Patton Oswalt follows in a long line of comedians, typified often by Lenny Bruce, that use their jokes to highlight the struggles that people face and the various ironies of contemporary life. Most of us don’t know Oswalt’s more brilliant work, as we only know him as the voice of Remy the Rat from 2007’s Ratatouille, or the guy that’s less fat than Kevin James in “The King of Queens.” This is unfortunate as he has a way of showing us some deep truths about ourselves that we’ve locked up inside our cynicism. His jokes typically lampoon politics, foreign policy, George Bush, Mesopotamian cuneiform script, KFC, gay pride and insipid frivolity. Of particular interest to this discussion, however, is his focus on religion. 

In his latest comedy special, My Weakness is Strong, he explores the origins of religion and civilization:

“I’m an atheist and I love religion. And I don’t love religion in a snarky mean-spirited way; I unabashedly and sincerely love that we have religion because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here right now; being all postmodern and ironic. There would be no civilization…because at the dawn of man, civilization was the biggest and the strongest. That’s as far as we were going to go, it’s whoever was the biggest fucked, killed, ate anything they wanted. That was it! Civilization was a huge psychopath with a club going ‘I’m gonna have rape for dinner.’ That was it! That’s as far as we were going to go.

“Then one of my ancestors, some weakling, said ‘Look there’s no way I can beat that guy, but what if I trick him into thinking if he doesn’t kill and rape people while he’s down here, when he dies there’s a magic city in the clouds and he can go up and have all the cake he wants?’ Now that’s not a very well formed plan but he went and told the big psycho. And psycho heard that and said ‘Uhh, I like cake.’

“BOOM! There you go! That was the beginning of civilization. Now we can work on fire and writing and agriculture. That’s religion, it’s the ol’ sky cake dodge; it worked!

What truth about religion and society has Oswalt woven into this bit? There’s a lot there to choose from. Is he showcasing the manipulation of massive corrupted systems? Could it be the abusive nature of religion when it is institutionalized that he is after? Might he merely be suggesting that idiot rulers enjoy cake? With Oswalt’s comedy, the listener is sure there must be something deeper there, but as is the case with many great teachers (and comedians), part of the lesson (and fun) is in discovering just what that might be.

 
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Charles Peters

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