Patton Oswalt is a bigger Firefly geek than you. The stand-up comic and actor was so taken with the canceled Fox series, he couldn’t stop pestering creator Joss Whedon with questions about it on the set of Dollhouse, on which Oswalt appeared for two episodes. Instead of getting fired, Oswalt got another job out of it. He’s writing the Wash-centric Serenity: Float Out, a Dark Horse comic coming out on June 2 that picks up where Serenity — the big screen version of the series — left off.
Oswalt recently talked with PopWatch about his love for Firefly — which was clearly evident in his voice — what readers can expect in Float Out, what makes Whedon so brilliant, and why Dr. Horrible is an “asshole.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I had no idea you were a Firefly fan.
PATTON OSWALT: Man, I really loved that show. It was such a bummer when it got canceled. Joss Whedon keeps creating these zeitgeist-grabbing, fun, brilliant shows that then Fox — It’s like he hands them over to an angry punk that throws them against the wall and ruins them. [Laughs] I don’t understand why he has this relationship. It’s so odd.
So you watched it when it was on Fox? You were a lover from the start?
Yes. I watched the first two episodes. This was just before I got my TiVo. They kept moving it around and I would miss it because I’d be traveling and doing stand-up. Then I watched the whole [thing] on DVD. Seeing it all like that, it made me love it. Then it made me love it defensively because at that point, it was already dead. It was like I was mourning this great thing that got beaten to the ground for no reason.
What did you love about the show?
Clearly, he was sweating blood over creating this universe and then knew it so well that the characters could talk about it almost casually. The way that he would toss off phrases and slang. He loves science fiction and action and spaceships, so that’s great. But he also has, I think, such a good ear for how someone’s slang can tip off where they’re from, who they stand with, what kind of person they are. I just love all that stuff. I just want the brains and the fun behind it. Usually, you get one without the other. He’s one of those few guys where you get both. You get the brains and you get the fun.
Do you have a favorite episode?
Favorite episode is definitely “Out of Gas.” It’s just a brilliant episode!
Kaylee. She’s so cute and so cool. That actress was so amazing at talking the way that people would actually talk in panicky situations. When they’re trying to get ready to do the Crazy Ivan, she’s like, “Push the button!” Jayne says, “What button?” She goes, “Look at where I’m pointing!” Like, “Look at me! I’ll tell you what to do!” It felt like how people would actually act. She took that character, who is so positive, and really made it fun and funny. So upbeat. Usually, in the space opera, people want to play the Han Solo character and she took what could have been a thankless role and made it amazing.
How did this Firefly comic come together? Did you approach them or did they come to you with it?
I was on an episode of Dollhouse. Joss and I could not have more interests in common. I was talking to him like an annoying fanboy about Firefly and I think he was being very tolerant of me. I was like, “Do you remember in that one episode when…” I had read the Firefly comics that they did for Dark Horse. It’s like being a Wire fan. Any extras that are out there, you want them because there’s such a finite amount of the thing that you love. The fact that he was expanding on the story about the man with the blue hands in the comics, it just made you go, “Oh, hey, what about…?” He said, “If you have an idea for a story, pitch me some stories.” I pitched him three stories and he really liked the Wash one, so that’s the one we did.
What’s the premise of the story?
It’s called Float Out. “Float out” is an actual nautical term. When you christen a ship, you knock a champagne bottle against it, give it its name, and then you float it out of dry docks. It’s three friends of Wash, who we’ve never met, but they’ve all worked with him in his wild past. They have pooled up enough money to get their own ship, a class-four Firefly ship, which is the next generation of the Firefly. They’re going to call it The Jet Wash. They’re christening it after him and they’re going to float out and start whatever their adventures are. Without saying much more — just because there’s a lot of surprises in the story — it’s three pilots telling Wash stories.
Obviously, you have a background in comedy and Alan Tudyk was really funny in the role. Are the stories humorous or will it be more nostalgic in tone?
I hope that it’ll be in the tone of Firefly. Firefly had a lot of humor. It had a lot of horror. It had a lot of heartfelt stuff. It had a lot of cynicism about religion and life and interpersonal relations and survival. I hope that I’ve wrapped up all those elements in it. It’s not a goofy, Mad Magazine-type story. I hope that it could almost stand as a short episode of Firefly. I would hope. I don’t know if it’s up to the standards of Joss and his writers. That’s up to the readers to decide.
Was it difficult channeling Joss’ voice?
No. You know what’s really cool about Joss? Yeah, he does have a voice, but what I’ve noticed is, if you watch Buffy and then Angel and Firefly and Dollhouse, he is maturing as a writer. He listens. He really does want to listen to other people and learn different kinds of voices. The “Joss Whedon voice” is to have a very open and nonjudgmental ear. That, to me, would be the Joss Whedon voice.
Will we see any characters from the show in the comic?
I’m not going to say.
Did you cross paths with Alan on Dollhouse?
We did cross paths on Dollhouse. He’s a genuinely, really funny guy. A lot of actors, you see them on the show and they’re really funny because they have a funny or witty script. But then just hanging out with him, he’s a really genuinely, witty guy. What you realize is that’s why he gets those roles. He knows what wit sounds like. He knows how it rolls off the tongue. The thing about the character of Wash that I thought Alan brought to it is he has Kaylee’s almost pathological [optimism], but it is laced with some cynicism. It almost feels like he puts the positive outlook over panic, which I really like.
Do you remember what your reaction was when Wash died in the film Serenity?
I know that Joss kills off a lot of your favorite characters because that’s how life goes. But I was just like, “Really?” The kind of sunniest person… Just, “Really?” That was almost crossing the line for me. That really sucked, but then I said, “Thank God. It could have been Kaylee,” which would have been inexcusable. [Laughs]
I remember I gasped and then I went, “Of course.”
Yes! That’s exactly what I did! I was like, “Oh, wait a minute. It is Joss.”
That was my reaction when I saw Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog too. I should have known.
Of course. Although that was, I felt, way more justified because this is about a supervillain finally committing to what being a supervillain is. What he comes to realize, which I thought was so genius, is the reason supervillains are supervillains is because they had a hand in destroying their own hope. If you look at the origin of any supervillain, that’s where they come from. It’s their fault. They drive themselves to the point where they go, “There’s no rhyme or reason. It doesn’t f—ing matter. I’m going to destroy everything now.” Which is a horrible place to find yourself in. That last, single line where he says, “Me.” You’re like, “Yep. Take a bow, asshole. You’re a supervillain now.” That was brilliant.
Are you going to write more Firefly comics in the future?
I hope so. I’ve pitched a few more comics to Dark Horse that I want to do. We’ll see. I’m so busy doing this play right now in New York and then I’m writing a book for Scribner. If a good story suggests itself to me the way that it did with Firefly where I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got to tell that!,” then yes, I’ll totally do that.