“You tell me, Williamsburg! When do I get my key?”: Comedian Patton Oswalt ’91 reminisces in exclusive interview with The Flat Hat

COURTESY PHOTO / STUDENT ASSEMBLY

Monday, Oct. 23, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt ’91 returned to the College of William and Mary to give two stand up comedy shows in the newly inaugurated Glenn Close Theatre in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. Since graduating from the College, Oswalt has enjoyed a successful career in acting and comedy. He has voice acted as the character Remy in the animated film “Ratatouille” (2007), has appeared in multiple television shows including “Parks and Recreation” and “Community” and has won an Emmy and Grammy award. 

Director of the Office of Student Leadership Development Anne Arseneau ’89 M.Ed ’92 said 955 students entered the lottery to attend Oswalt’s shows. While there was a waitlist, every student who came to the show gained admission. 

In an exclusive interview with The Flat Hat before his shows, Oswalt reminisced about his time at the College and discussed his future plans to return to Williamsburg.

The following is a transcript of the interview. 

FH: “Patton, so great to have a chance to talk to you. How has your day been? [Oswalt takes a bite of an apple] I caught you at the worst possible time.”  

Oswalt: “You ask me a question, I shoved an apple in my mouth. I’m so sorry. My day today and yesterday have been great. I don’t know what happened, karmically. I came here on the best weather. I walked up and down DoG Street, all through the campus. I’ve just been walking all day and listening to ‘The Best Show’ with Tom Scharpling and Double Threat. I’ve just been walking. I’ve just been walking and looking at things.”  

FH: “Can’t spend your time in Williamsburg better.”  

Oswalt: “Oh, and I also made a mix of all the music, this is so cheesy, I made a mix of a lot of the music I was listening to back then, so there’s been a lot of R.E.M. in my ear, lot of Roxy Music, a lot of that stuff.” 

FH: “Well, people still listen to that now.”  

Oswalt: “But I was trying to, you know, make a link in memory and in present.”  

FH: “Speaking of links back to campus, I heard that when you were back here for graduation, you visited somewhere you used to live. What was that experience like?” 

Oswalt: “Yes, I went to 306 South Boundary Street and I lived in a basement apartment and there is now a law student living in there who has (where my bed used to be) a floor cage full of guinea pigs. He keeps guinea pigs in his apartment. Had kind of a hoarder feel to it, but the house itself was really charming and sweet and was like, ‘Oh, wow, I used to really live here.’ This is where I got up and ate my ramen noodles and, you know, that was where…I mean, I’m not one for living and dwelling in nostalgia, but checking in on the places you were coming up is always kind of fascinating.”

FH: “How have that and other things you’ve seen walking around campus changed since you were here as a student?” 

Oswalt: “I mean, for me, I just walked all the places that I used to walk. You know, I went to all the buildings that I had classes in and went down into the; it’s not the pit, the Sunken Garden, and the Crim Dell. I went to Madison, that was my freshman hall. Went by South Boundary Street. I mean, this was a place that I lived for four years. This was what I knew. And it’s kind of cool to do it only because you can, if you really concentrate, you can cast yourself back to; this was an expanded world for me. In my mind, this was my world getting expanded. It’s been expanded so much bigger. But to see where the expansion began was also really kind of fascinating.”  

FH: “Yeah, it’s like homecoming, you could say.”  

Oswalt: “Yes, it is like homecoming, you could say.” 

FH: “I know you just came from Nashville. Now you’re here. Obviously, this is, I think, a little bit of a different audience than you sometimes get. How do you tailor your show towards college students?”  

Oswalt: “I mean, I don’t think I’m going to tailor it. Every audience I’m in front of, I think if you treat an audience like you’re excited to be in front of them and that they’re going to get it, they’ll always meet you halfway. But if you come in there [and] there’s even a subconscious attitude of ‘Okay, well, I’ve done this style of humor,’ I think that’s kind of off-putting. I just do what I do. I mean, I did some of my bits when I was doing my graduation speech here and they went over just fine. It wasn’t like they were like, ‘What the hell?’ So, you know, I think it’ll be okay. Famous last words.”  

FH: “During your graduation speech, you told students to carve out days for randomness and adventure. What randomness and adventure days have you had recently?” 

