You know that guy who walks in on the first day of school every year and makes the whole class smile? The guy who’s friends with the popular, the awkward, the nervous, the sullen, the cast of The Breakfast Club? The guy who should get sent to the principal’s office for being disruptive in class but doesn’t because the teacher is cracking up as hard as the students? You know that guy, right? That guy, what’s his name again? Yeah, the goofy guy with the funny laugh?
That guy is Patton Oswalt, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary and the reopening of their full campus for the performing arts than to have this super spreader of hilarity kick off their comedy season.
Oswalt walked on stage with a crack in his voice and declared that this was his third live show since the pandemic began. He referenced his first two shows as his rehearsals for the Kennedy Center, clearly said to prepare the audience for what he deemed a “rough” set. He then proceeded to slay the audience for over an hour, earning a standing O that shocked no one except him.
The audience crackled with excitement and delight. At one point, Oswalt takes a sip of water and an audience member whooped. He looked up, pointed at them, and said “no.” He riffed with audience members and quickly found himself squatting on stage with his face in his hands, lamenting the fact that “this is going nowhere!” His genuine and authentic frustration with his rusty set is what made it gold. He’s a regular guy who can’t remember how to interact with other people. Just like the rest of us. He normalized our entire pandemic life within the first few minutes of the set and by the end left us feeling validated and hopeful.
Oswalt’s genius is his complete and total relatability. He is no one other than himself, always. Where there is an opportunity to look away or put on a glossy finish, Oswalt does the complete opposite, and we are the lucky recipients. He’s a “pasty white guy” who binge-watched Deadwood and kept Postmates and DoorDash in business. He’s a “Honda Civic running into a semi-truck” who is performing at “40% capacity” while doing crowd work. His credits are massive, and yet he has the humility to refer to his setlist. His true talent and maturity as a performer are on display in how he is able to seamlessly work that into his act, and draw the audience in closer. And like most diverse performers, his career is at its peak, again. His other stand-up shows are reflective of what is happening in his life and in the world, and this show takes it to a whole new level.
The show begins with two opening acts. Orlando Leyba, who has been touring with Oswalt for years, endeared himself to the audience immediately. His pattern of repeating sentences twice was effective in punching his point, and his peace and love attitude mixed with his “I know crazy. I can smell it” bits hit all the right notes. Paris Sashay followed Leyba with a flash of rhinestones and leather. Subtle she is not, thank goodness. Introduced as an “up and coming” talent, Sashay commanded the stage with her bold and unapologetic set. She immediately hits the ground running talking about her experience as a gay woman. She declared that she is “picky about my gay” and has to date a good-looking woman because “I’m not gonna date an ugly girl. I ain’t gonna disappoint my mother twice!” This writer would love to tell you more about her set, but it needs to be experienced live, if you’re 18 or older, and are willing to bust your stitches.
Should you be fortunate enough to see Oswalt perform live, be prepared to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination. He works only with venues that adhere to COVID safety protocols. A must-see performance — so good you’ll forget you’re wearing a mask.
Patton Oswalt Live: Who’s Ready to Laugh? played one night only September 17, 2021, at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For information about his tour dates, visit pattonoswalt.com. For other Kennedy Center performances visit kennedy-center.org.