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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Patton Oswalt, Big Fan

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I recently had a fan moment when I found myself on an elevator with the star of Big Fan, Patton Oswalt. “I LOVE The United States of Tara!” I gushed as I hugged this perfect stranger. He could not have been more warm and adorable as he chatted with me about the show and how glad he was that my mom loves it, too, and he told me to tell her to keep watching, even though she lives in China and downloads it illegally. (What? They don’t have Showtime.)

We got off on the same floor. I was on my way to interview the guys from World’s Greatest Dad and the Big Fan press junket was happening down the hall. After Robin and Bobcat wrapped up, Patton came by and we got to chatting. Turns out we’re both from Virginia. He grew up in NOVA (that’s Northern Virginia, outside of D.C.) where I lived for years before moving to Los Angeles, and he went to college in Williamsburg, down the road from where I grew up in Virginia Beach. I was having so much fun talking to Patton that I almost didn’t think to record our conversation, but I did, so here’s a little fan chat with the Big Fan himself.

Patton: Hey, I know you. You’re from the elevator. You’re a reporter?

LAist: Yeah. I write for LAist.

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Patton: LAist. That’s a great website. When I read a restaurant review on LAist I’m like, “Okay, this person has actually been to that restaurant.” It’s like they found someplace great and want to tell you about it. They aren’t just spouting off some assignment piece.

LAist: That’s so cool. I’m glad you like us. I have to tell you, honestly, I love you on Tara and I see your face everywhere, but I don’t know where you got started. You went to school at William & Mary, then what happened?

Patton: I did the thing where you’re an English major because it’s junior year and you go, “What do I have the most credits in? English? I’m an English major,” just because otherwise you’re not going to graduate. You know how, between freshman and sophomore year, you’re like, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing?”

LAist: I didn’t declare a major until junior year either, so, yeah.

Patton: Yeah, you do different jobs to figure out what you’re going to do. I was doing a bunch of random stuff that summer; I was studying to be a paralegal, I was a wedding D.J., I was a sports writer for two different papers under a pseudonym. And I had friends who would go, “You’re funny, you should do comedy.” So I said, “Fine, I’ll go and do an open mike.” I did an open mike in D.C. and it was disastrous.

LAist: Where were you? Do you remember?

Patton: A place called Garvin’s, which is rightfully gone now. It was one of those things, I had so much fun doing it that, well, this was my philosophy… At these other jobs, I’m making okay money, but I hate them and the minute I have a bad day I’m gonna quit. But this job, which, by the way, isn’t even a job at this point, which is horrible and that is giving me no monetary reward and no positive reinforcement and I’m doing so badly at, I love it so much and I’m having so much fun doing this thing, that I should probably stick with the thing I love in spite of all that. That’s a good sign that it’s what you should do with your life. Because at these other jobs every minute was just agony. Did you ever have a job that was like, “Okay, this is paying my rent, but I don’t feel anything?”

LAist: Yes, it’s inspiring my first novel.

Patton: Really?

LAist: Yeah, it was pretty sad.

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Patton: I have a friend, he’s a comedian, and he summed it up so well. He does a bit about it. He has this job, what’s it called when you have to watch all these movies and T.V. shows and type out all the dialogue?

LAist: Transcriber?

Patton: Transcriber, something like that, well that’s what he does.

LAist: Like closed captioning?

Patton: Yeah, like closed captioning, and he goes, “There’s a point in the day where you’ve been on the Internet and you’re looking up stuff about Huey Lewis for 40 minutes for no reason and you just shove yourself away from your desk and you go, ‘AM I ALIVE!?! AM I ALIVE, RIGHT NOW?!?’’ And that’s how I felt at these jobs where I never felt anything. I didn’t feel hatred. I didn’t feel joy. It was just like, “I have not felt a thing all day.” Whereas comedy, it was terror and little moments of victory where it was like, “Oh my God, that guy half smiled at me!” So that’s what I wanted it to be.

LAist: So tell us about Big Fan.

Patton: Nah, who cares? No, um, Big Fan is a little dark drama. I know I’m not selling it very well. The director and I were just laughing about how we’re getting the kind of reviews that can destroy a movie. We’re getting the good reviews where it’s like, “A complex, elliptical, haunting…” and we go, “Oh God! No one’s gonna go see this.” But it’s, it’s a movie about a guy who is obsessed with the New York Giants and his favorite player beats him into a coma. When he comes out of it he has to make some very, very tough decisions about his life, like, “Do I sue? Do I…” Things get very dark and crazy and then there’s maybe one of the weirdest moments of redemption I’ve ever seen in a movie. And I’m just saying that as a fan of the script when I read it, I was like, “This is amazing. This is such a weird and brilliant moment of redemption.”

LAist: Was that what attracted you to the script?

Patton: Well what attracted me was the fact that I’m such a movie buff and my favorite period of film is like ‘68 to ’74, the early 70’s, when there were all those dark character studies…

LAist: When films were…

Patton: Exactly! When films were… Before when films were about explosions and boobs. I was always like, “I would love to be in Five Easy Pieces or The King of Marvin Gardens” or something like that. Then one of those came along and not only was it a script like that, it was a movie done in that style of, “We don’t know if we’re going to finish it, we don’t know if we have enough money.” It’s literally every day where we’re calling people asking if we can use this or that. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Coppola’s The Rain People, where he literally shot it day to day and did not know how he was going to finish it. I was like, “Well, I’m gonna put my money where my mouth is and do one of these things.” And it was amazing.

(here another guy I recognize from the elevator enters the room. I find out later it’s Big Fan writer/director and former Editor in Chief of The Onion, Robert Siegel.)

Robert: Is she a reporter? Are you a reporter?

LAist: Yeah.

Robert: I thought you were just a fan. I thought you were just like a random person at the hotel who loved Patton.

Patton: What, she can’t be enthusiastic about her profession for crying out loud?

LAist: What can I say, boys? I’m a big fan.

Now, at the time I met Patton and Robert I had not yet seen the movie, but they invited me to a screening and I have to say I really liked Big Fan. Patton already told you the gist of it, but what he doesn’t mention is how much he grew as an actor to embody this tragic hero. You’ll wince at times watching his character struggle with his family and with himself, but you’ll also laugh out loud. Like he did in The Wrestler, writer Robert Siegel will take you on an emotional journey with a man you might otherwise never meet or care to know, but whom you won’t be able to forget.

Article by Courtney Quinn

Big Fan opens tomorrow in Los Angeles