Talking to Jeff Garlin About His New Earwolf Podcast ‘By the Way’
There’s a certain level of celebrity at which people don’t do the podcast circuit – either because they’re too busy or too famous – but Jeff Garlin’s new show looks to be changing that, with a roster of guests made up almost entirely of the kinds of big names you rarely see on other podcasts. Debuting today on the Earwolf network, By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin is a conversation show recorded in front of a live audience at the Largo Theater in Los Angeles. For a little over a year now, Garlin has been doing these live shows with a different huge guest as his conversation partner each time, and he’s releasing the recordings from his vaults via Earwolf on a biweekly basis. The first episode features Garlin chatting with his fellow Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David, with future installments set to include folks like Conan O’Brien, Lena Dunham, Will Ferrell, and more. I recently had the chance to talk to Jeff Garlin about the podcast, the likelihood of a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the pros and cons of doing entirely-improvised stand-up shows:
Was the intention always to record these live shows and release them as a podcast?
Not at all. The intention was to do an interesting show, and even the first couple that I did, which were John Waters and Demetri Martin, I didn’t even record those. It wasn’t until after that we said we should record them, maybe we’ll do something with them. We were avoiding doing a podcast because it seemed like so many people were doing podcasts. But so many people came up to me and said, “When can I hear the show? I want to hear the show” so we talked about it for quite a while and then we decided that the best way to do it was a podcast, because it would be free to people and it’s just the easiest way to get it.
So tell me a little bit about the show, how does it differ from other programs?
Well, the difference is it’s in front of a live audience, first of all, at Largo. Secondly, it’s not an interview show. I don’t go over people’s careers, although we will talk about their careers if it comes up in conversation. So what you’re really doing as an audience member or as a listener is listening into a conversation with me and whoever I’m talking to.
Who are some of the guests that you have?
Well the first one up is Larry David. The second one up will be Lena Dunham. The third one up will be Jeff Tweedy. I don’t know the order after that, but I’ve had Conan O’Brien, J.J. Abrams, Michael Moore, Judd Apatow, Henry Rollins, all sorts of different people. Sarah Silverman.
Those are some pretty big names, how do you go about booking such huge people?
I call them. Everyone who does the show is an acquaintance of mine, some are friends, some I don’t know very well, but everybody I’m acquainted with. It’s not difficult for me to get a hold of them. Will Ferrell is my next guest on the 23rd. I’ve known Will for quite a while now, and I ran into him at the parking lot of Funny or Die – I just filmed something – and I asked him if wanted to do it and he said, “For sure.”
Do you have any dream guests that you would want to get?
Yes, I have two dream guests, and they are Albert Brooks and Woody Allen.
Have you ever met either of those guys? You’ve been in comedy for a while.
I know Albert. I’ve actually called him and asked him to do the podcast. He’s quite leery. Woody Allen, I’ve never met. The closest I’ve come is I was in the same room as him once at a Knicks game. During halftime, there’s a room at Madison Square Garden.
But you didn’t talk to him or anything?
No, what am I going to say to him? “Hi, I’m a big fan!” [Laughs] And he clearly seems like he doesn’t want to be bothered, and I’m not gonna bother him.
Marc Maron has been trying to get Albert Brooks to do his show for a while, and he won’t do that either if that makes you feel any better.
I don’t need to feel better. If he went on Marc’s show, I would say, “Oh, Marc’s a better convincer than I am.”
Do you listen to a lot of podcasts?
No, I listen to Maron’s, which I enjoy a lot, I’ve been a guest on Maron’s, I’ve been a guest on Doug Benson’s. But I really don’t listen to a lot of them, I haven’t, you know. I’ll listen to the This American Life podcast. Let me look at my podcast page. I have my iPad in front of me. Let’s see what’s on here. I have on here, The Impossible Cool, We’re Alive, True Stories, The Truth, and This American Life.
So, you mentioned your not asking a lot of career questions to your guests…
Career things do come up, but it’s conversations. You’re privy to a conversation is what it is.
So do you have any notes beforehand or do you prepare at all?
I don’t prepare, I prepare zero. I just make sure that I’m familiar with the work of the person, but really I don’t ask anybody [to do the show] if I’m not familiar with their work.
So why was Earwolf the perfect place for this podcast? Have you been friends with Scott Aukerman for a while?
Yeah, I love Scott Aukerman, and he and Jeff [Ullrich] gave us a presentation and I loved it and I’m like, “Let’s go.”
Do you see yourself being a guest more frequently on podcasts now that you have a podcast?
No, I usually say no to podcasts. I’ve been on Maron’s because we’re old friends; I’ve been on Doug Benson’s because we’re old friends… If I have time; I’m busy. Would I be on a podcast like mine? Yeah, if somebody had a podcast that was in front of a big live audience like mine and it was good and I liked the person and respected them, yeah I would do it. The thing about doing a podcast is, anybody can do a podcast. And I’ve worked hard to be the kind of performer that I get paid well, I’m on television, I’m in movies. Podcasting, the beauty of it is that anybody can do it too, so if they’re that good, it will take off. But on the flip side, I have been avoiding it. But I think these shows are really interesting and fun and people have been wanting to hear them, and I just figured that the best way to do them was via podcast.
