Patton Oswalt at 2012 Just for Laughs | Comedy review

Photograph: Ryan Russell

Near the end of his first hour-long set last night at the Vic as part of TBS Just for Laughs, headliner Patton Oswalt conceded that half the evening’s material was new; canvassing my notes afterward became a game of determining which parts. His crowd-pleasing KFC invectives were on his 2007 album Werewolves and Lollipops. The anecdote about running into New York crackheads with his French bulldog is at least two years old. Recounts of an afternoon spent with a prostitute first surfaced online in January. And he repeated verbatim two bits from his April Conan appearance (contemplating suicide while shopping for Lean Cuisine, and an older one razzing Nickleback by mimicking singer Chad Kroeger’s ragged range). This is the same person who, at the Comedy Central Roast of Flavor Flav, greeted the cartoonish hype man thusly: “You had your own show, The Flavor of Love. I didn’t know syphilis had a flavor.” Seeing him live, I expected more eviscerating.

Oswalt’s fervent fans gave him a deafening reception following Kyle Kinane, who apparently recycled much of his own material from his double-bill with Janeane Garofalo at UP the night before. Kinane, a frequent opener for Oswalt, ended on a very high note: “Your gravestone doesn’t have to be factual, you know that right? Mine’s going to say Kyle Christian Kinane, Born December 23, 1976 – Died in your arms tonight,” causing Oswalt to gripe that he needs a shittier opening act.

In their defense, writing new material is arduous, especially in the viral-video age. Yesterday evening’s TBS Just For Laughs performers had a particularly strong showing at the smaller venues: Brian Babylon did a very good set at The Playground, and Messing with a Friend guest Greg Hess absolutely outdid Susan Messing at The Annoyance. It didn’t help that I arrived home later to find the virtuosic 2008 cable special Louis C.K.: Chewed Up on TV.

Oswalt, 43, also had a packed calendar in 2011: releasing a comedy album (Finest Hour), publishing a best-seller (Zombie Spaceship Wasteland), and bedding Charlize Theron on film (Young Adult). At the Vic, he sidestepped current events, a likely result of recording albums for posterity. From my summation, the new jokes focused mostly on his weight, a frequent Oswalt trope. He hired a trainer a week ago, and referenced his “fatty camouflage”—jeans, black untucked t-shirt and black unbuttoned checkered shirt. “I have a 30-inch inseam and a 36-inch waist,” he said. “Me and the singer from Smash Mouth need to start a clothing line” (here the multitude of sponsored-by-M&M’s signage seemed ungodly cruel). Oswalt discussed his 3-year-old daughter’s short attention span and accidental racist outburst at a Starbucks. Midway through, he engaged with audience members in the front row. One young woman sheepishly copped to graduating from college four years ago. “What did you study?” Oswalt asked. “Film.” “Where do you want to do film stuff?” “Pixar,” she said, citing the studio that made Oswalt’s Ratatouille. He deadpanned, “Those guys are the worst.”

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)