If, in a not-too-distant future when everything that is currently wrong with American culture has grown worse and I was forced to testify before a Senate Subcommittee Investigation to Uncover Hate in the Entertainment Industry, I would be able to present copious evidence that comedian Patton Oswalt has repeatedly referred to me as his friend over the course of several years. This is all public knowledge.
But I currently live in a culture that’s so horny to fuck anyone over with guilt-by-association that even pointing to what is readily available and entirely benign information can be misconstrued as an attempt to harm. So at the risk of overexplaining, my intent here is not to cause him trouble but to bemoan what has become of American society. Nothing I’ll be saying here about him is remotely defamatory, unless you’re the sort who feels that merely being friendly to a notorious character such as me is a damning statement about someone’s character.
The impishly amiable comedian and actor made huge headlines this week after he posted a picture of himself on New Year’s Eve with black comedian Dave Chappelle, whom he referred to as “a genius I started comedy with 34 years ago.” Oswalt said that after performing a solo set at a Seattle club, he was invited by Chappelle over to a venue next door, where Patton performed a guest set at the venue where Chappelle was headlining.
Chappelle, one of the most successful comics of the past two decades, faced a brushfire of scolding from the disproportionately loud and influential “trans community” this past fall when, during a Netflix special, he expressed the alarming and hateful idea that “trans women” — who were perceived by nearly everyone on Earth until about ten years ago as “male crossdressers” or “male transvestites” — are actually men. To my knowledge, Chappelle has never apologized for stating the obvious, and for that I respect him.
The next day, after the Usual Suspects howled in pain at the thought of all the Dead Transgender Bodies that would be strewn throughout America’s streets as a result of Oswalt refusing to condemn his friend of 34 years, Oswalt made another post — along with an intensely shlocky photo of himself thoughtfully cobbling together his public apology on a yellow notepad that the Patton I’ve known since 1994 would have seen as sanctimonious and self-serving if anyone else had done it — trying to keep the trans hounds from nipping at his heels:
I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time this New Year’s Eve. We’ve known each other since we’re teens. He’s a fellow comedian, the funniest I’ve ever met. I wanted to post a pic & an IG story about it — so I did. The friend is Dave Chappelle. Thirty four YEARS we’ve been friends. . . . But we also 100% disagree about transgender rights & representation. I support trans peoples’ rights — ANYONE’S rights — to live safely in the world as their fullest selves. For all the things he’s helped ME evolve on, I’ll always disagree with where he stands NOW on transgender issues. But I also don’t believe a seeker like him is done evolving, learning. You know someone that long, see the struggles and changes, it’s impossible to cut them off. Impossible not to be hopeful and open and cheer them on. Also, I’ve been carrying a LOT of guilt about friends I’ve cut off, who had views with which I couldn’t agree, or changed in ways I couldn’t live with. Sometimes I wonder — did I and others cutting them off make them dig their heels in deeper, fuel their ignorance with a nitro-boost of resentment and spite? I’m an LGBTQ ally. I’m a loyal friend. There’s friction in those traits that I need to reconcile myself, and not let cause feels of betrayal in ANYONE else.
I’ve struggled to pick a word for how Oswalt’s latest very public mea culpa appeared to me, and I think the best one is “unseemly.” From a review of social-media responses to Oswalt’s comments, it seems as if most people agree with me, or at least they’re the ones being the loudest about it. As I’ve already implied about trannies, being loud can often be mistaken for being the majority, so long as you’re much louder than everyone else combined.
While living in California in 1994, my wife of the time and I had created quite a stir producing a caustically misanthropic little magazine from our one-bedroom apartment a half-block off Hollywood Boulevard. We produced very limited runs of the magazine, and it always sold out. After issuing three of what would be only four issues, I received a letter by mail — remember mail, where you’d get a glued-shut envelope containing a message printed on paper? — from someone who identified himself as a standup comic who loved the mag but was missing one of the first three sold-out issues and wondered whether I’d be willing to trade a copy from my personal stash for this amazing medical book from 1917 he’d found that was stuffed full of gruesome photos of people with tumors. I mailed him back saying yes, and we arranged for him to visit the apartment.
For some reason, my first wife took umbrage at the audacity of anyone thinking some stupid medical book, no matter how rare or antiquated or brimming with the sort of ghastly images we always used in our magazine anyway, would dare think it was worth a precious copy of our periodical.
I greeted Patton Oswalt when he knocked on the door, and we sat on adjacent couches in front of a wicker coffee table to make the transaction. Suddenly my wife appeared in the room, viciously kicked over the coffee table, and barked at Oswalt: “So I hear you’re a comedian — MAKE ME LAUGH, CLOWN!!!”
Patton is a small fellow, and he was frozen with terror. Either way, we made the swap. I wound up using several photos from the tumor book to illustrate an article in the upcoming issue.
