Just For Laughs Festival
Patton Oswalt at the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave.
By MICHAEL WALTERS
Comedian Patton Oswalt has risen to the level of a comedy rock star, but he was prepared to take a few chances when he stepped out for his second show during the Just For Laughs festival at Chicago’s Vic Theatre.
He has such a devoted fan base it might have been easy to just coast along with a greatest hits set. But Oswalt didn’t rely on the tried and true for the festival crowd. His 50-plus-minute set was half full of new material he was just trying out for the first time. Sometimes new jokes take a while to find their footing and get the pieces all in the right order, but Oswalt’s seem to spring forth almost fully formed.
Oswalt is a master of pacing and construction. His jokes aren’t so much setups and punchlines as they are slices of life. In Oswalt’s hands a simple story about wandering the grocery store and picking up some lean cuisine becomes a gold mine of high quality punchlines tinged with analysis and acerbic wit. He’s not above making fat jokes at his own expense, but his stories about his weight offer more than just a quick chuckle. They offer a peek into his own comedy psyche.
As young comedians get older sometimes age, family, and children get the better of their comedy instincts. But Oswalt has shown a commitment to keeping his point of view fresh even if he has mellowed a little now that he’s in his 40′s. One of his best jokes is about how he just doesn’t hate bands like Nickelback with the same fervor he did in his 20′s. He’s not a bitter warrior in the battle against crappy corporate rock resigned to defeat, instead age has taught him that in the whole cosmic scheme of things there are worse things than Nickelback.
Every comedian spends a little time working the crowd, but I was amazed how engaging Oswalt was with the audience. He spent a good 10 minutes talking to and riffing on a professional Backgammon player in the crowd, and seemed genuinely fascinated. At this point in his career with his reputation well established, Oswalt doesn’t have something to prove, but it’s great to see a comedian of his stature still acting like he does.