Published Jun 13, 2016Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.
Recorded in the fall of 2015, Patton Oswalt's latest special (and first exclusively for Netflix) is a vibrant display of golden, new material that's a healthy mix of autobiography, observation and compelling storytelling. It will also, because of recent events in the comedian's life, be inextricably connected to inconceivable sadness, which actually impacts the experience of viewing the performance.
Talking for Clapping finds one of the smartest, most discerning comedians of our time in something of a transitional phase, as his penchant for jolly rage and absurdism is measured by his role as a father who, almost by necessity, must view a problematic, painful planet with as much optimism as he can muster.
He talks about his own battles with depression and a recent bout with insomnia that led him to discover that, while his doctor only parcels out four Ambien per prescription, his elderly parents seem to have an unlimited supply of every fashionable Hollywood anxiety pill invented. It's a subtle coming-of-age anecdote that recognizes the passing of time and his relationship with his parents, culminating in an allegory about how they simply let their majestic dog waste its life.
In an overtly political segment which, given Senator Hillary Clinton's ever-more-likely presidential prospects, still resonates, Oswalt suggests that America needs a female president by citing the fact that every major motion picture directed by a man is edited and refined by a woman. He illustrates this hilariously by suggesting males shoot loads of cum all over the place before a woman calmly makes something comprehensible (like, say, a baby) out of this man spray.
In one of the most daring and provocative sections, he explains how the oft-maligned and misconstrued notion of "political correctness," brandished by word police, is negatively impacting people who are actually more progressive than supposed intellectuals. He also lays into homophobes and anti-trans people who decry biological transitioning with this gem: "If the thing that nullifies your argument is the word 'pants,' then you didn't have an argument."
After a few allusions to and vignettes about his seven-year-old daughter, Oswalt closes with an incredible story about attending a kid's birthday party with her that featured the most disaffected, slacker hipster clown ever. At the very least, the mom running the party gave him his new parenting maxim: "I'm super pissed off but I also want to see where this goes."
There's a new poignancy to such bits; Oswalt recently and inexplicably lost his wife, Michelle McNamara, who passed away suddenly. In the aftermath of the tragedy, which occurred days before Talking for Clapping's release, it's almost difficult to watch the man in action, talking about a personal space and time that was so profoundly different and better. But in his work, Oswalt has always confronted the darkness of life, sometimes kicking at it with even more darkness and incredulity but more often than not, he lights it all up, attacking evil with extreme, smart silliness, and actual curiosity and empathy.
Given the context, Talking for Clapping is not just another extraordinarily funny and provocative Oswalt special; at various points, it's now heartbreaking. But there's solace in the fact that Oswalt is not only beloved for his incisiveness. It's his conviction too — to take anything on, no matter how challenging — that makes him so compelling, as a performer and public presence. And it's heartening to believe that that same strength of character will get him and his family through such a horrible situation.