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.