We love him as Curb Your Enthusiasm’s deadpan, suspendered talent manager Jeff Greene, a fellow who will eat your fries when you’re not looking and bring an erotic cake to a family gathering. And if he comes to your house for Passover, he may leave an unspeakable stain on one of your guest blankets. This year, in I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, a film he wrote, directed and starred in, Jeff Garlin showed us the anti–Jeff Greene — a sweet, lonely guy who’s closer to the actor’s heart.
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And we also love Garlin for his devotion to Jeff Garlin’s Combo Platter, a standup comedy show every Sunday at Upright Citizens Brigade. Why does a star with plenty of work end his week on the small stage of a 99-seat theater charging people a buck for improvised standup comedy?
“It’s the equivalent of doing 10 crossword puzzles,” he explains. “I never know what I am going to talk about until I get out there. It’s something I’m passionate about. It keeps me smart, and it keeps me funny. It’s good for the brain, and it’s good for the soul.”
He mentions Robin Williams, along with Patton Oswalt and Bob Odenkirk, who’ve played the Platter, but he’s just as excited to be able to give relative newcomers Jessi Klein and Natasha Leggero the exposure.
Garlin’s specialty as an actor may be his exquisite way with no words. Whether he’s enduring a profane gale-force rant from his Curb wife, Susie Essman, or sitting on his car’s hood devouring junk food, you feel for the guy. Like his James Aaron character in Cheese, “I’ve had my heart broken like him, and I’ve sat on my car in that exact spot eating the exact food.” James is as sweet and vulnerable as Jeff Greene is arrogant and exasperated. “It’s a melancholy movie,” says Garlin. The original DVD cover was so misleading. It looked like ‘Matthew Perry Goes to Rio.”
And does he have anything in common with Greene besides the first name? “Jeff Greene will do anything to get ahead. I have more integrity,” says the father of two boys. “I tell my sons, ‘Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. In terms of where I want to be, I’m nowhere near. I want to be Frank Capra. I want to be Preston Sturges. I want to make movies that make you a better human being when you leave the theater.”
Does he want the status house and fancy car that Jeff Greene has? “That’s not even on my radar. For my next car, I’m looking at a Honda Accord.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon