Louie" is a master class of how to be a confident comedian. That’s really what it is. It’s a master class in, “We can go for a little while and then let this thing go ‘boom.’ We can string people along.” Because it’s never uninteresting. You know what I mean? People mistake no laughs for, “Oh, it’s boring!” No, no. People aren’t laughing because they’re listening. Seeing where this is gonna go. So let this fucking happen!


One thing We're All Friends Here has taught me is the value of tension and engagement. Yes, laughs is the goal. But if people are on the edge of their seats, no one's complaining. If people are engaged and can't wait to hear what happens next, you're still winning.

And then, if you can pierce that tension with something funny, you can get a truly deep, cathartic laugh out of 'em. You've taken them on a roller coaster ride instead of over a speed bump.

Caveat though: Those kind of laughs are addictive. After you get that deeper sort of response, it's tough to go back to, say, clever little misdirections. Once you've gone deep, those sorts of jokes feel like you're returning to the kiddie table.

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