Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time: TV Review

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Oswalt's greatest strength in the middling special is his affable, confessional tone.

Fans may have a mixed reaction to this more subdued version of Patton Oswalt, who gives a lot of air time to jokes about being a dad.

Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time finds actor and comedian Patton Oswalt in an older, wiser place. That doesn't necessarily lead to this special being his best comedy outing, though. The hourlong show was filmed at the Spreckels Theater in San Diego, under the direction of Bobcat Goldthwait, to an amiable crowd who never descended into raucous laughter, but did titter their way through Oswalt's better material.  

The special is being broadcast initially on Epix, a subscription-based channel in the Viacom family, which shows what seems like a young male adult dream combination of movies, mixed martial arts, music and comedy specials such as this one. But for those without access to it, Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time will also be rebroadcast on Comedy Central in the spring.

Patton Oswalt himself once mused that his comedy might suffer because he had found love. There is certainly a noticeable shift; as a husband and father, much of Oswalt's material in his new special focuses on his daughter, in a sort of "kid's say the darndest things!" way (like when she called a man at a hipster coffee shop a monkey because he reminded her of Rafiki from The Lion King, "I could just feel it … "hashtag, racist kid").  

But 30 minutes in to the hourlong special, Oswalt's ability for offbeat phrasing turns a short joke about grocery stores into one of his funniest statements. Flowing from that, his observation about being in a mostly empty store at 11 in the morning, desiring Lean Cuisine and listening to Toto's "Africa" play (which makes him feel "peacefully suicidal"), might not be groundbreaking stuff, but his delivery elevates it to something more.

The flow is important to mention, because the crisp, minimalist staging (Oswalt in a suit, no tie, against a starry background) becomes distracting as the stage lights change color with every new bit. It's a signal that "this joke is over, now we move on." It eliminates any possibility for joke reflexivity, and can almost be jarring by interrupting any flow between the bits that does exist (which isn't always the case. At one point, Oswalt thanks his audience, then starts a new bit with the simple, non-sequitur statement: "Germany," and waits for laughter). In the end, Oswalt doesn't exactly stick his landing, but the culmination of everything that came before it makes it mostly forgivable. 

There are less nerd references in Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time than in some of his previous material, but fans can rest assured there are still plenty of asides about Hobbits and Star Trek. Oswalt's greatest strength in the special, though, is his affable, confessional tone, particularly when telling a story about a potential casino gig that would essentially be him "selling out" to corporate interest (and why that might not be so bad). He also touches upon his weight issues, and a run-in with a prostitute in Atlanta 10 years ago, both in ways that feel like a friend telling a story over a drink. While Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time might not be a watershed hour of stand-up -- one that doesn't challenge audiences, break taboos or illuminate ordinary things in a new light -- "Dad" Patton is a decent guy to spend an hour with.