PATTON OSWALT is a standup comedian, actor, voice artist, and writer. For at least two years, I listened to his third comedy special, My Weakness Is Strong, on repeat in my car. I highly suggest tracks 8 and 9, “Rats” and “Orgy,” respectively. He is also known for roles including Spence Olchin in the sitcom The King of Queens; Remy (voice) in the film Ratatouille; and playing multiple identical brothers, the Koenigs, on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Patton has won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special and a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for his Netflix standup special Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping. Patton is the author of the New York Times bestseller Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film and Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why?
The book I think I’ve given the most as a gift is Garret Keizer’s The Enigma of Anger. It’s an amazing meditation—but then again, so is everything Garret writes—on the dangers and benefits of blowing your stack. It’s gotten me through some moments when I could have easily eaten myself alive with rage. And, I suspect, it was a safety net for some of my more, ahem, passionate friends.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
ChicoBags, these reusable shopping bags for groceries. You throw a bunch in the back of your car. They’re super-sturdy, they’re cheap, and they’re great for carrying everything. Nice heft and balance, too. If you fill one with cans of chili you have a nice, medieval-style mace.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
My favorite failure is every time I ever ate it onstage as a comedian. Because I woke up the next day and the world hadn’t ended. I was free to keep fucking up and getting better. I wish at least one catastrophic failure on everyone pursing the arts. It’s where you’ll get your superpowers from.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?
“There is no Them.”
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
The year of poverty-level living I did, burning off three years of savings (which wasn’t much to begin with), from the summer of ’92 to the summer of ’93 in San Francisco. I got onstage at least once a night and grew ten years as a comedian in a year. I burned off any safety net I had becoming proficient. If you can swing it —and I know a lot of people can’t—and you can scam a way to live off of nothing, it almost always pays off.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Meditative dishwasher loading. I love loading a dishwasher while I think through a problem. It’s Tetris with dishes and silverware.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Daily meditation, twice a day. Just giving my brain a chance to power the fuck down and refresh. Makes all the difference.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore? Embrace the suck for a while. Chances are your first job is going to stink and your living conditions won’t be much better. Enjoy the scrappy years, ’cuz they’ll make you self-sufficient way faster. Ignore anyone who tells you to go for security over experience.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
As far as comedians go, I see a lot of people telling comedians to try to have more of a social antenna rather than a moral or creative compass. Trying to second-guess what the masses will accept or reject always leads to stagnation.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?
I’ve definitely become better at saying no as a snap decision, rather than something I need to go think on and brood about. If something doesn’t grab me, chances are it isn’t worth pursuing. That certainly wasn’t true in my younger years, but as I get older I know what’s right for me and what I can’t bring anything to. It doesn’t even mean that something I say no to is necessarily not worth pursuing. It just means it isn’t worth me pursuing it. There’s a difference.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
I meditate. I sit for 20 minutes and meditate. Best thing I ever learned how to do.