Review: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, by Patton Oswalt

>>Published: January 2011

>>Finally got around to it: July 2012

Looking back on it now, I realize I’m a Wasteland. A lot of comedians are Wastelands—what is stand-up comedy except isolating specific parts of culture or humanity and holding them up against a stark, vast background to approach at an oblique angle and get laughs? Or, in a broader sense, pointing out how so much of what we perceive as culture and society is disposable waste? Plus, comedians have to work the Road. We wander the country, seeking outposts full of cheap booze, nachos, and audiences in order to ply our trade. I’m amazed we all don’t wear sawed-off shotguns on our hips.

***

Swap Star Wars with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a shit job at a small-town movie theatre for a shit job at a small-town Canadian Tire and Patton Oswalt lived my childhood. Except he’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than I could ever hope to be. And wealthy—let’s not forget the wealth.

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is part memoir, part comic exposé, and part dumping ground for material not quite ready for prime time. Frequently off-colour and funny as hell, Oswalt structures the book more like a memoir than anything else, with occasional forays into flash fiction-style absurdist greeting cards and deliberately god awful screenplay treatments (that I would kill to see made, be they full-length features or manic, grindhouse-style trailers cut together for no other purpose than to shock and disgust).

This is very much a superhero origin story—we don’t get Oswalt’s filmography, nor the sordid details of his television specials, his awards, or even the finer details of his rise to fame as some sort of cultural dividing line between the worlds of the comedians and the geeks. What we do get is a relatively unflinching, names-changed-to-protect-the-not-so-innocent series of fuck-ups and encounters that illustrate the behind-the-scenes of a successful comedian.

Oswalt’s first book is, if nothing, sincere. He does not hesitate to paint himself as a geek, flawed and relatable, who somehow managed to find success—and is still discovering how far that success will take him. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is actually quite tender, though occasionally stomach-turning and deliberately racist/sexist/confrontational (Star Wars Episode II: Jar Jar Keeps Dying is an especially grand example).

Highly recommended. Now give me back my fucking childhood.

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