Not all stand-up comedians can translate their live energy and timing into textual representation. For Patton Oswalt, however, the transition from stage to page feels effortless and strangely appropriate. In Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Oswalt treats us to an engaging romp through a motley assortment of his personal experiences, pop-culture obsessions, and comedic experiments. Oswalt introduces the book with a very appropriate confession: “Comedy and terror and autobiography and comics and literature – they’re all the same thing. To me.” And, for once, he isn’t joking.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is extremely eclectic, which makes it difficult to relegate to a singular category. There are sections that lean towards the autobiography/memoir side of the spectrum. But there are also humor pieces and miscellaneous experiments, such as an illustrated chapter that feels like a slightly zanier, compressed version of Dylan Dog. There is also an epic poem dedicated to Ulvaak, the last character Oswalt played in Dungeons and Dragons. While the sheer variety of Zombie’s vignettes might seem overwhelming, the book is actually compulsively readable. I found myself eagerly turning the pages, wondering what Oswalt’s fevered brain would churn out next.
The humor that dominates both Zombie Spaceship Wasteland and Oswalt’s stand-up routines is fully outrageous. Oswalt has a well-developed knack for using his acerbic intelligence to keep audiences and readers on their toes. One of my favorite sections in Zombie is a collection of greeting cards offered by a fictitious company called Chamomile Kitten. Oswalt’s descriptions of the cards include morbid and absurd references that cleverly invert the neutral warmth and mass-produced compassion we’ve all come to expect from greeting card companies. It’s one of the many aspects of this book that makes me admire Oswalt’s innate talent for making his insanity so irresistible.
While many of the essays and humor pieces included in Zombie Spaceship Wasteland are uproariously funny, there are also moments where Oswalt’s depth and literary flair shine through. The essay he writes about his uncle, Peter Runfola, is especially graceful and nuanced. Although Oswalt initially admired his uncle’s aloof mannerisms and impressive knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe, he was eventually forced to see Peter the way others did, as a deeply troubled individual who was gradually retreating further and further from reality. Oswalt describes his uncle’s mysterious state of mind in the following passage: “Who knows what his mind was doing, raging and humming and slowing to a white crawl and then lurching forward in blue-hot bursts of mixed sound, memory, and random images.” Throughout the essay, Oswalt’s narration is perceptive and elegiac, which I was honestly not expecting from a comedian who regularly makes me laugh until my ribs ache.
Comedy is a highly subjective genre, and Oswalt’s style might not appeal to everyone. If you like smart, unpredictable comedians who aren’t allergic to pathos, I think Patton Oswalt is definitely worth your time.