There are many things to like about Patton Oswalt. His stand-up is funny, biting and incisive, and he’s proven to be a more-than-capable dramatic actor in films ranging from Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult” and the underrated “Big Fan,” which you should see immediately if you haven’t already. One of Oswalt’s most endearing qualities is that he tells a damn good story. His recounting of Wesley Snipes smoking weed and communicating with “Blade: Trinity” director David Goyer exclusively through post-it notes is the stuff of legend by now, and his beautifully-written endorsement of Jody Hill’s redneck tragicomedy “The Foot Fist Way” made me want to see the film before a single episode of HBO’s great “Eastbound and Down” had hit the air. But the following tops them all. In an excerpt from his upcoming memoir “Silver Screen Fiend,” the comic/actor tells a bizarre, sometimes confounding story of how he attempted to stage a reading of Jerry Lewis’s infamous, unreleased 1972 fiasco “The Day the Clown Cried.” Be warned, reader: the following recollection is comprised primarily of details so wholly and gloriously unbelievable that you simply couldn’t make them up.
Conventional wisdom goes that Oswalt got his hands on the script for Lewis’s debacle —a film that “The Simpsons” actor Harry Shearer, who saw a rough cut of the picture in 1979, called “so drastically wrong… its pathos and comedy [are] so wildly misplaced”— and was knocked sideways by the sheer wrong-headedness of the material. He then revised the script, pared it down to manageable length, then decided to gather up a bevy of like-minded comedian pals, including “Mr. Show” creators Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, as well as ‘Show’ stalwarts Paul F. Tompkins and Brian Posehn, to perform it at the Largo Theatre in Los Angeles. After a few not very heavily promoted performances, the show was promoted by a local weekly paper, and that’s when the trouble began. A cease-and-desist order arrived, halting the irreverent reading of Lewis’ colossally misguided folly, which attempted to insert slapstick pratfalls into the guise of a Holocaust story about a clown forced to entertain Jewish children before they enter the gas chamber. The strangest part is that the cease-and-desist was NOT issued from Lewis, but rather from an unrelated third party who had rights to the script and was convinced that the film needed to be made “the right way.” As in again. With Chevy Chase. In clown make-up.
There are more hilarious details that I haven’t shared with you; you’ll just have to discover those for yourself. As always, Oswalt is a sharp and merciless comic storyteller (anyone who can get away with describing someone as “Soy Spasm the Producer” is surely endowed with the gift of gab) and he has a particular talent for remembering idiosyncratic details that enrich the pure weirdness of the story being told. We look forward to eagerly consuming his book when it comes out. In the meantime, listen below. [Vulture]