"Just over a year ago, I became a widower …" Deep breath. This isn't a bit. It's not the setup for a joke. This is comedian Patton Oswalt about halfway through an hourlong stand-up set, diving into what will surely be remembered as one of the most difficult and emotionally resonant sections of any comedy special ever recorded. In April of last year, Oswalt's wife, Michelle McNamara, died unexpectedly at the age of 46. Friday night at the Athenaeum Theatre — as part of the fourth annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival — Oswalt discussed his life since then (along with a number of other topics) in two back-to-back shows, recording both for a new Netflix special that will be available in the fall. While Oswalt — known to mainstream audiences for "Ratatouille" and "King of Queens" and within comedy circles as a comic giant with almost a dozen specials to his name — has been exceptionally open about his grieving process on social media and in interviews, honing some of this material in comedy clubs and on talk shows, Friday night's two performances marked the first time most fans would see the comedian performing a full set since the tragedy. "Is it weird to be so excited for a show that's gonna be so dark?" a guy behind me had asked his friend before the early show. After a brief pause, the friend had nodded. "It's gonna be so sad." But while there were certainly impassioned moments, Oswalt — who won an Emmy last year for his most recent special, "Talking for Clapping" — managed to keep the evening firmly hopeful and strikingly poignant rather than letting darkness or sadness take over. Mostly gone were the overly complicated sci-fi interjections and just-obscure-enough pop culture references Oswalt is known for. In their place was a deep vulnerability and a radiant openness that gave the audience permission to connect, empathize and even hurt with Oswalt before allowing laughter to offer a path toward healing. Oswalt has previously discussed how he enjoys pushing the limits of his abilities by seeing how long he can pull an audience along with a setup before hitting them with a punchline that makes the journey worth it. That skill set was put to exquisite use here as