The Lost Roles of Patton Oswalt
Since rising to sitcom stardom in the late 90’s, Patton Oswalt has led an eclectic career, also finding success as a stand-up comedian, voice actor, author, and both a comedic and dramatic actor. This coming year may see Oswalt adding the title of Oscar nominee to his resume, with some serious awards buzz surrounding his latest performance in the Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody film Young Adult, which opens this week in selected cities.
Throughout his storied career, Patton Oswalt has had his fair share of missed opportunities – roles he turned down, tried out for but didn’t get, and some projects that fell apart before they made it to a viewing audience. Here are the “lost roles” of Patton Oswalt, including the Coen Brothers movie he missed out on, his Fox pilot with Scott Aukerman, and the cliché role he refuses to play.
1. Super Nerds (2000, unsold Comedy Central pilot)
The role: Leslie
Patton Oswalt and frequent collaborator Brian Posehn created this sitcom pilot for Comedy Central, but the network passed on it. The proposed show starred Oswalt as a geeky comic book fan who manages his own comic book store, with Posehn playing his best friend who hangs around the place all day. Oswalt and Posehn recruited fellow Mr. Show almuni and members of L.A.’s 90’s alt comedy scene, John Ennis and Sarah Silverman, to play supporting parts. If Comedy Central had picked up the show, Patton Oswalt would have split his time between it and his role on the CBS sitcom King of Queens. Although Super Nerds hasn’t aged particularly well, it would have been a nice opportunity for Oswalt, Posehn, and Silverman to perform comedy closer to their sensibilities than what was on network TV at the time. The Super Nerds pilot was made available online recently and can be viewed below:
2. Puberty and Top Banana (in development 2001)
Ben Stiller was an early proponent of Patton Oswalt’s comedy. In addition to giving Oswalt supporting roles in Zoolander and Starsky & Hutch, Stiller also hired him to write two movies for his production company, Red Hour Films. Neither movie was made, but they both offer an interesting glimpse into the kind of comedy Oswalt was writing at this point in his career. The first, Puberty, followed a guy in his 30’s who never hit puberty but suddenly experiences his body maturing in the midst of closing an important business deal. The second script sounds more promising. Called Top Banana, it was written by Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn, and revolved around a trio of struggling comedians on the verge of giving who give it one last go by participating in a stand-up comedy contest. Oswalt began working as a script doctor shortly after this, punching up screenplays for major studios by adding more laughs, but he has yet to have a feature he’s written produced.
3. Hitch (2005)
The role: Albert Brennaman
Who got it: Kevin James
According to IMDb, Patton Oswalt was considered for the part of Will Smith’s big dweeby protégé in Hitch, which ended up going to his King of Queens co-star Kevin James. Hitch served as James’s springboard to becoming one of the country’s leading movie stars, and, if Oswalt had won the part, it might have done the same thing for him. By straying away from mass appeal movies like this, however, Oswalt has been able to assemble a resume of diverse films and shows, all of which hold more artistic merit than Paul Blart. And by more artistic merit, I mean any artistic merit, at all.
4. Happy Game Fun Bomb (2005, unsold Comedy Central pilot)
The role: Host
Another rejected Patton Oswalt-Brian Posehn pilot, Happy Game Fun Bomb was a video-game based comedy show that the duo were hired to host. The show would have featured Oswalt, Posehn, and a team of comedians playing against a satellite group of video game players, as well as a comedic take on the latest video game and tech-related news stories. Although Comedy Central turned down the show, the rise of video game culture caused stuff like this to pop up on TV screens elsewhere. Attack of the Show is probably better than how Happy Game Fun Bomb would have turned out, though, because the comedic abilities of Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn pale in comparison to those of Olivia Munn. Right? Right, everyone?
5. Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
The role: Ian Hawke
Who got it: David Cross
In 2007, Patton Oswalt and David Cross engaged in a public letter-writing faux-feud in which Oswalt (jokingly) called out Cross for starring in Alvin and the Chipmunks and everyone on the Internet assumed that this was a real disagreement between the two of them, spinning off a series of endless message board debates about artisitic integrity on The AV Club and aspecialthing.com. Oswalt mentioned in his letter that both he and Brian Posehn were offered the part that David Cross played in Alvin and the Chipmunks. Whether you agree with his decision to do the movie or not, Cross summed things up best, saying this:
“they approached at least me, Patton, and Brian. Three non-traditional funny guys who can do something with the part that isn’t on the page. I’d say the people involved with the film (at least on the creative end) have pretty good taste. They could have offered the part to Anthony Clark or Jim Breuer or Dat Phan, but then they wouldn’t be able to balance out the empty void that Jason Lee brings to the film.
6. Intelligence (2008, unsold HBO pilot)
Created, written, and directed by Michael Patrick Jann, a member of The State who directed the bulk of Reno 911! (on which Oswalt was a regular), Intelligence was a proposed HBO show that would have starred Patton Oswalt and Bradley Cooper, who would have also served as producers. Intelligence was “a workplace comedy about an elite counter-intelligence unit whose cover is that of disgruntled civil servants.” That’s quite an amusing premise, and it’s hard to believe HBO passed on this one, considering that Jann, Cooper, and Oswalt were all talented and established up-and-comers at the time. Booking Bradley Cooper for Intelligence just before The Hangover hit it big at the box office would have been a coup for HBO, similar to how they signed Zach Galifianakis to Bored to Death before The Hangover became a monster success, which made him contractually obligated to stick with the low-rated cable series despite his flourishing movie career.
7. A Serious Man (2009)
The role: Arthur Gopnik
Who got it: Richard Kind
On his appearance on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, Patton Oswalt and Maron discussed auditioning for the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. Oswalt tried out for the part of the obnoxious brother, while Maron auditioned to play the protagonist. What a different movie that would have been. Needless to say, working with the Coen Brothers would be a boon to any actor’s career, even if it’s in a film that didn’t make as big a mark as some of their other recent efforts.
8. Beach Lane (2010, unsold NBC pilot)
The role: James Wilson
Who got it: Nick Thune
Patton Oswalt was cast opposite Matthew Broderick in this NBC pilot created by Paul Simms (NewsRadio) and produced by Lorne Michaels through his Broadway Television banner. After participating in a table read of the pilot script, Oswalt jumped ship and was replaced by comedian Nick Thune. Oswalt was offered a different part but didn’t seem to be interested. NewsRadio was one of the best sitcoms of the 90’s, and it would have been neat to see creator Paul Simms make his comeback with a show starring Patton Oswalt. Things just didn’t come together and Beach Lane failed to make it to air, even with the network’s casting change.
9. Single at 40 (2011, unsold Fox pilot)
Last pilot season, Patton Oswalt and Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang, Between Two Ferns) created a Fox show as a vehicle for Oswalt. Single at 40 would have starred Patton Oswalt as a man re-entering the dating scene after his wife of 20 years leaves him. Oswalt and Aukerman are two of the funniest and hardest-working guys in the business, so I’m sure that whatever they came up with would have made for an amazing show. It’s a shame Fox passed on it, although I don’t know if that network would have been the best home for the program.
10. Playing the “Gay Best Friend” in an unspecified romantic comedy
In his most recent stand-up special/album Finest Hour, Patton Oswalt dicusses being offered the part of “the gay best friend” in a romantic comedy he had forgotten the name of. Here’s Oswalt giving his take on that:
“I got offered to go audition for a romantic comedy and they wanted me to audition for the part of the ‘gay best friend!’ It’s 2011—I may as well put on blackface and tap dance. That’s how old that cliché is now. I read the script and every scene was like, I walk in and she’s crying and I go, ‘Microwave popcorn and red wine, stat!'”
Oswalt goes on to explain how he would have played the character as a dumb guy who doesn’t have any solutions to the rom-com heroine’s problems to counter this cliché character. It’s nice to see Oswalt show some integrity by turning down a stereotypical and outdated part like this. It’s his aversion to hacky comedy like this that has largely defined his career, causing him to be cast in intriguing roles that aren’t just examples of Hollywood regurgitating tired stock characters.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.