A pioneer of alternative stand-up in the late 90s, Patton Oswalt treads familiar ground on his latest live album, Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time (Comedy Central)—but he also wades into uncharacteristically conventional territory, a sign that the snide malcontent whose jokes once came at the expense of red-staters and KFC has grown up. Still, the material remains as insightful and idiosyncratic as ever, showcasing Oswalt’s knack for shaping the mundane into a highly personal expression.
A chunk of the new release is devoted to stories about his young daughter, but that doesn’t mean he’s settling for easy humor. A lesser comic might copy Louis C.K. and bitch about how annoying his kids are, but Oswalt’s take on parenting stems from his own personal neuroses. On the back-to-back tracks “I Am a Great Dad” and “I Am an Awful Dad,” he laments his inability to protect his daughter from just about everything: bullies, scary movies, and even a dystopian America (“Oh, thanks, dad. What are the amazing life-saving skills you taught me? Scooter riding and Blade Runner trivia.”).
Oswalt’s a little older and a little less obsessed with ripping the status quo, but he’s still the same whip-smart guy. Vintage bits about his weight (“I’d like to stop looking like I’m wearing a bulletproof vest all the time”), his depression, and hack comics round out the album. During an inspired stretch on the ten-minute track “Sellout,” Oswalt threads his trademark snark with his newfound pragmatism in a story about the dangers, benefits, and hilarity of performing gigs solely for the money. It’s a great bit, and an enticing vehicle for future material.