Shortly after the untimely death of his wife, Michelle McNamara, in April, Patton Oswalt and their daughter, Alice, took a weeklong trip to Chicago. Mother's Day was approaching and rather than send the first-grader to school to face the inevitable sympathetic looks and repeated condolences, he figured they'd go visit family. The trip was a success — at least until they encountered an elderly Polish security agent at O'Hare on their way back, who proceeded to tell the young girl, “I lost my mother when I was your age — IT NEVER GETS EASIER.” Now he says he worries that every holiday, the same old Polish crone is going to materialize to remind them that their pain will never cease.
It's one of several bits Oswalt did during his headlining set at Festival Supreme on Saturday that referenced his wife's death. He addressed the horror associated with the thought of ever dating again, and spoke vividly about the nature of his grief. He joked about how every '90s sitcom was about a widower with kids, but how it's much, much bleaker in real life, where when his daughter wakes up to discover him with Bugles grease smeared all over his stomach, she can't just shrug to the camera and say, “No wonder I'm in therapy!” to uproarious canned laughter.
Oswalt arrived onstage to a standing ovation — it appeared the audience was populated overwhelmingly by people who were aware of his recent tragedy — and the crowd remained enthusiastic throughout the set. The fest was full of anticomedy, from Eric André mocking the nature of stand-up by chanting “Words, words, words, punchline” to Tim Heidecker's (very funny) faux conservative a-hole stage persona, but Oswalt's set provided the sort of experience when cry-laughing and cry-crying blend together to create an emotional fit that's joyful and cathartic.
I'm reluctant to describe it as “heartfelt,” but for lack of a less Hallmark Channel word (and one that undersells how truly funny it was), that's really what it was. It was a great reminder that stand-up really is an art — and like any other art, it can be particularly impactful when it's been informed by tragedy. As time goes on and Oswalt starts performing more frequently — a fest rep confirmed that he booked Festival Supreme before McNamara's death — I recommend going, even if you've seen him before. It seems therapeutic for all parties involved.