Patton Oswalt is known for his work on "King of Queens," "Justified" and most recently "Parks & Recreation." But his recent Q&A session at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo covered a much broader array of subjects, from breaking in to his early stand-up routines. Laughter was constant; the audience was thrilled. The mood was relaxed and casual. He was immensely approachable without an ounce of pretension.
The first fan asked if Oswalt was planning on leaving stand-up. "My daughter is four, so while she’s young and still likes me I won’t be doing any tours," Oswalt answered, to the crowd’s laughter, and then went on to explain that he prefers doing shows in cities where he has family, like Chicago and Portland. He also spoke glowingly of the two cities’ amateur comedy scene, saying that working with up-and-comers is more inspiring to him. He never wants to be the funniest man in the room.
Next up was a frustrated amateur comic asking how long it took to get paid in the stand-up business. "I’m going to give you the best advice you’ll ever get. Anyone giving you more advise is trying to take your money. Just keep going on stage and everything else will become clear and follow. How long have you been doing stand-up?" Oswalt asked.
"A month and a half," answered the fan, to Oswalt’s delight.
"Being a comedian is the easiest thing on the planet -- but staying a comedian is almost impossible," Oswalt said. "It’s the people who go on over and over. Everything else -- money, fame, TV -- that will follow if you focus on being a great comedian. How old are you?"
"You have literally nothing else going on in your life. Just get on stage. DVR 'Hannibal,' you can watch it later. Just go on stage constantly. Nothing you do now will help or hurt your career. Get it out of your system."
Next up was a fan wondering Oswalt’s ideal "Avengers" roster, including characters from other comic companies. "What, is this a sequel to ‘The Box?!,’" Patton replied. "A team, from any world…all right, hang on…" a fan in the crowd screamed "Manimal," to which Patton replied with mock snark, "That’s not in print!"
After a bit of rumination, Oswalt named his team: the Golden Age Sandman, John Garret from "Elektra: Assassin," "Alias"-era Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Nico Minoru from Runaways. "That’s just off the top of my head from the fabulous knowledge I have!"
One fan pointed out that "Elektra: Assassin" artist Bill Sienkiewicz would draw Oswalt a sketch for $120. As it happens, Sienkiewicz drew Oswalt’s convention posters for San Diego Comic Con in 2012. He says it will be available on his site’s poster gallery when he updates it in the next few months. Ms. Monster Mel, a young up-and-comer, drafted his C2E2 poster. "I love working with young artists. My view of them is this: I either pay them a small fee up front or they can sell the poster anywhere and for whatever they want, and it all goes to them. Contact them and ask for a print; they’ll totally do it," said Oswalt.
The next fan asked about the lack of nerd references in Oswalt’s debut album, "Feeling Kind of Patton." Was it studio interference? "That was a very ‘kill your darlings’ situation," answered Oswalt, "I didn’t want my debut to be an intimidating record. We kept cutting, and it was painful. That’s why I put it on (a later album) '222.' People wanted the whole recording, and we sold all 500 copies of '222.' It had nothing to do with the record companies."
Another fan asked if it was liberating to go nuts with geek references while doing stand up comedy. "It’s very liberating to empty the brain chambers, but what if I open one that is empty, and I freeze? There’s nothing more terrifying for a nerd than to have your obscure reference gun jam on you. But that’s what makes it fun!" Oswalt then added, "If I can help spread the gospel, that’s why I’m here. I’m just an instrument, man, just an instrument."
The next fan asked about Patton’s Chicago restaurant recommendations. Three years ago he recommended Schwa, an upscale avant-garde restaurant, and the fan wanted to hear some of his other tastes. "For the high-scale, try Mo-To. It’s like if Willy Wonka was running a meth lab. For the low, the ribs at Skrinechops… they’re so good, and so cheap. I’ve had rib snobs of mine come there and they loved it."
He added, "But if you can go to Schwa before you die…wow, incredible."
Next up was a question about Marvel: Phase Two. "If you were asked to be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Two …" the fan began, before Oswalt interrupted him with "Scarlet Witch!" After the audience died down, the fan continued his question. "Would you write, act or direct?"
"That’s a good question, buddy. I’d love the chance, I’d want to collaborate on turning 'Runaways' into a TV series on HBO or Showtime. 'Game of Thrones' is great, and 'Arrow' is really good, but somebody needs to step up and do a Marvel Max type weekly series."
FX’s "Justified," in which Oswalt appeared during the fourth season, became the next topic of conversation. When asked if he’s going to appear in season five, Oswalt said that showrunner Graham Yost has privately confirmed it to him. Beyond that, he’s completely in the dark. Another fan asked about a scene where he was brutally beaten up. Oswalt said it was a brutal 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. shoot, and that many of the pained reactions were real.
