By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife, Michelle McNamara on April 21, 2016 due to a combination of a previously undiagnosed heart condition mixed with a wrongly-prescribed medication. A day later, Oswalt’s recently-recorded special, “Talking for Clapping” was released to the public. The release, coinciding with the news, was unfortunate to say the least.
Last October, in an interview with “Huffington Post,” Oswalt stated in regards to his wife’s passing, “I’ll never be at 100 percent again, but that won’t stop me from living this.”
Two weeks ago, on October 17, Oswalt’s newest special, “Annihilation,” debuted on Netflix.
Besides being a stand-up comic, Oswalt is also an actor and writer known for his geeky humor and story-based jokes. It is through his acting, however, that he is best known. He gained notoriety playing the character Spencer Olchin in “The King of Queens,” as well as being the voice of Remy the rat in “Ratatouille.”
“Annihilation” is, like all of Oswalt’s specials, heavily autobiographical, the main subject being Oswalt himself and those in his life. He opens by briefly discussing how he wakes up every day, terrified of what President Trump has tweeted, though he moves away from politics rather quickly, and gradually works his way through various issues. The first half is humorous, while the second, not so much. Oswalt discusses how he has dealt with his wife’s passing and how he and their seven-year-old daughter have coped in the aftermath.
Overall, it is a strange, but powerful performance. It is not for someone who expects to laugh and chuckle every second, though it is not in the least entirely serious. While there are many moments of comic relief, Oswalt sticks to what he does best – storytelling – though as the show progresses, it is done less and less for laughs. Patton goes from telling stories of absurdity in his life on the lighthearted end, then moves toward depression, discussing how he dealt with becoming a widower, having to fight to save face in front of his daughter, and what happened the first time he visited his ex-wife’s grave.
Oswalt was not even certain he would be able to do the show. On the very night it was recorded, he still had doubts. In an interview with “Vulture” right before the release of the new special, Oswalt stated “I had been doing shows and improv in smaller theaters…But each one always took so much out of me. I was like, ‘What if I had been fooling myself? What if the reality of me getting in front of the camera hits me and hits the audience, and the whole thing crashes and burns?’ Until I stepped out onstage and started talking for like ten minutes, I honestly didn’t know if I could do this.”
There is a gradual segue through the set that ranges the spectrum from discussing “white genocide,” Genghis Kahn, and a bit of crowd work in the middle. Even throughout the more emotional half, there are chuckles laced here and there.
Oswalt closes with an anecdote about his late wife and the world at large. He discusses how they would often disagree about the universe. While Oswalt claimed that there was some higher order overall, his wife stuck to a mantra: “It’s chaos. Be kind.” Oswalt reminds us all to be considerate in an era that has proven itself to be rather chaotic indeed.