For those of you unfamiliar with Patton Oswalt’s comedy: You’re wrong. The erstwhile funnyman has been the subject of several documentaries, including the excellent “The Comedians of Comedy,” named for the stand-up tour that Oswalt headlined along with Zach Galifianakis, Maria Bamford and Brian Posehn. Also the star of several movies (“Big Fan,” “Ratatouille”), Oswalt branches out into the literary world with Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.
Checking in at a svelte (an adjective that you will die before you hear applied to Oswalt the man) 191 pages, the book covers Oswalt’s childhood in Sterling, Virginia, some of his comedy roots and includes some chapters that are pure humor.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland takes its title from Oswalt’s categorization of his creative, nerdy friends. I won’t bore you with the exact details of the various groups, but I will say that there seems to be an awful lot of overlap. Darth Vader, for example, is a zombie from a wasteland, travelling around on a spaceship. They all have nominally different traits, but people are always evolving from one into another.
That being said, the other parts of the book are genuinely entertaining. His account of working in a movie theatre in his home town is particularly rife with humor. Everyone can relate to his story: shitty teenage job taken so your parents will get off your back and you can have some spending money free of the guilt and responsibility that an allowance entails. The improbably older and completely insane Ronnie, also a staple of those teenage jobs, provides a good template upon which the young Oswalt can map his personal growth. Although he initially, along with his delinquent co-workers, steals Ronnie’s throwing stars, nunchucks, air guns and other martial arts goodies, he comes to realize that stealing from the dude that has to bum cigarettes from 14-year-olds is several steps below sad.
That seems like an important life realization — roughly on the same plane as realizing that homeless people do not have “life wisdom” worth listening to — and Oswalt handles it with skill and self-deprecating wit. When Ronnie finds out that Oswalt stole from him but put the stuff back, he calls him a pussy.
Although a book filled with these types of revelations could easily veer into the maudlin, Oswalt intersperses the more serious chapters with bursts of humor. His chapter of fake script notes made me laugh out loud at several points, including his musings that the writer’s father may have masturbated outside of a crowded discotheque after setting it on fire.
My one major complaint about this book is that it is far too short. I understand the urge to take snapshots of his life as an up-and-coming comedian rather than narrating his entire rise to fame, but we don’t ever really get a sense of the grinding sameness of his life on the road. He references this in his stand-up and interviews, but it would have been nice to get a more literary description of how, for example, he came to be in the situation that his author picture comes from. By the way, one of the best author pictures of all time. Open the back cover and see for yourself.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is an easy recommendation for humans and other animals equipped with a sense of humor.