"The director did a lot of the acting for me by having him beat the crap out of me," Oswalt said, "the fake blood is just corn syrup, and I probably swallowed eight cokes worth of sugar filming that scene. In the end I was both wired and exhausted, but the scene looks so good. That’s what pushes you through how awful the shoot is."
The next fan asked Patton about his recent appearance as the Penguin on CollegeHumor.
"The director is Oren Brimer, and that kid is such a young gunslinger. I had a tiny window of time, and he makes it look so amazing. That’s another example of all these people ... if you wanted to look at the new directors of the 70’s you’d see Spielberg and Lucas. This generation is fighting to build their own YouTube channels. Did you see last week on Cracked.com, "Find mindblowing sci fi films you can watch on your lunchbreak?" And you’re like, ‘These guys are going to be doing the big blockbusters!’ Working with them is an amazing experience."
"Hi Patton," started the next fan, "Die hard fan-" Patton interrupted him, "Me too, but why in-?" The fan continued to ask about advice for breaking into the industry. Oswalt told him to simply start. Start directing, start writing. There’s no ‘breaking in,’ there’s just putting it online and finding an audience.
Before the next fan could ask a question, Oswalt received a tweet from fellow comedian Brian Posehn, "Oh, f*** you…" he muttered, "Where are you? How hard is it to spot the Ent with a coffee in his hand?" He then read the text to the audience: "You sure talk a lot, Jesus take a breath, why do these people like you?" The crowd laughed, and Oswalt made Posehn stand up and greet the crowd.
A fan asked how Oswalt got his Doctor Octopus costume. Oswalt explained that his four-year old daughter wanted to be Spider-Man, and ordered him to be Doctor Octopus. One of the Mythbusters guys offered to craft him one, but by the time it was ready his daughter had already moved on to something new. So now the costume can be seen at the House of Secrets comic store in Los Angeles. "When you visit sunny Burbank," Oswalt added, "Make sure you see Patton’s costume!"
When asked about integrating geek references into his writing, Oswalt noted that if people aren’t understanding references, then the writer or comic isn’t employing them in the right context. "They will get it as long as it’s in the right context," Oswalt said. "They won’t know what it is by itself, but they will get what it means." He cited a scene in "Parks & Recreation" where the character Adam Scott talked about binge watching the first season of "Fringe," and that even without watching the show, a casual viewer would identify that as a nerdy activity given the character.
Posehn interrupted the panel with another tweet. "I hear you’re going to grow up a foot and play Puck from 'Alpha Flight!'"
"Shut up, Fatty," Oswalt replied.
Patton allowed a young woman cosplaying as Daenerys Targaryen from "Game of Thrones" to skip to the front of the line and ask the next question. She wanted to know his thoughts on introducing his daughter to role-playing games, and what he thinks of getting more girls into role-playing in general.
"I want my daughter to be interested in what she’s interested in. I got into this with no urging from parents. If she falls into it, that’s fine, but I don’t want to push her on the path. It’s not important for girls to get into comics or role-playing…it’s important for people to do what they want to do regardless of their sex," he said, before telling her to take care of her dragons.
Another fan asked about his work on "JLA: Welcome to the Working Week." Patton said the inspiration for his arc came from the idea that in a world of super beings, there would be a devoted fanbase who spent their lives following them. "There would be people who moved to Metropolis just to spot Superman," Oswalt said, arguing that if people in our world centered their lives around fictional heroes, there’s no way it wouldn’t happen if the heroes were real.
Poshen tweeted, "The Kenny Baker panel sucks."
The next question had to do with choosing "The Phantom Menace" or "Spider-Man 3." "Herpes or Ghonnorea? I don’t know what you want me to say!" Oswalt said. He argued that "Spider-Man 3" was largely a case of studio interference, but declined to choose one or the other, describing it as a Sophie’s Choice.
Oswalt’s recent epic eight-minute long scene in "Parks & Recreation" was the next topic, and a fan asked about how it was made. "They brought me on to talk for one minute, and they didn’t say cut. So I kept talking, terrified I was going to be fired."
Another fan asked how Oswalt felt about J.J. Abram’s upcoming "Star Wars: Episode VII." Oswalt answered that he recently ran into Abrams, and gave him a version of Leslie Neilen’s famous line from "Airplane!" "Good luck, we’re all counting on you."
The most awkward moment of the panel came when a fan stood up and asked how Oswalt felt about the fate of a character after the most recent book of "Game of Thrones." He said the character’s current status without any warning, potentially spoiling the panel. "Aww man. I don’t read the books!" said Oswalt, being a good sport about it. The crowd was less than thrilled.
The last fan asked which comics Patton would recommend to a new reader. "Go to a comic shop and walk the floor there," he answered, "You know, right now -- anything Jonathan Hickman writes, buy it, read it, it rules. Ed Brubaker, read it. Warren Ellis, read it. Those will all lead you down really good paths."
One last tweet from Poehn: "Go back to Dagobah."
And with that, the Q&A wrapped.