Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt knows how to find humor in the darkest places. Recently returned to the stage, Oswalt took a break from comedy after the death of his wife, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara, left him overseeing the completion of her final book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. We caught up with the comedian before his performance at the Chevalier Theatre on Nov. 17 to discuss dream roles, coming back to comedy and life after loss.
What is your favorite thing about performing in front of a live audience? Probably the spontaneity of it. Stand-up comedy is an arena where I’m kind of in control, but doing it live still brings the vestige of, “Oh, maybe something will happen. Something will go off track and have to be fixed.” And trying to fix it will be part of the fun.
If you could play any character, who would it be? Probably the role of Arturo in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, which is this unfilmable novel. But if I could ever have a chance to try to pull off the role of this cult leader/circus freak—he’s an evil and kind of tormented character—I think it would be amazing to get to play.
You’ve dealt very publicly with loss these past couple of years. Was there ever a point you thought you might not return to comedy? Oh, there was a long time I thought I’d never return to comedy. God, even when I started to do it again, I was on stage nights, thinking, “Boy, I can’t do this.” I was so wrung out after shows, you know, I was like, “I don’t think this is healthy for me to continue to do this.” But I just didn’t know what else to do. This is what I do in life, and I also have to keep myself sane, so I just sort of pressed on.
What was the process of helping finish your late wife’s book like? The process of me finishing her book was going up to other people and begging them to help me. So I had people like her editor and her collaborators and her research assistant and this other journalist she knew really step the hell up and help to get that book finished, and it really, really meant a lot that they would ’cause I was in no state. I couldn’t match her level of writing and her style and I couldn’t imagine how I would do that anyway. So luckily these people were able to really mash it together and make it a cohesive narrative.
How did the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo [the alleged Golden State Killer] affect you? I mean, it was bittersweet, you know? It was exhilarating. I was glad because I was familiar with what a lot of the victims had gone through reading Michelle’s work. But it was also frustrating because she should have been there to see it happen. She should have been there to see that satisfaction.
You’ve spoken publicly about wanting to speak to DeAngelo to get answers to Michelle’s questions. Is that something you still hope to do? I would totally do it, but it’s nothing I’m ever going to feel explicative to press for. If the offer is out there—I’m sure they’re not going to do it for the next few years because of this trial happening—but once he’s in jail, if he’s up to it, I would very much want to be like, “Could you just answer these questions?”
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