The crux of any book written by a notably funny person is how the content will be distributed. In the case of Jerry Seinfeld, Seinlanguage was more or less a verbatim stand-up routine transcribed to the page. Other comics go the memoir route, sprinkling life lessons and tangents in with their background. None of these books are doing it wrong, but often what I find lacking is the proof that the work I am currently reading needed to be a book. In Seinfeld’s case, why not a special? On the memoir front, the pandering insertion of “jokes” into someone’s life story always feels forced. So what did Patton Oswalt do? Something completely original, of course.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is in no sense a perfect book. I don’t Oswalt intended it to be. As someone who came into being in the late 80’s, there is a pop-culture lexicon present throughout the text that I’m not quite capable of grasping. REM was passé when I came of age, but clearly they were the soundtrack to Oswalt’s doldrums for a period in his younger years. Don’t get me wrong, I like REM just fine, but I imagine it would be the equivalent of me citing listening to Limp Bizkit in my non-existent future memoir (no offense Michael Stipe). If you lived your adolescent years when I did, you’d get it.
Baring this caveat in mind, Oswalt’s book is a smash cut of various moments in his life, interspersed with bits and forays into playful fiction. The most surprising thing I found about Zombie is that it isn’t that funny. This isn’t to say that Oswalt’s jokes don’t play – they kill, but he doesn’t make that many of them. This book is, well, somewhat somber. I’ve listened to enough episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast to know that funny people usually have particularly unfunny childhoods. Now no one raped Oswalt (that he writes of), but he paints a very tepid picture of his relationship to the social strata around him.
I’ll concede that Oswalt uses the book form better than most comics-turned-writers, but I still feel I’d prefer a listen of Werewolves & Lollipops. There’s something in his delivery that cannot be translated right to the written word, although I suppose I could’ve listened to the audiobook. Truth be told, I wanted to like Zombie more but I simply didn’t. It doesn’t diminish how highly I think of Oswalt, but it does reinforce my belief that sometimes a good book just won’t gel for you. I believe that to be the case here. My interest in the comedian-book arena is strengthened, and I look forward to reading books by Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Adam Carolla, Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey to further probe the question. If nothing else, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is an exercise in letting a subverted mind run rampart, and for that, it deserves recognition.