Geek comic patron saint Patton Oswalt returns with his latest stand-up special, Finest Hour, shot live at one of my favorite hometown venues, Seattle’s Moore Theatre. At times, it can feel like Oswalt is coasting a bit — the constructions a little less ambitious; the punchlines a little less biting than his most memorable bits — but by the end of the hour-plus, Oswalt will likely have confirmed for fans why they adore him so.
The set gets off to kind of a slow start, with Oswalt relating his experiences coming to terms with being a father. This might be some of the safest, nicest material he’s ever done — a lot of it is funny, but jokes about the joys of wearing sweatpants aren’t exactly the most compelling to open a show with. There’s no parental observation as inappropriately potent as those of Louis C.K. (his bit about cleaning shit out of little vaginas, for instance), making one wonder if Oswalt’s comedic persona is undergoing a fundamental shift.
As the show goes on, it becomes fairly obvious it’s not, even if he has softened around the edges a little. There’s still room for incensed condescension, directed here at opponents of gay marriage, and there are plenty of diversions into increasingly absurd territory, like his frustrations with religion getting funneled into a bit about a giant invisible anus hovering over his head.
That rapidly ballooning absurdity is part of what makes Oswalt so great, and he proves himself ever capable of slowly building a heavy-exposition story into something wholly unrecognizable from its origin point. A bit about a trip to the supermarket (in sweatpants, no less!) begins with an innocuous visit to the deli counter that spurs a future-crisis when the chosen one decides to commit ham-suicide. Similarly, his closing bit about the horrors of living in New York City evolves from a dog walk to rumination on ruining a crackhead’s day.
Looking back at Oswalt’s standup career, Finest Hour may be bit of a misnomer. Nevertheless, it’s a respectable and often hilarious set that works more often than it doesn’t.
The DVD of the special includes a couple of extras, including Oswalt’s encore where he walks through the aftermath of his legendary KFC Famous Bowls bit, a mildly amusing piece on pre-show superstitions with a number of audience interviews and a slideshow of nearly all the physical objects Oswalt mentions during the hour.