Patton Oswalt’s return to stand-up

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It’s chaos. Be kind.” Those were the words of Patton Oswalt’s late wife, Michelle McNamara, and the phrase became a repeated mantra in Oswalt’s newest stand-up special, Annihilation. Oswalt surprised the comedy world when Netflix announced that he would release a new stand-up feature on Oct. 17 of this year.

Just a few weeks before Mother’s Day in 2016, Oswalt woke up to find that McNamara had passed away in her sleep from a rare and undiagnosed heart condition that became exasperated by prescription medications she was taking.

Since losing his wife, Oswalt appeared to be laying low, not taking on any new projects or performing for most of 2016 as he and his seven-year-old daughter, Alice, worked through their grief in private. However, Oswalt demonstrates a relatable quality: his ability to cope with despair using comedy. In his newest special, Patton Oswalt takes the stage and reveals that even after becoming a widower, Oswalt has still kept in touch with his silly, dorky side.

As Oswalt walked onto the stage of Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre, the audience cheered so enthusiastically that it took Oswalt a full minute to calm them down enough to speak. Without any mention of the obvious elephant in the room, Oswalt began his set with digs aimed at President Donald Trump and Twitter.

He even went so far as to say that Trump’s inauguration was the reason why he gave up on his New Year’s resolution of getting fit. After a few minutes of cracking jokes about Trump, Oswalt transitioned into his next segment by stating that he wouldn’t focus his entire set on the president, since “there’s just too much material, too much stuff to make fun of,” Oswalt said. “Donald Trump is sour cream in a sauna,” Oswalt said as he pivoted into his next set of jokes.

Oswalt started engaging with the audience, as many stand-up comedians tend to do at some point in their sets, by talking to three different audience members and asking them various questions. After interacting with all three, Oswalt admitted he was just killing time because the next section of his stand-up is difficult for him to get into.

The atmosphere in the theater immediately shifted to a stiffened, serious silence. For several minutes completely uninterrupted by jokes or laughter from the audience, Oswalt described the agony and sheer pain of losing McNamara. This break from the usual format of stand-up to address a heavy topic is rare in the comedy world, yet almost always necessary. Oswalt, a lovable and talented comedian, has a supportive fan base and a special spot in the heart of the comic scene itself. Many fans truly care about his wellbeing and the space Oswalt took to share his and his daughter’s grief was profound and healing.

Oswalt finally punctured the heavy emotions that laid thick over the audience with a morbid and timely joke that cracked up the audience and relieved the tension. For the rest of the set, Oswalt cherished the memory of his late wife by sharing her favorite jokes of his and telling the audience about her life and work. McNamara was a true-crime writer, working with some of the darkest and most twisted stories that eventually shaped her outlook of the world. Oswalt ended the set by circling back to Trump and the state of America today, making the point that we currently live in a time where people will go out of their way to cause pain to others. With a homage to his late wife, he parted from the crowd with the words, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

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