Patton Oswalt is well-known for his TV and film work—he was a wonderful guest at Ebertfest in 2015 for “Young Adult”—but what impresses me the most about him is his stand-up work. He won an Emmy for 2016’s “Talking for Clapping” and then topped that with 2017’s “Annihilation,” one of the best stand-up specials of the 2010s. In that hour, he spoke openly about losing his wife, Michelle McNamara, but only after bringing you to tears with laughter before doing so again with emotion. He is a masterful writer, someone whose intelligence is apparent in not just the way he constructs his routine as a whole, but even minor beats that are so well-written that they would be stand-out moments in other sets. His latest does nothing to curb his momentum. “I Love Everything,” available today on Netflix, is one of the best stand-up sets you’ll see this year.
Here’s where reviewing stand-up comedy gets a little tricky. Comedy is so hard to dissect. “I Love Everything” made me laugh as hard as any set I’ve seen in a very long time. So now I have to try and express why? Doesn’t breaking down humor kind of diminish some of its power? And isn’t it extremely subjective? The joke about “Kirby” in this set nearly knocked me over, but it may not to you. There’s not much I can do about that.
And yet consensus does form around the best stand-up comedy. Most people love the John Mulaney specials on Netflix for example, and he’s another example of a brilliant talent in terms of construction. That’s really the major fact in these specials—how they’re put together. You can’t just string a series of jokes one after the other and expect it to work. It’s about rhythm and timing, allowing one segment of a full set to segue into the next. And Oswalt is just a master of that. He doesn’t force bad transitions and yet somehow finds a way to talk about dozens of topics. How turning 50 changes your breakfast cereals, construction subcontractors, the general malaise of Denny’s—he flows with such energy and wit that he connects subject matter by virtue of his writing skill. He’s always been a deeply personal stand-up, and it’s his intelligent view of his own world that informs his writing. So stories about hiking, sex in his fifties, his wedding, his house, etc. have observational truth. He’s not trying to tell universal jokes. He’s an old-fashioned storyteller, someone whose humor comes from experience and his view of the world around him.
Admittedly, “I Love Everything” comes from the perspective of someone a lot like me in terms of age and worldview. There’s a relatability that naturally impacts how people respond to comedy embedded in how much I enjoyed it—I too recently bought a house; I too have taken my kids to Denny’s; I too should hike more. But I would hope that Oswalt’s comedy goes beyond those who can most easily identify with its subject matter. There’s just something so easy to like about Oswalt’s ability to tell a story. He recalls an old-fashioned form of stand-up that doesn’t rely on set-up/punchline as much as an era when our smartest people merely pulled the humor out of what they experienced and what they saw other people experience. And we could all use more of that in 2020.
Premieres on Netflix today, 5/19.