a balloon full of piss in the window of every candle store on the planet
Patton Oswalt talks grief in Annihilation
Last year, comedian Patton Oswalt suddenly lost his wife, Michelle McNamara, who died from an undiagnosed heart condition. The sudden death left Oswalt a widow and a single father to their daughter, Alice. Last year, he wrote a moving piece for GQ on the sudden, dark shift his life took, and now, with his latest Netflix special Annihilation, he’s talking publicly about his grief, and doing some serious work to transmute it into art.
The set is not simply 60 minutes of grief counseling: it opens strong, with jokes about Twitter and Trump, bar fights, and some heckling of the front row audience. It’s bouncy and energetic for almost thirty minutes, until Oswalt shifts quite suddenly and begins talking about his wife’s death and the aftermath. The abruptness of the shift is effective, and poignantly reflects the suddenness of McNamara’s death. When Patton Oswalt talks about grief and death, it’s all of the things: it’s tragic, and captivating, and yes, very, very funny: “If one more person wishes me ‘strength’ on my ‘healing journey,’” he says, “I’m gonna throw a balloon full of piss in the window of every candle store on the planet.” The pure phrasing of that alone is funny, along with the silly, unexpected imagery. There’s plenty of funny to follow, in stories about dealing with students at school in the aftermath, visiting his wife’s grave, and Bruce Wayne being a shitty slam poet. It’s clearly a set he’s worked on for some time, ensuring that when it was time to address the tragedy on stage, he would do it right. Says The Ringer: “we’re in the hands of a professional who’s mulled his loss and refined his delivery for more than a year.”
Oswalt’s special is streaming now on Netflix.
The strange fascination of Shark Tank
My go-to show while I’m making dinner or folding laundry is Shark Tank. The concept is simple: entrepreneurs pitch their company or product to a panel of investors – these are the sharks – in attempts to finagle some money out of the sharks. In return, the sharks get a percent ownership of the business. It’s brutal, most of the time. That’s a big part of the fascination. The sharks are blunt, biting, and almost seem to relish the opportunity to devastate someone’s life dream in three seconds. Or else they’ll get excited by an impressive pitch, and suddenly you’re watching the next big product spring to life right on camera – but that’s rare.
There’s a lot to say about why I think the show works. Outside of the pure schadenfreude factor of watching people sweat and flub during the biggest moment of their career, or battle the sharks on equity percentage, there’s also this great underlying thread of perseverance and optimism in the show that’s just so American. Every single entrepreneur believes their product will be the next big thing. There’s a dedication and work ethic that’s on display that’s oddly motivating after you watch a few episodes. Also, personally, I just really like watching people make deals. I like imagining what I would do in the same scenario, if, for example, I would take Mr. Wonderful’s royalty deal for a 5% equity stake (hint: as a rule, you almost never want to take one of Mr. Wonderful’s deals).
Another factor that makes the show so easy to watch is that there’s no narrative to follow, no through-line: each episode consists of 4-5 standalone segments, and it doesn’t require much focus to follow the conversation. But be warned: with a catalog of eight full seasons available online, and a ninth that’s just premiered on ABC, you might just find yourself in a shark-sized rabbit hole, spending most of your weekend calculating equity deals in your head.
Tom Hanks wrote a book!
Yup, that Tom Hanks. It’s a name you would never guess on Jeopardy under “Short Story Authors.” But in a new interview with NPR, Hanks discusses his recently published collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. The 30 minute interview, which I listened to just to understand why Tom Hanks is now a fiction actually turned out to be a delightful surprise, thanks largely to Hanks’s well-honed conversational skills. He doesn’t just talk about the book, but moves through a great constellation of topics: the race to the moon in the 60s, the secret lives of our parents, and why we still go to the movies (“There will never not be an audience that doesn't want to pay to be entertained in a brand new way seeing something they did not expect"). If you need a good zone-out interview, I recommend this one. And also: it’s Tom Hanks. You can’t not like Tom Hanks.
header image: "patton oswalt," gage skidmore / flickr