About six months later, after we’d received the fourth and final issue from the printers and were taking some copies to a local distributor, my contact at the distributor’s office told me, “There’s a comedian in LA who’s doing a routine about meeting you two.”
I laughed, certain that the routine wasn’t complimentary. We moved up to Portland about a week later.
In 2001, after I had a very public fall from grace and imprisonment, I received a genial email from Oswalt. In 2003, I invited him to be an exclusive member of a message board I called the Netjerk Lounge, an invitation-only forum that was composed exclusively of acquaintances whom I thought had the wit, verbal acuity, and behavioral traits necessary to engender fun and interesting discussions without completely demolishing the discourse by being loud, obsessive, and charmless, which tends to drive the enjoyable commenters away from any public forum. The Netjerk Lounge was active from 2003 to 2014, which, knowing my volatility, was a testament to the other members’ abiding friendship and tolerance.
Patton was one of the shining lights of the early Lounge, and I especially remember his devastating takedowns of John Lennon and Robin Williams, as well as some of the simplest and best writing advice I’d ever heard: The word “just” is overused and almost entirely unnecessary. (“I’m just going to forget about that” means exactly the same thing as “I’m going to forget about that.”)
An avid comic-book fan, Patton guest-wrote an issue of Justice League of America in 2003 and told a reporter that his protagonist was based on me: “The main character is a sunnier version of a real-life writer named Jim Goad, who lives in Portland and who published Answer Me! magazine, along with a brilliant book called The Redneck Manifesto.”
The day before my birthday in 2003, Patton appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and gave me a birthday shout-out in front of the whole country.
Shortly after that, I would have my first of what would become six dinners with Patton. I was visiting LA to talk with an independent film company that had optioned the film rights to my book Shit Magnet, and I organized a get-together of about a half-dozen Lounge members who lived in the Los Angeles area. This was the second time we’d meet in person. Due to my wife terrorizing him upon our first meeting in 1994, Patton didn’t tell many jokes during that first encounter, but at the dinner on Hollywood Boulevard he held court, and I gained an appreciation for his comedic timing.
The next summer, after we both appeared at a Seattle hipster fest called Bumbershoot, Patton treated both me and the girl I was with to dinner at one of those Japanese restaurants where they grill the food at your table. This is a photo of Patton I took sometime that night.
In 2005, while touring America as part of what he called the “Comedians of Comedy,” I had my third dinner with Oswalt, along with comics Brian Posehn and Zach Galafianakis. Patton even paid me to do a “guest set” as an opener, during which I read some of the more amusing Netjerk Lounge posts to a packed and confused crowd.
Apparently, I had enough influence on him that to this day, I am listed as his only influence on Goodreads, a troubling matter that I am sure will be swiftly rectified.
For the most part, we remained convivial for years. On the Lounge, he shared pictures of his French bulldog puppy and was supportive during the birth of my son and my surgery for a brain tumor. This was back in an era when Americans didn’t need to agree on everything to be friendly with one another.
But as partisan politicking began to get more heated in this country, so did our ideological differences on the Netjerk Lounge. I don’t remember the specifics — I believe it arose from me accusing Patton of only linking to news stories that made white people look dumb, as well as his apparent belief that even though the country was in the throes of a recession, white people were “doing fine” — but one 2011 tête-à-tête between Señor Oswalt and I on the Lounge led to this conciliatory email to me:
I guess I got you on a bad day Rather than throw sand in the engines, I figured we’d both cool off. I’ve had longer, uglier fights with friends who wound up being friends again, and I figured we’d go down the same path. . . . Don’t think for a moment, despite being surrounded by other optimistic liberals such as myself, as well as floating through the world in the Hollywood bubble I’m in, that I don’t cherish thinkers (and, I hope someday again) friends like you who challenge what I think.
In May of 2014, when what is now referred to as the “woke mob” was in the fledgling stages of what has now become an organized harassment syndicate that seeks to socially cripple anyone who doesn’t humbly toe what is an ever-changing party line, I realized that even being seen talking to me could hurt his career. I sent him the following message: “It’s becoming increasingly obvious that you’re going to have to humbly approach the Holy See and recant for ever associating with me.”
Patton wrote back, “Never. Fuck ’em all. I’m friends with transgendered, conservatives, atheists, Christians, Muslims and whoever the fuck else I like spending time with. . . . Fucking litmus tests.”
Seven months later, Time magazine would write an article about how even the word “transgendered” was hateful. As friendly as Patton was trying to remain with everyone, and as much as he was able to discern that people who disagreed with him weren’t necessarily demon-possessed, even he was having trouble keeping up with the endless goalpost-moving.
The first time I ever saw him do standup was in 2011, when he was passing through Atlanta and provided me, illustrator Nick Bougas, and our lady friends with free tickets to his show. He also paid for our dinner at Pittypat’s Porch in downtown Atlanta, which provided the world’s Ideologically Pure Headhunters with this photo to use against him from here to eternity.
