Patton Oswalt talks Trump, British history and the power of enthusiasm
Patton Oswalt is one of the finest stand-ups of his generation. If you haven’t seen his award-winning stand-up specials, you might have seen or heard him on the silver or small screen in Young Adult, Ratatouille and Veep, while he’s also applied his vocal talent to all manner of animated comic-book adaptations. Next up, he’s coming to London on 15 June! BALANCE chatted with a brilliant comic brain and bona fide comedy hero…
What has been your take on Mr Trump’s recent visit to the UK?
Something is pretty curious because when I was over in Europe when [George W] Bush was president, there was this feeling of ‘You stupid Americans.’ And I’d keep going, ‘Hey, I didn’t vote for him!’ But I don’t think anyone is going to see me travelling to Europe to go see culture and think, ‘Trump fan.’ Anyone in Britain or Dublin, Galway, Copenhagen and the other places I’m playing, I assume they’ll look at me and go, ‘Well, if he’s over here, he’s probably not a Trump fan.’
You touch on Bush with your old Dukes Of Hazzard bit; I never thought we’d look at him and by comparison, see him as a rascal or a scamp…
Absolutely! I never thought I’d have a perspective on George Bush… by the way, Bush did evil and horrible things, but in a sense of, ‘I need to keep this thing running if I’m going to take the things I’m going to take.’ Whereas Trump is like a guy who just smashes into a liquor store and it doesn’t matter if he burns it down, as long as he gets the $80 from the till.
Do you think in years to come, schoolchildren in Britain and the US will put their hands up and say, ‘How did this happen?!’
Yeah. Or maybe they won’t. Trump is a horrible president. But we’ve had worse: James Buchanan, Millard Filmore, Andrew Jackson, and there are schoolkids today who don’t remember those disasters (for transparency and to make Patton’s point, BALANCE had to Google ‘Millard Filmore’). I think it’s only the greats who really get remembered. Unless it’s like, you know, Hitler. So it might just be a weird blip in US history. We don’t have the history you guys in the UK have. And you’ve had way more disastrous leaders. And you think Trump’s going to bring about the end of the world… Let me tell you what a bad leader looks like! Let me tell you about the War Of The f*cking Roses! Let me tell you about George III. There are hundreds of years of history and it’s weirdly comforting.
It feels like there can be a double standard from Britain. As you say, with George W Bush it was, ‘Idiot Americans.’ Yet if Helen Mirren is nominated for an Oscar, we all get excited as they’re ‘cracking America’…
And it has always been that way. Outside of LA always there’s a sniffiness towards Hollywood. But if there’s a chance to be in a TV show or movie, and they sh*t their pants. You hate the thing you secretly worry doesn’t love you and that’s how it always goes. It’s a very human thing and it’s beautiful. And one of the greatest exports from Britain is acting. I know that’s an ephemeral thing to say, but if you put a Brit in a movie, holy f*ck, they work circles around everyone. Look at The Crown! It made me love John Lithgow even more. You’re going to do a show about the Queen and the only American (Lithgow) is playing the most iconic Briton in British history (Sir Winston Churchill), and he pulls it off! I couldn’t believe it and it was so inventive.
You’ve done some of the most joyous projects imaginable. Is the secret to do something you love?
The secret is enthusiasm.
You’re happy to show up. Because there’s a lot of people in this business who are in it for the photoshoot or the premiere or the party. Whereas I like making stuff. At a premiere and a red carpet, I will sit down immediately because I want to watch the movie. I love watching and making stuff. That enthusiasm will take you so much further than, ‘I have to claw through everyone in my way’-level ambition. That only lasts so long. If you’re in it for fun and anecdotes you’ll go way further than if you’re in it for glory and ego flush.
Patton Oswalt is playing O2 Forum Kentish Town on 15 June. Buy tickets here.