Oswalt: “Well, you know, it’s interesting, this is on the end of a little mini tour. So I was in Athens, Georgia, at the 40 Watt [Club]. Then I went to Atlanta, then I went to Nashville and now I’m here. So at the beginning of this tour, when I landed in Athens, I got there a day early and then I stayed an extra day because Athens is an amazing town to walk around in. I did the 40 Watt in between the Tuesday and Thursday. No plans for the day. Wander around, see where I go, see what I find, eat what I eat, whatever. I don’t know what’s going to happen these days. Then, Friday, Saturday, Sunday was in the car, to Atlanta, two shows, back to the hotel room, get up early, get to the plane. It was just bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. And now I got here a day early and I wandered around last evening. I wandered around all day to day. I’m not saying you should just be this, you know, wandering Harlequin all the time, but, you know, give yourself days where there are no plans. There’s an absence of story and just let it be open and wandering. You need those days, you don’t realize, because the older and older you get, sometimes you get less and less of those because both the responsibilities of adulthood and then the restrictions of your body as you get older will start to decide exactly what you get to do with your day. So have those days where, Oh, there was no plan. I didn’t know what was going to happen.'” 

FH: “I think those are definitely words that more college students should take to heart.”  

Oswalt: “I just feel bad because there’s a lot of advantages to living in the year 2023, but one disadvantage, and I’m paraphrasing a Bo Burnham quote, but ‘they’ are trying to colonize your last free moments. They want to monetize and own even your daydreaming. They want you looking at this [*holds up phone*] and clicking, so find ways to just stare at stuff, you know?”  

FH: “I’m glad you mentioned Athens, Georgia, because I had a question. I heard that you got the key to the city of Athens, Georgia.”

Oswalt: “They gave me the key to Athens! My first comedy album, I recorded it at the 40 Watt in Athens in 2003. So this year was the 20th anniversary. And the mayor, who’s a really interesting guy, and he’s exactly who you’d think would be the mayor of Athens, Georgia. You know, he looks like an early 80s Indie store record clerk,  that’s what he looks like. And he’s just so chill and funny. And he gave me that. I should have brought it. I have a physical key to the city.”  

FH: “When is the key to Williamsburg coming?” 

Oswalt: “You tell me, Williamsburg! When do I get my key? Oh, my God, what if I get obsessed and start collecting keys to cities, that becomes my thing, like, ‘Hey, you just got an offer to do the Ryman [Auditorium] in Nashville.’  ‘Uh, is there a key to the city involved with that, because I’ll do it if they give me a key.’  That would be insane. I just want to collect keys.”  

FH: “We’ll send an email to Mayor Doug Pons on your behalf.”  

Oswalt: “I will happily come back if there’s a key to the city. Are you kidding? Anything that gets me a free bag of bread ends.” 

The Flat Hat reached out to Mayor Doug Pons for comment. 

“While Mr. Oswalt may be deserved [sic] of such a recognition, the City has no such designation,” Pons said in an email to The Flat Hat. “I can say that we are all very excited for his involvement at the University and look forward to seeing him return often.”

FH: “When do you think you’ll be back at William and Mary?”

Oswalt: “Well, I just did the commencement, and now I’m doing this. So if I come back again, it won’t be until the fall. I mean, there are cities I love to come to, but there are cities I don’t want to wear my welcome out in. So I’ll probably be back next fall, either at the College or some venue near here, maybe a theater in Richmond or something like that. But if I do Richmond, I’ll get to the College way ahead of time, and, you know, I’ll try to come in a couple days early.”  

FH: “Any final memories from your time with The Flat Hat?”  

Oswalt: “Well, my time with The Flat Hat is probably different than what you experience. We’d be up all night producing it, and it was like running the thing through the glue, do you still do that? Yeah, exactly. It’s all digital. I would have loved to have seen what the years were like when they were transitioning. That must have been chaotic and insane, but we were all about: you roll the thing out, you lay the typeset out and then you roll it through there and yeah, that’s what we were doing.”  

FH: “Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time. Any parting last words for The Flat Hat?”  

Oswalt: “Is The Flat Hat still printed on paper?” 

FH: “Yep.”  

Oswalt: “Okay. Please keep printing yourself as long as you can. An actual paper you get to sit and read. As long as you can.”  

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