In early 2015, when the one-way Culture War that has since cleaved America into two irreconcilable halves was continuing to ramp up, a writer from BuzzFeed — which was a huge website, at least back then — made public note of Oswalt’s association with me and Nick Bougas. The writer, Joe Bernstein, kept publicly pecking and pecking at Oswalt to account for himself, falsely accusing Bougas of being the “house cartoonist for the KKK,” a blunder that wound up with BuzzFeed paying Bougas a small settlement.
From memory, Patton avoided responding to Bernstein. But mere days after Bernstein tried to wreck his life, Patton was again passing through Atlanta on a comedy tour. He took Nick and I out to dinner again and did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do: He tweeted a picture of him and Nick and credited me for taking the picture. He knew it could possibly end his career. He did it, anyway.
The last time I saw Oswalt in person was at the prodding of a website I was working for at the time that wanted to see if I could arrange an interview with him. We met in Manhattan only two days before the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It was about seven months after Patton’s first wife died — an event that rattled him, especially since they had a young daughter — and Patton confided to me that although he almost always had “the blues,” sometimes he sank into “the blacks.”
He was also intensely scornful of anonymous Alt Right trolls who’d relentlessly accused him of murdering his wife. (An autopsy concluded she had died from a combination of Adderall, Xanax, and fentanyl, and Patton had provided her with the Xanax tablet shortly before she fell asleep, never to wake up.)
I sort of play-pouted that I noticed that Patton had stopped following me on Twitter, but I understood that although I was in reality less of a “toxic” person than I was in my 1990s heyday, the world around us had changed so much that it decided to view me as immeasurably more evil. I figured that one of the reasons he had stopped following me was because he had faced woke-mob scorn in 2014 merely for daring to quote Steve Sailer’s maxim that “Political correctness is a war on noticing.”
I met him in his Manhattan hotel room along with a film crew as we recorded an hour-long discussion about the upcoming election. My opening statements were about how, despite the fact that Oswalt and I agreed on absolutely nothing, we’d still managed to remain friendly with one another.
Our interactions started to noticeably wane, and Patton’s online political vituperations became less and less funny and more and more militant. It was somewhere around 2018 when he not only cheered on the routing of a Republican female from some restaurant in the DC or Virginia area merely for being a Republican female — it may or may not have been the ritual expulsion of Trump’s White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia — but whomever the victim du jour was, Oswalt said that things like that should happen to her, and to people like her, every day for the rest of her life.
This was certainly not the Patton Oswalt that at the time I’d known for nearly a quarter-century.
We haven’t corresponded since late 2018, when I told him I’d landed a freelance gig at Penthouse magazine and they wanted me to interview him. He politely declined.
Over the intervening years, it doesn’t seem as if a week goes by where someone online doesn’t attempt to “call out” Patton for his association with Nick Bougas and me. I don’t remember him ever responding to these ceaseless demands to account for his wicked deeds.
As someone who obviously doesn’t mind getting myself in trouble but who doesn’t like to get anyone else in trouble as a result of my own words or actions, I’ve kept almost entirely silent about him, but in the wake of this Chappelle fiasco, I feel compelled to clear the air.
One of the major cultural changes between 1994 and 2022 is that back in the ‘90s, everyone except a small, throbbing cluster of fanatical malcontents was able to distinguish between opinions and behavior. Back in the ‘90s, it seemed as if ascribing to even the most extreme belief systems didn’t make you an “asshole” or dehumanize you to the point where you were “scum” who deserved a painful death.
I still cleave to the 1994 model. Although to many, that will signify that I’ve failed to “evolve,” “mature,” or “grow up,” I think it’s evidence that I refuse to conform to a belief system that I think is factually flawed. I think I’m right in being able to discern between beliefs and behavior. You could be the most woke-ass Communist in the world, but as long as you aren’t an aggressive or passive-aggressive asshole to me about it, I can be friendly with you. Where I come from, an asshole was someone who ate your French fries when you went to the bathroom, not someone over whom you disagreed about whether trannies are actually who they say they are.
Patton is smart enough to realize that no matter how much he bends and bows and self-flagellates, there will always be some loser somewhere who wants to make a name for himself by claiming Patton’s scalp for not being nearly as pure and extreme and righteous as he is. He has capitulated to a never-ending process where there will always be someone woker than he is and who wants to destroy him over it.
He’s helped to feed an insatiable monster which dictates that merely by having dinner with someone, or posing for pictures with someone, or merely being friendly to someone with whom you disagree ideologically somehow leads to systemic harm, suffering, and even murder. That is clearly a fraudulent, totalitarian, and outright psychotic concept. But by bowing to this downward purity spiral of auto-cancellation, he must realize that he is enabling a monster that will one day eat him as well. It won’t be long before he’ll be run out of the industry merely for being a white male, regardless of his past associations with unsavory characters.
I don’t want to live in that kind of world. I don’t think he does, either, but he knows the consequences of even admitting such a thing. It’s a sad day for both of us.
* * *
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