Born Jan. 27, 1969 in Portsmouth, VA, Oswalt grew up in a military family, moving frequently during his adolescence. His career in comedy was set in motion by many of the same influences that modern stand-ups would later cite as their own inspirations - the comedy LPs of Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Jonathan Winters - not to forget the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tune cartoons. Oswalt was also a voracious comic book reader, developing a taste for horror films while in his early teens. Writing and comedy became his goals while in high school - he graduated from Broad Run High School in Ashburn, VA, in 1987 - and he slogged through a series of day jobs to make ends meet, including work as a paralegal and radio disc jockey. The drudgery of these and other jobs helped to cement Oswalt's desire to make a living as a comic.
Oswalt made his stand-up debut in 1989 while still in college at William and Mary, and proceeded to make appearances at any open mike night or small-time club he could find in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. While there, he met and befriended fellow aspiring comic Blaine Capatch, with whom he would collaborate frequently with in the following years. Oswalt graduated from college in 1991 with a degree in English, and after hearing Capatch's stories about the comedy scene in San Francisco, moved there in 1992. There, while honing his own act, he fell in with many of the popular and upcoming comics of the period, including Brian Posehn, Greg Proops, Janeane Garofalo, Dave Attell and Dana Gould. In 1994, he and Capatch moved to Los Angeles to write a series of short comedy films that Comedy Central ran on a program called "Small Doses" (1996-98). He also made his first forays into film and television with bit parts in the unsuccessful Kelsey Grammer big screen comedy Down Periscope (1996), as well as on the smart sitcoms "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99) and "Mr. Show with Bob and David" (HBO, 1995-98).
Oswalt returned to San Francisco in 1995 and began touring nationally with Capatch; that same year, he and his comedy partner were hired to write for "MadTV" (Fox, 1995- 2009), with Oswalt making a brief appearance on the show as well. By 1997, Oswalt's stature on the comedy circuit was substantial enough to warrant his appearance on an episode of HBO's "Comedy Half-Hour" (HBO, 1997- ). After this landmark gig, the up-and-coming comic alternated between stand-up gigs and television appearances for the next few years. In 1998, fellow funnyman Kevin James tapped him to play nerdy sidekick Spence Olchin on "The King of Queens," which quickly blossomed into a popular primetime sitcom. The exposure afforded by a role on a network show boosted his profile, providing Oswalt with more inroads into more substantial film and television work, including supporting roles in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999), Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon" (1999), and the Ben Stiller comedy "Zoolander" (2001). He also indulged his love for comics and cartoons by providing voices to numerous animated shows, including "The Fairly OddParents" (Nickelodeon, 2001- ), as well as Comedy Central's rude puppet series, "Crank Yankers" (2002- ).
Oswalt's humor got a bigger showcase in 2004 with the Comedy Central concert film "No Reason to Complain." He released his first comedy album, Feelin' Kinda Patton, that same year; a longer, unedited version of that disc was also released under the title 222. Seeing that the stand-up business was growing increasingly self-serving and unwilling to challenge the status quo, he organized the Comedians of Comedy tour, a national stand-up tour with Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Gallifinakis, that played rock clubs instead of comedy spots. The tone of the tour and the comics' material appealed to a younger, more alternative-minded crowd, and was documented in a likable 2005 documentary, "The Comedians of Comedy." A six-episode television series followed, and aired on Comedy Central in 2006, and a comedy CD was released the same year. Though mainstream audiences who knew Oswalt from "King of Queens" were occasionally surprised by his material, which was vigorously critical of both the Bush administration and the thoughtless side of youth culture, peppered with objectionable language (all of which got him booed off stage in Pittsburgh and San Francisco), Oswalt quickly became a favorite among younger, hipper comedy fans. This status was solidified by Entertainment Weekly naming him the "It" comedian of 2002.
When not busy with touring or "The King of Queens," Oswalt filled his hours with countless voiceover roles for animated series ranging from the innocuous Disney cartoon "Kim Possible" (2002-07), as Dr. Dementor, a jealous mad scientist who competes with the show's main villain, Dr. Drakken; to more mature fare like "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (Cartoon Network, 2000- ), on which he was billed as "Shecky Chucklestein;" and the controversial video game series "Grand Theft Auto." He also made frequent appearances on "Reno 911!" (Comedy Central, 2003-09) as Boozehammer of Galen, a hapless role-playing enthusiast whose games frequently resulted in injuries to others, which he blamed on magic spells. Oswalt also appeared in the "Reno 911!" feature film, "Reno 911! Miami" (2007) in a different role. Oswalt even managed to find time to write for several comic books, including JLA and Batman, as well as contributing (though uncredited) to the script for the surprise comedy hit, "Borat" (2006).
In 2007, Oswalt released his second comedy CD, Werewolves and Lollipops, on the punk-indie label, Sub Pop. A national tour with Janeane Garofalo followed to promote the CD, as well as his latest animation effort, the feature film "Ratatouille," for which he voiced a determined rat blessed with innate cooking abilities. Garofalo also contributed a voice to the film, which was directed by Brad Bird of "The Incredibles" (2005) fame, and earned largely positive reviews upon its release in July 2007. Oswalt also had two other features in release that year: the broad comedy "Balls of Fury," about the competitive world of ping-pong, and "All Roads Lead Home," a drama for young adults that also marked the final film appearance of Peter Boyle. After a leading role in the indie comedy Big Fan (2009), Oswalt starred opposite Matt Damon and Scott Bakula in Steven Soderbergh's black comedy "The Informant!" (2009). He went on to release his next comedy album, Patton Oswalt: Finest Hour (2011), which hit No. 1 on the Billboard comedy charts, and played a mall Santa in "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas" (2011). Oswalt next co-starred opposite Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson in Jason Reitman's relationship comedy, Young Adult (2011), which followed a thirty-something young-adult fiction writer (Theron), as she returns to her hometown to snag the boyfriend that got away.
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