Patton Oswalt might be the ideal comedian to play Las Vegas right now—one who embodies the idea that the show must go on. The veteran stand-up comic, writer, actor and voice-over expert lost his wife, writer Michelle McNamara, when she died suddenly at age 46 last year, leaving him to raise their 8-year-old daughter. (Oswalt remarried earlier this month). He digs deep into his difficult year in the new Netflix special Annihilation, a groundbreaking performance equally hilarious and sad. He’ll donate half of his pay from this week’s performance at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.
It’s been a while since you performed in Las Vegas. I used to come [often] back in the day, at the Riviera and other [places]. I’ve done a couple events where I was hosting at the Hard Rock [Hotel], but I don’t think I’ve ever gone out there like this, with me as the show. I’m the headliner, and that’s a little unnerving. This is Vegas. That’s a big deal.
Years ago you gave a speech to the graduating class at your high school in which you told them about the five environments, a lesson about seeing the world and finding where you will thrive. Is Las Vegas an environment where you fit? I like visiting Las Vegas, but I can’t stay there for a longer amount of time. It’s the rhythm of it. Some people really thrive there, and I’m great for a couple of days. But I’ve been there from Sunday to Sunday doing shows, and it gets a little much for me. The neon desert is not where I thrive.
I was really affected by watching Annihilation because it was just a few weeks after the Route 91 shooting and I think we were all trying to figure out how to move on and be Vegas again after that. Your stories about the loss of your wife, and talking about that onstage, provided some helpful perspective. The more I read about these incidents, the more they affect me, too—Boston and Newtown [Connecticut] and all of them, but there’s something more, another dimension of horrificness with Las Vegas, probably because of me being an entertainer. It reminded me of the Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan. It must have been such a nightmare, that thing of, I just don’t know what to do. It seems like every week people are just having their faces shoved through the dirt right in front of me and we all are wondering what we’re supposed to do at this point. From the top down, with our current government, there’s very much an open feeling of, “You guys are on your own.” It’s a horrible feeling. Sorry, we are talking lots of doom and gloom, and I’m supposed to be promoting a comedy show.
You never reuse material once you’ve performed it in a TV comedy special, but it seems like the personal and political themes from Annihilation could keep showing up in your act. Well, I hope the Trump stuff doesn’t last, because I hope he’s gone soon. I don’t want four more years of Trump material. People used to tell me, “You’re going to miss George W. Bush,” for the same reason, but I’d say, “Eh, I’d rather not be torturing people and have our money be on fire.” The tradeoff isn’t worth it. I hope to work in more general themes rather than speaking on the outrage or depression of the moment, but we’ll see.
There’s also the expectation of Trump jokes. Is it difficult to focus your comedy in another direction when it’s such a dominant topic? If anything it forces you as a comedian or writer to be even more present or aware of the little moments in life between people rather than the macro-outrages you’re checking out on Twitter every day. Maybe one good thing that comes out of this is that we have to be more tuned into life. … Annihilation was so inward-looking, but maybe by being so specific, it becomes universal, and [people] will find parallels with their own lives. There are different ways to approach connectivity when you’re onstage, and there’s no one way that’s right or wrong. One way is to lose yourself, and another is to amplify yourself, but each can lead to a deeper connection to the audience.
What do you have coming up as far as film and TV projects? You’re in a movie next year called Sorry to Bother You that has an interesting story—a black telemarketer who makes his voice sound white. That’s Boots Riley’s film. I don’t want to say what we did, because it’s kind of a surprise. I have a series coming to Syfy called Happy! with Chris Meloni. And right now, that’s kind of it. The other stuff is very embryonic, and I don’t want to talk about it yet until it’s fully formed.
Is directing a film still a big goal? Yes. Eventually I will direct films. It will happen. I just don’t know when.
Patton Oswalt December 2, 9 p.m., $70-$110. The Joint, 702-693-5000.