ARUN RATH, HOST:
Patton Oswalt's new memoir, "Silver Screen Fiend," comes out tomorrow. He joined me here at NPR West to discuss his addiction to film. Now, the word addiction gets thrown around pretty recklessly. But for Patton it is spot on.
PATTON OSWALT: If you're looking at the definition of addiction, it controls your schedule. It controls your life on its own terms.
RATH: It affects relationships.
OSWALT: It affects your relationships. It affects your job. It affects your career. Then, yeah, my compulsion to go see every single movie that I possibly could operated exactly the way that an addiction does.
RATH: So at your worst, how many films were you cramming in?
OSWALT: I think it was either in '96 or '97, I saw over 250 films just in theaters - that's not counting what I was checking out on videotape, on Turner Classic Movies. That's when it was really biting hours and days out of my life.
RATH: And you actually have a funny story about - you kind of lost a girlfriend because of this addiction.
OSWALT: I think - oh, I think it led to the - there was a lot of other factors to it. But, yeah, I was at some kind of all-night horror marathon and it was an addiction and a superstition in that I had to see a movie from its very beginning. I couldn't like miss the first five minutes or it didn't count.
So it was now three in the morning and she wanted to go home and I just made her walk out to the parking lot of the Cinerama Dome at 3 a.m. at the end of October in LA so that I could watch the very beginning of "I Married A Monster From Outer Space." I was just this horrible - like just the most awful human being you could be, not even being a human being at that point. Just, I am a function of this addiction and this compulsion.
RATH: And when you talk about the compulsion, you actually develop this kind of compulsive magical thinking about why you needed to see all these.
OSWALT: Well, it was two things. It was deluded thinking in that I thought, well, if I see enough of these movies, I'll just become a director. So I have to do this, this is a good thing I'm doing.
But then it became, almost the way that athletes who are in a pennant race, they don't change their socks. Or a lawyer uses the same briefcase all the time. It became a totem where I had these five film books at home and I would see a movie and then go home and check it off in that book. And that made a better comedian.
RATH: It's weird, though, while you're doing this, you're actually becoming a success. You were - I'm mean, you didn't stay long on "Mad TV," but you were a young guy writing for a comedy show.
OSWALT: I wrote for two years on there. Yeah, there was a string of luck and successes that I guess you could say was connected to the addiction. But the addiction began to replace my life. And when that starts to happen, it starts to hurt your comedy, 'cause you're not living enough of a life to really feed into a memorable comedic set, I guess. If you just end up talking about movies you've seen and stuff you don't like, in the long run, that becomes forgettable.
RATH: And even your daily conversations, if you're talking about movies, it sounded like you were pretty insufferable.
OSWALT: Yeah. My conversations were not conversations. It was me spouting paragraphs at people and then not listening to them and wanting to get to showing off the next thing that I knew, rather than being present with another person and finding out what they think and learning from them, basically.
RATH: And it's kind of wild that you're trying to translate these lofty concepts you're getting from great films into sketches that you're writing for "Mad TV."
OSWALT: Yeah, not even lofty concept. What I was trying to do, which is even more pretentious, was I was looking at the grand risks some of these movies were taking and then saying why aren't I doing the same grand risk with a sketch that I'm writing for "Mad TV?" Except that the sketches I was writing were so sloppy because I was so sleep-deprived from going to see movies and going out to do stand-up that I was using it as a defense for my half-assedness in writing the sketches. I was like, yeah, but I'm taking a risk here. Why do you care where it goes? It shouldn't go anywhere, man! And, again, it was a young guy who thought that my attitude and my boldness could take the place of actual competence and skill and work.
RATH: A few things kind of come together to kill the addiction for you. But one is the release of "Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace."
RATH: Which - I know that killed my desire for more "Star Wars" movies, but how did that kill your desire for movies?
OSWALT: It didn't. It's not that it killed the addiction. It made me look at the addiction from such a different angle that it didn't hold any power over me anymore. I'll put it this way - you know, I was the worst kind of movie fan in that I'm the kind of guy who saw six movies a day, didn't write any movies, didn't make any movies, but then could be armchair quarterbacking on a movie that I had no hand in making.
But, yes, I thought it was a failure, but the dude took a shot at it. He, you know - it hit me that I was spending days and days and nights and nights with my friends, arguing back and forth about this film, but this guy made a movie. Good or bad, he made a movie. He's, you know, he's on a different realm than you. And just at the same time that I went and saw that and was having that realization, I went to the New Beverly the next day and I gave...
RATH: This is the theater where you saw a lot of these classic films.
OSWALT: The New Beverly on Beverly Boulevard, that was my crack house, basically. And Sherman Torrigan, who founded it and was - the late Sherman Torrigan - I went to the New Beverly and bought a ticket and Sherman said I thought you'd be handing me a screenplay by now.
RATH: And when you write that, you put in parentheses kick.
OSWALT: I was - yeah, I was basically doing the version of a guy that's shooting heroin and he's like, I'm doing this so that I can be like Lou Reed and David Bowie. I'll eventually do, you know, "Ziggy Stardust" and "Transformer," but I've been doing it - it's like, no, you can't do the heroin addiction first. You have to become a good musician first. And even then you shouldn't do the heroin addiction, but I'm just saying, you're doing this all backwards.
RATH: So back in the '90s when you're just sucking in all of these films, you mentioned...
OSWALT: I wish I could say sucking in. I was laying on my back and dumping them into my - I was the equivalent movie-wise of a guy like in a Barcalounger and he's tilted back just perfectly that he can just shovel Cheetos into his mouth - barely chewing them.
RATH: So you're shoveling these films into your mouth.
OSWALT: Yes, shoveling them.
RATH: And it's your dream that you want to be a director. You want to direct films.
RATH: Do you think you might direct a film now?
OSWALT: Eventually, I will. But when I make the leap to become a director, I've got to convince a platoon of people to make the leap with me. So that's really nerve-racking. Now, I'm, you know - I'm in the process of working up to that. And hopefully, someday, someone can play back this interview, if I've made a movie, and I can go, oh, OK. I was at least approaching it respectfully. But it's going have to be me finally just closing my eyes and hitting the gas pedal and pulling out into traffic.
RATH: Patton Oswalt - comedian, actor, writer, recovering film addict. His new book...
OSWALT: Potential director.
RATH: Potential director - director in waiting.
OSWALT: God, that sounds so sad.
RATH: ...New book is "Silver Screen Fiend." Well, make it.
OSWALT: All right, stop yelling at me.
RATH: (Laughter) Thank you so much.
OSWALT: Thanks for having me on. Honestly, I appreciate it. Thank you.
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