Oswalt is the comedian who made me view stand-up as an art form. He’s not the first comic I’ve ever loved (Dana Carvey) and he didn’t release my first comedy CD (“Weird” Al Yankovic’s Bad Hair Day), but his influence has set a benchmark for what I seek from joke tellers. Yes, I look for laughs just like everyone else, but following Oswalt through the random segues of his storytelling are just as fun as the punchlines. He is a bizarre sort of anecdotal comedian, and Finest Hour nearly lives up to its title.
For the most part, Finest Hour is hilarious. I thought for sure Louis C.K. had best comedy record of 2011 wrapped up, but I’m not sure anymore. On top of that, the differences between C.K. and Oswalt are narrowing. Both are sarcastic dads chronicling the ridiculous little events of existence. C.K. is just a lot darker, and that’s what might give Oswalt an edge.
Here, Oswalt drops tale after tale with warmth, whether extolling the virtues of sweatpants once you have kids or breaking down romantic comedies (“Every movie should just be called Trying to Fuck). Even when he drops the occasional critical evaluation, it’s less a move towards anger than it is a plea for sanity. When Oswalt returns to/finishes his years-long condemnation of fast food in general and KFC in particular, he argues for a return to logic while still pointing out his own shortcomings. Finest Hour doesn’t single anyone out, and in doing so pokes fun at humanity in general.
While Finest Hour is Oswalt’s most mature record yet, it does sag in spots. Some of the stand-up is an exercise in squeezing out every last riff on a topic. Sometimes it pays off (an extended bit about singing to oneself in the car goes from funny to strange to funny), but sometimes it just goes to weird places for weirdness’ sake without a real ending (“The Ham Incident”). Some bits get more applause than laughter (Every comic’s worst fear). But at 75 minutes, the set could be forgiven for dipping occasionally in quality. After all, this is Oswalt. The dude has been outshining other comics for years, partially because he takes chances on his jokes. After the somewhat middling results of Big Fan and Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, it’s great to hear Oswalt get back to his strength: stand-up.