When comedian Patton Oswalt taped his new stand-up concert Talking for Clapping six months ago, there is no way he could have imagined just how close both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would get to securing the presidential nominations of their respective political parties.
So while the special, taped at The Fillmore in San Francisco, contains an extended passage about the trade-offs Americans had to make to elect our first black president and potential first woman president, the names Trump and Sanders never come up.
Yet in the months since, Oswalt has spent a good amount of time thinking—and more importantly, tweeting—about both men. He has all but formally endorsed Sanders on Twitter and spent multiple evenings live-tweeting the GOP debates, saving his most scathing remarks for Trump.
“It’s fun,” Oswalt tells The Daily Beast in an interview before his new special premieres on Netflix this Friday. “Not so much the Democratic debate, because that tends to be more sober, reasonable people actually having an adult discussion. But the Republican debates are just unhinged, superstitious, vengeful bullies having at it with each other. And that’s just great comedy.”
With 2.64 million followers and an often voracious appetite for conflict, Oswalt has long been a force to be reckoned with on Twitter. Things got so out of control that two summers ago he decided to take a three-month break from social media altogether. “I’ve become my own tyrant,” he wrote on Facebook one day before calling it quits. “Tweeting, and then responding to my own responses, and then fighting people who disagree with me. Constantly feeling like I have to have an instant take on things, instead of taking a breath, and getting as much information as I can about the world.”
It’s a tradition that he has vowed to continue each summer. “From the first day of June through Labor Day, I’m not on Twitter,” Oswalt says now. During his much-needed break, he plans to “just go live life, go be out in the sun, have experiences.” Not only does he say it makes his stand-up better, but it also “makes your Twitter better, to leave Twitter.”
For one, staying off social media in the summer means more quality time with his 6-year-old daughter. No longer a young up-and-comer, Oswalt is creeping toward elder statesman status in the comedy world. And he embraces his relatively new grownup identity in Talking for Clapping by delivering a wealth of material about being a father. He jokes about how his daughter Alice’s love of My Little Pony rivals his own obsession with Star Wars and tells a truly terrifying story about the worst birthday clown of all time.
“Doing anything new in your life affects your stand-up,” Oswalt says of the way his material has evolved since his daughter was born. “If you really live your life and are honest about it, about how it’s changing, how you’re changing, you can always get great material out of it.” He adds, “I’m just very lucky. I’m having a very good time being a dad, so all of that is very much folding into the experience for me.”
A Twitter-free summer for Oswalt will also mean no more political fights with conservatives like former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, who attacked the comedian for being simultaneously wealthy and supportive of a socialist candidate.
“They think that once you fall into a certain tax bracket or economic level you can only care about people on that level,” Oswalt says of his right-wing critics. “What, I can’t have empathy or remember where I came from? Or what it was like when I was broke? And maybe want to make it a little easier for people? I don’t know why that is such a leap for people to imagine or understand.”
Oswalt says he was initially surprised by Sanders’s success until he started looking more closely at some of the economic anxieties his campaign has been trying to address. “When you look back at it from that point of view, it’s not that surprising at all,” he says.
“But I’m also not one of these ‘Bernie or bust’ people,” Oswalt adds, alluding to Sanders supporters like Susan Sarandon who have said they would have trouble backing Hillary Clinton if it comes down to it. “I love Bernie’s message, I love what he’s doing. But if Hillary gets the nomination, I’ll vote for Hillary.” Because, as a Democrat, he says, “I’m a reasonable adult.”
And while Oswalt has spent a large amount of time railing against the absurdities of an overly politically correct culture, he does not believe those same complaints by Donald Trump hold water.
“No, because he’s jumping on something retroactively, and going, ‘Oh, yeah, me too, I’m also a First Amendment victim,’” Oswalt says of Trump’s favorite defense. “No, you were always horrible. I’m talking about actual progressive satirists being attacked by other less humorous progressives.
“He is an ignorant, vengeful, racist asshole who is going, ‘Oh, yeah, me too,’” the comedian continues, growing more heated. “No, your shit should get criticized, because there’s no satire to it, and there’s no thought to it.”
Does he believe there is a double standard for liberals? A joke about “Colored People Time” by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Hillary Clinton last weekend drew some mild rebukes. But it is not hard to imagine what would have happened had the same line been delivered by anyone of the Republican side.
“I don’t even know if they’re racist, they’re just not funny,” Oswalt says of de Blasio and Clinton. “They don’t know how to tell a fucking joke. And that’s why it flopped.”
When it comes to politicians on both sides of the aisle, Oswalt would prefer they leave the joke-telling to comedians like him.