The 1% Club host Patton Oswalt isn’t afraid of being messy – and audiences love messy

23 May 2024 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter

Patton Oswalt

As a film and TV star, voice actor, stand-up comedian, writer and producer, Patton Oswalt has seemingly done it all in show business, earning multiple Emmys and a Grammy along the way. Now, he’s adding game-show host to that résumé, manning the podium for Prime Video’s The 1% Club, the U.S. adaptation of the popular British quiz program that BBC Studios will now bring to audiences around the world.

With questions focused on logic, reasoning, and common sense, The 1% Club rewards critical thinking rather than memorizing trivia. One hundred contestants are challenged with a series of increasingly difficult questions, and to win the $100,000 prize, the last contestant standing must answer a query that only 1% of the country could answer.

It’s a mind-bending test of intelligence. Thankfully Oswalt isn’t one of those stern hosts. Or a bookish, buttoned-up presenter. Instead, Oswalt brings a friendly banter to the show, where even silly mistakes are met with good humour. He’s funny and quick-witted, and puts the contestants and audiences at ease, despite the brow-furrowing nature of the questions. With his natural curiosity and good conversation, Oswalt is able to tease out surprisingly compelling stories from a group of everyday strangers gathered to test their brainpower in exchange for money.

“The contestant pool that we pull from is so fascinating – all the different stories,” says Oswalt, who made an appearance in New York City at the debut Amazon Upfront in May to promote the show. “Here’s what I think is really important: It has nothing to do with the level of education you’ve had. It’s fascinating to watch someone who’s like, ‘I’m working in a pet store right now, but I don’t know what to do with my life.’ Then they just smoke the person who has three PhDs.”

In another twist to the traditional game-show format, new episodes of The 1% Club will air on Mondays beginning 3 June on Fox, with episodes available next day on Prime Video. Prime members will get an exclusive early look at the premiere episode starting 23 May. This marks the continued growth of Prime Video offerings during the first year in which brands can reach millions of Prime Video viewers with Streaming TV ads in shows and movies. Ads in Prime Video content have been introduced in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Austria, Canada, France, Italy, Spain and Mexico, and will be followed by Australia later in 2024.

Oswalt talks with us about the enduring appeal of game shows, how he makes connections with an audience and how he’s built his own brand as a creator.

I watched the show and I loved it, but I’m disappointed to admit I only made it to the 50% question.

I never got beyond the 60% question. Don’t feel bad. Trust me. You did great.

What I loved about the show is what a great sport all the contestants were, plus your banter with them. Is all of that improvised on the spot? Are you leaning on your stand-up instincts?

Yeah, you just riff on the spot. You talk to people and then kind of just joke along with them – like you’re having a conversation with them in everyday life.

It really comes through. And it’s such a delight to watch. What were some of your memories of game shows growing up?

I think the gold standard is Richard Dawson hosting Family Feud. That was such a combination of his saltiness and the contestants’ sweetness. There’s just nothing like it. We don’t even have anything like that today, in my opinion. Not that I modelled myself after his rhythms, but I did wear a vest in his honour. Yes, the Dawson vest. And then obviously the classics: the [Alex] Trebeks and the [Bob] Barkers. You know, I still love watching Jeopardy!.

I have family and friends who watch game shows every day as part of their routine. And I’ve seen research that, because of streaming, game shows are more popular than ever with younger audiences. What do you see as your role in building connections with audiences and establishing that fandom?

I think that’s up to other people to decide. I try to be as connected and present with the people that are on each episode of The 1% Club. I treat each group like its own thing, and I want to make it as captivating and energizing as possible each episode. Hopefully that will feed into this overall excitement.

During filming, in the moment, do you have any strategies or techniques to build that connection?

No, I don’t have any strategies or tactics. I kept my mind empty, and I really just talked to people and whatever they said, I just ran with it. But if you go in with a tactic or strategy or plan, then it’s dead. There’s just no life to it. So I try to avoid all that.

So it has to be authentic.

They have to feel like they’re watching the event that it was when I was experiencing it and when they were experiencing it. It was really fun for me, and I hope that comes through.

What do you think it is that U.K. audiences connected with so strongly with The 1% Club? How do you want to capture that magic in the U.S. and put your own spin on this version?

The game mechanics are exactly the same. The only spin I put on it was my personality and what I think is interesting, what I think is funny and what I want to explore when I’m talking to someone. That’s the only spin on it. I watch the episodes, and this game works so well, I don’t need to get my fingerprints all over it and make it mine. I wanted to serve what the game was.

From stand-up and voice acting and acting in films and movies and now game-show host, I’m curious what advice you have for how to make these successful pivots in your career and build this diversified brand for yourself.

I think a really interesting and captivating career to people that are watching you is something where you are constantly being surprised. If you’re not surprised, the audience isn’t going to be surprised. Like, Oh my god, I’m doing a game show now. Oh, I’m doing this move. I’m always very open. I don’t have this set thing of like, This is what I am, so I can’t do this and I can’t do that. No, you’re a big complex messy person like everyone else out there. And I feel the more messy and chaotic, the more you connect to people.