Not to harp on the same point once again, but it's difficult to avoid mentioning in the process of reviewing stand-up comedy that the whole endeavor it totally subjective. What one finds funny from person to person varies about as much as anything can. Sure, there are comics that should be considered objectively funny, but the degree to which we embrace the comedy we love depends on whether or not a particular comic speaks to our sensibilities. My friend Kelly's favorite comedian is Jon Reep, because she says she relates to a lot of the things he jokes about. He pretty much leaves me cold for just the opposite reason. It's all a matter of taste.
The reasons Patton Oswalt is my favorite comedian are evident all over his fourth album, the newly-released Finest Hour. Not only is he brilliantly funny and a terrific writer, but the way that he reinterprets the world and turns particular phrases are so literary and geeky that I feel sometimes like he's doing comedy just for me. That's obviously not the case -- I haven't gone full John Hinckley yet -- but it's his very specific worldview that I relate to and that makes him stand out above every other stand-up comic as far as I'm concerned. These very same elements of his act would put another person off. I know that. The world is a rainbow and all of that.
Some may complain that Finest Hour finds Oswalt having mellowed too much. After all, a good deal of the material on the album focuses on the recent changes in his life -- most notably, becoming a father. With that comes other changes -- lack of sleep and the adoption of sweat pants as a kind of uniform among them. That's not Oswalt mellowing so much as maturing; he hasn't "gone soft," but rather continues to be honest about where his life is at with each successive album. The Patton Oswalt who riffed on pop culture and raged about the government on his first album, Feelin' Kinda Patton, isn't really anywhere to be found on Finest Hour. His attitudes and priorities have shifted. Luckily, that doesn't make him any less funny, and his routines on the circus, air travel and parenting are as strong as anything he's done in the past.
What I love about Oswalt's comedy is that it's never predictable. Whereas most comedians derive material by applying logic to those situations where it does not apply, Oswalt goes the exact opposite route -- he begins with everyday, mundane situations like a trip to the grocery store and then piles on the absurdist imagery and fantasy until he's eventually talking about time paradoxes and the apocalypse. It may seem like a stretch coming from a story about buying some ham, but Oswalt is able to carry the audience along with him to this breaking point in a way that feels organic and almost makes sense. Almost.
Of course, calling the album Finest Hour might give some fans unnatural expectations, and critics will likely be excited to turn the title against Oswalt. The title is an ironic one, though; it's not Oswalt saying he's the best he's ever been in his career, but instead admitting that he's no longer the angry, hip young comic. He's traded in Burroughs for babies and all-night drinking binges for sweatpants and Cheetos. That is his finest hour.
He may be more mellow, but after four albums, Patton Oswalt shows no signs of slowing down. I like that Finest Hour feels different from his other records, while at the same time feeling very much like a Patton Oswalt record. Each of his albums has its own unique vibe, and I like that I can choose which one I want to hear based on what mood I'm in. It gives his work repeat value, and that's a hard thing for a comic to achieve. Obviously, my affection for Oswalt has a comic has me somewhat biased, but Finest Hour is one of my favorite comedy albums of 2011.
- Album Release Date: 9/20/11
- Label: Comedy Central Records