The first time I ever heard Patton Oswalt's stand-up comedy was at the 40 Watt, a rock club in Athens where you're more likely to see Of Montreal or Built to Spill than a string of comedians. I
was really there just to see his opener, Zach Galifianakis, but...okay, most of the time when someone says something like "I've never laughed so hard in my entire life", it's bullshit. Or hyperbole, if you want to keep it G-rated. I mean it, though; not only did Patton put on one of the best shows I'd ever seen (music, stand-up, or otherwise), but he did it for two and a half hours straight. Just having the stamina and enough material to pull that off is impressive enough, but it's even more remarkable since everything he said killed.
This is what Patton does. A bunch of comedians get into stand-up comedy so they can get out of stand-up, using it as a stepladder to sitcoms and zany neighbor roles in shitty movies. Patton's one of those comedians who is a comedian, and even though he's a regular on a CBS sitcom and pops up in a half-dozen movie cameos every year, everything he does other than stand-up is a means to that end. The indie rock comparisons don't end with the types of venues Patton likes to play. He doesn't pander to the crowd or dumb down his material -- when he takes a jab at George W. Bush at the start of one on this special, you can tell that he'd really just as soon the audience not immediately roar in response. That's not the joke! The joke's coming. Clap at that.
Patton walks on stage, says what he thinks is funny, and attracts a crowd with that same sort of mindset and sense of humor. When Patton makes a pop culture reference, he doesn't take the lazy route like I Love the '80s or Family Guy and let the reference be the joke. It's pretty unlikely that more than a couple of people in the audience remember William Alexander's deranged, German-accented rants on public television or Stella D'oro TV spots, but the bits he builds around 'em are hysterical even without another point of reference. He doesn't announce how dangerous or edgy his bits are. He doesn't make it a Larry the Cable Guy-style point to remind the audience that what he's said is funny. Patton's material can be smart without being pretentious, and he can shift effortlessly from that to asking the audience, "there have to be gay retarded people, right?" without missing a beat. He also has such a conversational style that I meekly assumed that he was making up a lot of this as he went along, catching me off-guard when I heard him a second time and realized that this is his act.
...and, okay, I haven't actually said anything about this DVD, which is from a Comedy Central special that first aired in December '04. It's easier to talk
about a comedian than it is to just review a show. I mean, what am I going to do other than quote some of the bits, inadvertently make them sound considerably less funny than they really are, and probably turn you away from the thing in the first place? Anyway, most of the material will be familiar to fans who have "222", a two-hour-plus set of Patton's from Athens: deceptively labeled porn e-mails, indisputable facts about midgets, Burbank as the center of boredom-slash-overly gruesome Halloween decorations, Black Angus' angry gauntlet of food, homoerotic '80s metal videos (with a great cut to Scott Ian early on), his wife's obsession with true crime shows, Dr. Pepper's heroin-addled set from an open mic in Toronto, how depressing liquor ads really are, and the likelihood that George Bush will bring about the biblical apocalypse. There's some newer stuff in here too, including a rant about reality shows altering our perception of reality, comparing-'n-contrasting newly sober people to babies, pointing out how out-of-touch AM talk radio bigots play much better music than the faux-hipsters on NPR, and his dream project, a Passion of the Christ-inspired look at a very small part of the life of Einstein. And see? That's why I shouldn't write stand-up reviews. I'm making it sound boring. Just...go to your local independent record store and buy "Feelin' Kinda Patton". Give it a listen, and if you like what you hear, grab this DVD. You'll thank me. Probably.
As you could probably guess from the word "uncensored" scrawled in green on the cover art, all the profanity is unbleeped on this DVD. Annoyingly, all the commercial fades are still in place, and although there are a bunch of deleted scenes, they've been dumped in the extras instead of being cut back into the special. I would've rather had "No Reason to Complain" play straight through without the momentum stumbling over the fades, but...oh well. It's not that big a deal.
Video: A standard issue, full-frame, shot-on-video special. No need for the usual DVD reviewer jargon or even complete sentences.
Audio: No real need for an overly technical review here either. Comedian makes jokes. You can hear him. That's pretty much it. I'm so used to the drunken laughter on Patton's CDs that the harmonized, everyone-laughs-at-everything waves on this DVD kinda threw me off, but a friend of mine had no idea what I was complaining about when I said something to him about it, so...forget I typed all that. The DVD is closed captioned too, by the way.
Supplements: There are seventeen minutes of deleted scenes that probably should've been reinserted back into the special, but at least they wound up somewhere on the DVD. Some of it's stuff that'll be familiar if you already have the complete Patton Oswalt discography (your moment of irony, a decades-old Stella D'oro Breakfast Treats commercial traumatizing Patton into fearing marriage, SUV owners), along with some clowning around on the big 'O' set, a fuck-up in the middle of the NPR-vs.-AM-talk-radio bit, the ridiculousness of the story of Christmas, and a rant about the vague, interchangable titles of romantic comedies.
Okay, apparently "battered, chapped pussy" didn't fly with basic cable standards and practices, but by 'n large, "No Reason to Complain" is pure, unfiltered Patton. His half-hour "Comedy Central Presents" special from 1999, though...? Filtered. Not so pure. It's not Patton at his best -- the opening childhood-imaginary-boundaries bit is really awkwardly delivered, f'r instance, the bumpers kill any momentum, and even though there is some really good material here, the whole thing is kind of underwhelming. (A friend convinced me not to go to the show in Athens where "222"-slash-"Feelin' Kinda Patton" were
being recorded because of this special. Fucker.) The Searchers story Patton doesn't quite get to on his CD is on here, along with the timeless march of the Paas Easter Egg dynasty and a longer version of his trip to Amsterdam, this time veering off into a trip to the Anne Frank house. Great bit about obituary-scribes-as-failed-PR-writers too.
Way back in '94, Patton, Blaine Capatch, and Chris Rush shot a bunch of shorts for Comedy Central's Small Doses about a couple of pseudo-intellectual dimwits working at a grocery store, and five of their "Food for Thought" shorts have been crammed onto this DVD. (Apparently a sixth one was shot but never aired, and it didn't make it on this DVD either. Or maybe it did and another one was left off. Look, there are five.) The quality's kinda fourth-generation-VHS-ish, and...well, a couple of the shorts did really well at the New York Film Festival, and apparently someone, somewhere likes 'em, but I really, really didn't.
There are also four Comedy Central quickies, and one of 'em is a Reno 911! clip with Patton. Boring stuff: keepcase, 4x3 animated menus, a really annoying set of DVD previews you can't menu-skip past, but you can keep whacking the chapter skip button over and over to avoid...and I'm done.
Conclusion: The only really bad thing I can think to say about "No Reason to Complain" is that Patton Oswalt is such a brilliant comedian that a 42 minute special (even with deleted scenes and an earlier feature elsewhere on the DVD) just doesn't seem like enough, especially when I've been spoiled by two-hour-plus sets. If you've never heard Patton Oswalt's stand-up before, I think his CD "Feelin' Kinda Patton" is a stronger introduction. So, CD first. DVD second. Still highly recommended.