What a bash!

Pub date December 18, 2007
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

GEEK CHIC Seems like hipster bashing has replaced trailer-trash cracks as the new way to get laughs. By now we’ve all watched the Hipster Olympics, "brought to you by Pabst Blue Ribbon," on YouTube and chuckled vindictively as a clique of Williamsburg, NY, brats in tight pants posed for MySpace photos as part of the competition.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now everyone cool is into metal, and those skinny kids with the sideways haircuts — the ones we lauded in 2001 as the antidote to the morosely boring ’90s — are sneeringly referred to as, pardon my French, annoying hipster douche bags. Gosh, they didn’t even get a whole decade to themselves.

To alleviate all of the bilious contempt in which we hold these abominations of humanity, we have the cute and cuddly Patton Oswalt. He makes the best hipster-bashing jokes ever. When he suggests that anyone with the nerve to have the words "I’m powered by puppy kisses" emblazoned on their chest must be thinking, "My coolness obviously defeats this douchiness," he gives voice to our universal annoyance at hipsters and their lame ironic T-shirts — ones that the nerdy J.R.R. Tolkien–reading, true-crime fan would never be able to pull off.

At the same time, he has a new album, Werewolves and Lollipops, out on what one might still consider a hip, let’s say alternative (but not as indie as it once was), label: Sub Pop. The record reached number 18 on Billboard‘s indie chart and number 1 on its comedy chart — it even made it onto the big top-200 chart. Like it or not, this pudgy little smart-ass is cooler than the cool.

I found out what really bothers Oswalt about hipsters when I talked to him Nov. 30 between sets at "The Comedians of Comedy," a marathon show at the Independent that included the comics he holds in highest esteem — Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford — and a posse of local faves, like Brent Weinbach.

It isn’t so much hipsters’ self-made ironic aesthetic that bugs the crap out of Oswalt. "I just don’t like the fact that it’s so clearly a marketing demographic now," he said in his backstage dressing room, where he’d just polished off a glazed donut and Posehn was hiding out under his jacket. In other words, what was once authentic and original was gone as soon as a major retail chain started mass-producing knockoff Smurf T-shirts. Hate the game, not the playa, people.

The thing is, the participants in the "Comedians of Comedy" tour, which makes stops at all of the same clubs as many young, cool bands, have a bigger tour bus than those bands do. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not hating game or player. I’d rather someone on top have the postironic wherewithal to talk politics. And Oswalt, who lived in the Haight for a few years in the ’90s, has performed numerous times for the radical’s radicals at Oakland’s AK Press in the past two years and at a feminist bookstore in New York City. "Uh, so where are the cookbooks kept?" was his ice breaker. It got the ladies giggling.

Could someone who looks like Alex Kapranos get away with that? Going to these smaller scenes and getting people to laugh at themselves makes him edgier than does the George W. Bush bashing he has been doing on larger stages. According to Oswalt, it isn’t a big roll of the dice for a comedian to make fun of the unpopular commander in chief anyway. "There’s no point left in bashing him. Because who’s left to go, ‘Excuse me, he rocks’? People who supported Bush in 2000 are like Creed fans. They’re, like, ‘Look, I know, all right. I was drunk. I thought he was kinda good-looking. Fucking get off me, man. We all make mistakes.’<0x2009>"

Oswalt spent half his set at the Independent poking fun at his former citymates. Without an ounce of smugness, he asked one guy with a two-pronged beard if he used product to keep the facial protrusions separated. And did he do it to piss off his parents? If someone in Fall Out Boy tried to say that to this guy, he’d probably get his lights knocked out. But when it comes from the little guy with the razor-sharp wit, vivid imagination, and goofy grin, we just adore him all the more.

In Pixar’s Ratatouille, Oswalt provides the voice for Remy, an endearing animated rat who achieves the impossible by becoming a chef at one of Paris’s cordon bleu establishments. There’s no irony in the way the epicurean who recommends dining at the Mission’s Andalu, not Puerto Alegre, has begun peppering his material with jokes about the eccentricities of top chefs at five-star restaurants. His movie rocked the box office, and he’s probably making bigger bucks than the staffs at arbiter-of-cool magazines Vice and Paper combined.

So I kind of didn’t get it when he told me he would trade cute and cuddly for badass in a second. "Yeah, I don’t think badass loses its breath when it’s trying to tie its shoes," he said. Aw, well, excuse me while I try to hold back the tears … of laughter.


With Arj Barker, Tony Camin, and Doug Benson on various nights

Dec. 28–30, 8 and 10:15 p.m.; Dec. 31, 7 and 9:30 p.m.; $23.50–$50.50

Cobb’s Comedy Club

915 Columbus, SF

(415) 928-4320