started comedy when the boom was ending, in í88; I
started writing books when print began to die,"
says actor, comedian and author Patton Oswalt. "Iím
drawn to dying realms, man."
is sitting in a Mid-City restaurant talking about why heís
written a second book, "Silver Screen Fiend:
Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film"
(Scribner, 240 pp., $25), when heís got so much else
on his plate.
about to take off on a nationwide stand-up tour,
featuring his first date at Carnegie Hall. Heís so
busy acting ó recent credits include
"Justified," Adult Swimís "The Heart,
She Holler" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
ó that his press agent canít keep up with whatís
fans of nerd culture, Oswalt is a fixture from his
alt-comedy days. But rather than stay in geeky roles
like the costumed Dungeonmaster in "Reno
911!," Oswalt played a regular guy on "King of
Queens," doctored scripts for the Farrelly
brothers, played dark leads in "Big Fan" and
"Young Adult," voiced "Ratatouille"
and wrote the bestselling 2011 memoir "Zombie
voraciously growing up is what led me into the world of
film and comedy," says Oswalt. "That was my
gateway, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. Itís something
that I donít want to go away."
45, looks positively professorial in a plaid jacket on
an L.A. winter day. As he digs into a salad, he
unleashes a swift critique of our current modes of
is based on who has the best equipment: Do you have the
best home theater, the best video game console?,"
he says. Whereas "a book is a book is a book,"
he continues. "You can get one for free in the
library. Itís the last totally democratic, egalitarian
gateway to culture and the arts left."
things get too serious he adds, "Thereís no one
going [using his best advertising voice], ĎIf you read
ĎMoby-Dickí you gotta read it in 14-point Helvetica,
you canít just read 12-point Courier.í"
Screen Fiend" (multiple fonts and sizes, including
footnotes) is a trip through Oswaltís past and his
love of film, a twofold chronicle of underground comedy
and gluttonous cinematic consumption. In the 1990s,
Oswalt obsessively attended L.A.ís New Beverly Cinema
and other art-house theaters, watching hundreds of
films. It was a self-prescribed education.
I was thinking of becoming a comedian I just was
devouring comedy, going out to see it and doing
it," he says. "In my mind, Iím going to
become a director and a screenwriter, Iím going to see
every movie ever made. It really appealed to the whole
OCD, completist aspect to my personality."
had recently moved to Los Angeles and was writing,
halfheartedly, for "Mad TV." At night heíd
see movies, then perform and watch other comedians at
Cafe Largo, which had suddenly emerged as the white-hot
center of alt comedy.
Largo, he writes, "art and commerce, risk and
opportunity ó fused and created a nameless new drug.
It hung in the air, a narcotic vapor, and we all
breathed it. It made all of us ambitious, competitive,
resentful, jealous and, ultimately, more creative than
weíd ever been before or since. At least, thatís how
it affected me."
insightful as he is about those days a decade ago with
Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Louis CK, Paul F.
Tompkins, Janeane Garofalo, Zach Galifianakis and more,
he thinks someone else should write a book about Largo
then. "It canít be me," he insists,
"because even if I tried to be as objective as I
possibly could, there would be still things I would
tweak through my own memory and my own ego. It would not
be a good account."
memory seems impeccable ó in our conversation, he
pulled in perfect movie quotes and sang a snippet of a
Butthole Surfers song ó but he believes itís
are moments in my past where I can absolutely remember
the smell, the quality of the light, who was saying
what," he says ó thatís the stuff that gives
his memoir texture and weight. "And thereís other
things that I cannot remember at all. Ö You know, my
memory is like a scalpel being waved around by a blind
dude. Sometimes it absolutely hits home and other times
itís swishing at air."
one standout chapter, Oswalt returns to his childhood
home in Virginia and goes to see a film with an old
friend. "I had a very specific idea how I was going
to come off," he says; a safe guess would be that
he would be the sophisticate returning to the small
town. But through the writing process, Oswalt realized
something: "Iím not the hero of this chapter, Iím
the bad guy. Heís actually living life and embracing
it, and Iím this [movie] snob."
were a lot of moments like that," he says, having
realized, "this isnít a chapter about me having
the smart thing to say, this is about me lacking in some
a married man with a daughter, has publicly tried to
find the balance between public and private life. Last
summer, despite having nearly 2 million followers on
Twitter, he took a break from the social network. Being
away from it, he says, "refilled my tank."
Twitter was too easy: "I wasnít sitting and
brooding, which is where my better stuff would come
plans to repeat the exercise. "Every year, June
first to Labor Day, Iím off Twitter. Iím just going
to go live my life. Then Iím going to come back and it
makes it all better. Just like movies: It should enhance
my life, not be my life."