The gifted young comedian Patton Oswalt first carved a name for himself as a bit player in television programs, where he seemingly made the perfect everyman. Even those who fail to recognize the comic's agnomen doubtless encountered him as early as the mid- to late '90s, on such hit programs as NewsRadio, Dr. Katz, Mr. Show, and Seinfeld. (He was particularly memorable in the latter, as the video-store clerk who refuses to proffer a customer's address to a conniving George Costanza.) Oswalt also penned sketches for the long-running series MADtv and frequently lent his voice to Comedy Central's Crank Yankers, as one of the program's below-the-belt prank callers.
Beginning in 1996 (and for at least four years thereafter), Oswalt began touring the country with his standup act and hitting comedy clubs; in 1997, he hosted his first standup special on HBO and received a positive response. Unabashedly iconoclastic and atheistic, with many routines devoted to excoriating Christianity and what he perceives as the hypocrisies of middle-American values, Oswalt buries his anti-establishment cynicism beneath a deceptively soft exterior (setting himself apart from, say, the more openly caustic and rave-happy George Carlin). Whatever the subject at hand, Oswalt displays a quick wit, a fearlessness to speak his mind, and an ability to unveil ironies behind practically everything. Regardless of one's personal convictions, Oswalt is also frequently hilarious, with his well-known impersonations of such personalities as Robert Evans and Nick Nolte absolutely unparalleled and definite high points in his routines, as are his riffs on pornography and bizarre sexual proclivities.
In 1998, Oswalt landed his second recurring role on a television series, and his highest billing up through that time: that of Spence Olchin, one of the three buddies of Kevin James' Doug Heffernan, on the sitcom The King of Queens; he remained with the series for several seasons. Scattered movie roles followed -- typically bit parts at first, such as that of the scuba diver who experiences a bizarre death in the prologue of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999) and Hedges in Blade: Trinity (2004).
Around 2004, Oswalt took a temporary siesta from acting, and re-launched himself into the arena of standup comedy. He and several friends (Brian Posehn, Zach Galifianakis, and Maria Bamford) formed the "Comedians of Comedy" troupe and mounted a coast-to-coast tour; that ensemble headlined an eponymous 2005 concert film. Oswalt issued his first standup album, Feelin' Kinda Patton, in 2004; it drew critical raves and impressive sales. He followed it up with a joint effort alongside Galifianakis, the 2005 recording Patton vs. Alcohol vs. Zach vs. Patton, and the 2006 concert film Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain. A sophomore solo recording, Lollipops and Werewolves, appeared in the summer of 2007.
That same year, Oswalt voiced the character of Remy -- a French rat with a refined culinary instinct who single-handedly overturns Parisian haute cuisine -- in the Pixar animated film Ratatouille. It marked Oswalt's first reception of premier billing in an A-list feature and his debut work for Pixar. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi