“You’re a question guy,” Jeff Garlin said.
I can’t help it.
He has almost 40 years of experience. I had 40 years of questions.
And one hour.
He’s Jeff Greene in my favorite show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Which is going into its 10th season.
I don’t want it to end. Ten is a lot.
So I had to get clarity from Jeff.
“If you do the show for too many seasons, is there a danger of the characters becoming caricatures of themselves?”
“No,” he said. “Because we don’t give a shit.”
“Larry David (the show’s creator) is loaded,” Jeff said. “He’s rich… the only reason why he comes back is because he has something to say.”
And so does Jeff.
He loves the show. And took me behind the scenes.
But more than that, he taught me this:
Why you shouldn’t have a safety net
How to free yourself from institutional rules
What being humble really means
Here’s 10 lessons I learned from the great Jeff Garlin, actor, comedian, podcast host, and author of, “Curbing It”:
Thanks for coming on.
1. FIND YOUR KINDRED SPIRIT
Jeff works on “The Goldbergs.” And “Curb Your Enthusiasm” at the same time.
“Both shows are someone else’s vision,” he said. “But the vision of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is similar to my vision. Larry [David] and I are kindred spirits comedically.”
I always try to work with friends. Or people I want to be friends with. That’s also who I have on the podcast.
Potential kindred spirits.
2. FIND THE PLACE THAT LETS YOU IMPROVISE
Jeff pulled out his phone to look up a script. I wanted to see how much of ‘Curb’ is written.
“Pick a number 1-10,” he said.
“Give me another number,” he said.
He read scene 6.
It was a paragraph.
Scene 3 was too short to read. Just once sentence.
Scene six said this:
“Clothes on. Champagne cork pop. Restaurant table later. The group is back at the table. Marilyn uses a lot of ketchup. Larry remarks on it, ‘You’re using it like it’s a sauce!’ She says, ‘I like ketchup. It’s a little excessive. That’s why a lot of restaurants switch to packets. She gets a ketchup stain on her blouse. A big one. It’s a go-home stain. Which is exactly what she wants to do.”
It goes on a little longer.
But it’s not how you expect a show to be written. It’s not line-by-line.
Larry David lets the people be people.
If they don’t know what to do in a scene, they check their gut.
And do what feels right.
That’s the work environment you want. One where you can improvise.
3. DON’T BE A JERK
Jeff gets to improvise on “Curb.” But not on the other shows he’s in.
“It’s work,” he said. Some directors want to hear every word. Every nuance. They want you to “get it right,” Jeff said.
He has to warn people.
And say, “I’m an improviser.”
“Do you ever say, ‘Hey I’ve been doing comedy for 35 years. I’m a producer on one of the best shows ever…’ to show them you know what you’re doing?”
“No no no,” he said. “Because that would be ego. And I don’t go down that path. I know what I know. You know what you know.”
There’s distance. And respect.
4. ADAPT TO THE PROJECT
“There comes a point, early on, when I’m filming a movie or show where I realize, ‘Ok, this is not going to be creative. And I’m going to do the best I can,’” Jeff said.
He adapts to the project.
This way he doesn’t have to be disappointed. Because he knows. “This is what I signed up for.”
5. BE DELIGHTFUL
I like this quote from the podcast.
Jeff said, “Being confident and being humble… together is a big bowl of delightful.”
6. TRUST THE MOMENT
“When I direct a movie, generally, I’m done by lunch. Or a little after lunch,” Jeff said. “Because I don’t doubt myself.”
“How do you decide it’s funny enough?” I asked.
“It’s just a feeling in your gut,” he said. “The enemy of comedy is playback, you know what I mean? When you watch things again.”
It made sense. Because I do that. I think back. And playback what happened. I try to change it in my head.
But it’s too late.
The scene was shot. The moment was lived.
When a movie or show is in the editing phase, Jeff just stands to the side. Because he knows that he felt it in the moment.
And the moment is true.
7. OVER PREPARE
When I do a business deal, I do two things:
A) Over promise.
B) Over deliver.
Jeff added a step.
C) Over prepare.
“I go in with great preparation,” he said. “Which allows me to be loose. It’s freedom.”
8. CHOOSE WHAT MATTERS
Jeff dropped out of school when he was 20. And did his first stand up set.
“How did it go?”
“I actually killed,” he said. “I did a monologue from the movie ‘Stripes.’”
Most people suck at first. Maybe I’m saying that to make myself feel better. But Jeff was great.
And if he was bad, he doesn’t think about it.
“If I go up and I’ve got a groove going, and they don’t dig me, I’m a big ball of ‘too bad,’” he said. “And by the time I’ve left the stage, I’ve even forgotten. And that started with having children. They are the priority in my life.”
9. ONLY HAVE A PLAN A
Jeff’s dad always told him, “Have something to fall back on.”
But he didn’t listen.
“If I had something to fall back on and I liked it, I might’ve fallen back on it,” Jeff said.
10. GIVE YOURSELF THE PERMISSION
Work is weird.
We show up. And other people we didn’t choose show up. And we’re not a tribe. But we collaborate. And collect a paycheck. To bring home to our actual tribe.
It’s people soup.
And that’s how Jeff looks at an audience.
He said, “An audience is made up of people’s DNAs… the way they were raised, where they were raised, what they had for lunch, if they’re taking care of themselves, what their love life is like, what their job is like, what they did that day. Your throwing these strangers into a room together.”
Knowing this stops him from feeling bad about a bad set.
If they don’t laugh, he doesn’t blame himself.
He realizes. It’s the soup.
Links & Resouces: