A chat with ... comedian and filmmaker Jeff Garlin

05:00 AM, Jul 24, 2013

Jeff Garlin and I pose before our event at the Apple Store last week. Whit's iPhone/


Written By by Whitney Matheson, USA TODAY

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing comedian and filmmaker Jeff Garlin at SoHo’s Apple Store. I’ve praised Garlin’s By the Way podcast several times on the blog, and, like everybody else, I’m a longtime fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Right now Garlin is promoting his latest directorial effort, an indie comedy called Dealin’ with Idiots. The film is 100% improvised and features comedy heavyweights like Bob Odenkirk, Fred Willard, J.B. Smoove and Garlin himself.

You can watch our chat over on iTunes, which is also where you can rent the movie. (It’s available on VOD, Amazon and other platforms and is playing in select theaters, too.)

Before the event, I got a chance to ask Garlin a few more questions about the podcast and other topics of interest. This fall he’ll also star in ABC’s new comedy The Goldbergs, which Garlin describes as “a cross between All in the Family and The Wonder Years.”

I like how you’ve talked to a variety of celebrities on your podcasts. There are comedians, but then you have Henry Rollins, Jeff Tweedy …

Well, I’m trying to mix it up. Oh, do you know who I met today? When I came out of the studio for a satellite radio thing, I saw Jeff Bridges. I’ve never met him, and when I went in, he goes, “Jeff!” He knew me! That was a combination of thrilling and thrilling. I love Jeff Bridges.

You should have him on the podcast.

I was thinking that. But you tell me. Who would you like to hear?

Well, I know you love Amy Sedaris …

I’ve already been in conversation with her. It’s all based on when she comes to L.A.

Good! Who are some of your upcoming guests?

I’m recording Vince Gilligan (soon). I’ve got Sarah Silverman coming up.

And do you have notes when you record the podcasts?

I have no notes, and I’ve never done any preparation, because I want it to be a conversation. I don’t want to have an agenda, I want it to go where it goes. And I feel like if I prepare, I have an agenda. I may ask a question that may take us out of the moment of where we’re heading.

You directed a documentary about one of my heroes, John Waters. Are you friends with him?

On occasion we e-mail, and on occasion we talk. He’s a lovely guy, and he was kind of like a mentor to me. A lot of times with filmmaking or certain situations, I go, “You know who would know the answer to this? John Waters.” And to know that I have John Waters in my pocket who I can call … He’s a dear man, and I just adore him.

You know such a wide variety of people. Who’s someone you haven’t met but would like to?

Well, I was happy I met Jeff Bridges, and obviously in that moment he did not disappoint. But I don’t necessarily want to meet anybody. Would I like to have Woody Allen’s full attention for a lunch and have a conversation with him? Most definitely. Do I want to meet him? I’d like to work with him, have lunch with him, but I don’t want to have my picture taken with him as proof that I’ve met him. All that stuff can only be disappointing.

By the way, the first interview I did (onstage) was with John Waters, and we didn’t record it. When I first started these, they weren’t meant to be podcasts. I did John Waters and Demetri Martin, and that’s when we said, “Let’s do more of these, and let’s record them.”

Do you listen to any podcasts?

I listen to This American Life. I occasionally listen to Marc Maron’s podcast. And Marc was recently on my show — that’s another one that’s upcoming.

You mentioned Woody Allen. While I was watching Dealin’ with Idiots, I thought, “He should pull a Woody Allen and make one of these every year.”

Do you think that’s not my plan, sister? It’s done. Now I’m at a stage where I’ll be making an improvised indie every single year. Every summer I’ll make one, and hopefully sometime from October to April I’ll release it.

When you were making this movie, did you already know who you wanted to be in it?

No. When I rewrite is when I start figuring out who I want; when I’m initially writing it, I generally don’t think of anybody. And I think I pretty much got everybody that I wanted. I mean, I shot it in 12 days, so it’s not a big time commitment. Yes, you’re not making a lot of money, but it’s not a time commitment.

Like, I just did a movie with Keira Knightley. I said, “How do you feel about a two- or three-week shoot?” She said, “I’d love to do one.” She’s really great, and she can improvise. It was this movie Lynn Shelton directed called Laggies — I played Keira Knightley’s father, which is a little frustrating, because Steve Carell, who’s the same age as me, played her love interest in another movie (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World).

What are you watching on TV right now?

I’m watching The Killing, Longmire. I just got done watching Mad Men. I love Veep, Girls, Louie. I like more off-the-beaten-path comedies. … My favorite show is South Park.

And what’s the last great movie you saw?

Well, I saw Lawrence of Arabia for the 100th time about a week ago, and that’s as great as it gets. But the last movie I loved was Frances Ha. I like independent movies, documentaries. There’s not a lot of movies that are commercially made that I dig.

Yeah, most are pretty terrible.

It’s all very loud, and they don’t care about relationships and personalities. I kind of enjoyed World War Z. At least with a commercial movie, let me leave there feeling I didn’t waste my money, and I didn’t feel that way with World War Z. I saw White House Down — I went with a friend, and we said, “Let’s go see whatever’s playing.” It was so bad I laughed all the way through it. But Channing Tatum is a big fat movie star, he’s great. He’s no Jeff Bridges, though.

Who’s the best improv performer you’ve ever seen?

Well, there’s two different types of improv performers: There are guys who are great onstage, and there’s people who are great on film. Onstage, the two best I ever saw were Dan Castellaneta and Joe Liss. In terms of film, I mean, everybody in (Dealin’ with Idiots) is pretty spectacular: Bob Odenkirk is a master. And Fred Willard? Oh, my god.

Your sons are teenagers, right?

Yes, 13 and 17. They’re so unimpressed with me. Thank goodness they dig me as a father, but show business-wise, they could care less.

Do you have any advice for me as a parent?

God, no — I’m not that arrogant. But trust your gut. That’s my advice to you. And if you’re smart, have common sense and are a loving person, you’ll be a great parent. But I will tell you this: It goes by fast. It really, really does.