Do you have an update on Curb Your Enthusiasm?
I’d say it’s good chance [it’ll come back], I can’t say great. I want to do it, I think Larry wants to do it, but I don’t know it’s a lot. Larry’s got to come up with an idea and really be motivated creatively to do it.
Does he usually talk to you about that process at all?
Yes, very much so. He calls me and asks me if I want to do more, that type of thing, yeah.
And what the season’s all about and all that?
Well no, if he asks me if I want to do more, that’s generally a sign that he’s thinking about starting to write. And then once he writes five or so episodes – maybe half a season – then I know we’re really gonna do it. So it’s a couple steps. But the first one is him calling me and saying do I want to do more.
And that’s still a ways off, this time around?
Do you have any writing or directing projects that you’re working on?
I have a movie coming out, probably in May called Dealing With Idiots. IFC is releasing it, and it’s an improvised movie about youth baseball parents, what idiots they are.
And you wrote and directed the film?
I wrote, directed, and starred in it.
Who else is in the cast?
Let’s see here, Timothy Olyphant, Richard Kind, Fred Willard, Nia Vardalos, Kerri Kinney, Gina Gershon, Jami Gertz. I’m so bad at remembering, but there’s some names.
And you’ve already filmed it?
Yeah, it’s already filmed and it’s all edited, it’s done.
So, who are some younger, up and coming comedians who make you laugh?
You know, it takes a lot to make me laugh because I’ve been doing it so long that [when I see] young comics, all I see is really potential. There’s like, “He could be pretty great. He could be pretty good.” Tell me a name, and I’ll tell you if I’ve seen them if they kill me or not, but nobody comes to mind. The people I spend time with are much more established comics. Not necessarily famous, but much more established.
I thought I heard that you have a hand in the casting process of Curb a little bit, is that true?
Very much so, I have a big hand in that. Here’s the thing that I always tell people that I know, friends, actors, comedians. If I bring you in, it means you have a great chance to get the part. I don’t just bring people in just to show that I’m a nice guy or something. If I bring you in, it means that I think you’re right for the part and you have a good shot of getting it.
And it usually works out most of the time?
No, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t always have the final say, Larry does.
Do you improvise with people during the audition?
Yeah, it’s the only show where you come in and audition and you’re actually auditioning with the stars of the show.
Does that intimidate people sometimes?
From what I hear, it intimidates people a lot of the time. But I also hear many people say it’s the most fun they’ve ever had in an audition. I know I go out of my way to make people feel really comfortable and welcome. Otherwise, they’re not gonna do their best work.
Have you been performing a lot of stand-up lately?
Yeah, Most definitely, I’m filming a new special March 3rd and 4th at Largo, and I’m on the road all the time. I haven’t stopped in over 30 years.
So is Largo kind of your home base?
Yeah, but I do play The Comedy Store a lot. Sometimes I play The Laugh Factory, but it’s mostly Largo and the Comedy Store.
What is it about those two places that make them better than other venues that you’ve played at?
Well it’s not a matter of I like those, it’s just clubs that I have a relationship with. I’d be open to playing The Improv, I don’t really have a relationship with them. The Comedy Store really treats me great and they have three rooms and all three of the rooms offer something interesting to me, especially the original room. I love that room. And then as far as the Laugh Factory, I don’t love… I love Jamie Masada, who is great to me, but the crowds there are a little bit young for me. And when I talk young, I mean younger than 21. Because my audience is really young, people in their 20s, 30s. There’s people in their 70s, 80s at shows. It’s a big mixture, which I dig. It makes me happy because I don’t want to be exclusively in one group. But the opposite of that, which would make me crazy, would be some middle of the road acts that draw people because they aren’t offensive. I hope I’m offensive even though I don’t really swear that much. I hope that I am taking risks.
Are there examples of risks that you take on stage?
I improvise mostly, that’s a huge risk. I have gone up on stage and done over an hour completely improvised and done well. Now mind you, I’ve also gone on stage and improvised for 20 minutes and ate it. There’s a danger to that, but I’m totally in the moment. I do have material that I’ll do sometimes. Now, I’m working on material because of the special, but a lot of my special will also be improvised.
So what’s the appeal of entirely improvising your set as opposed to having written material?
The only appeal is is that creatively it’s fun. I don’t get bonus points from the audience if I kill and I’ve been improvising. They don’t give you bonus points. It’s so much better for me if I had an act, [but] creatively I get burned out talking on the same things every night, so I have to be doing new material or improvising.
But I assume you have stuff that you come back to before that you’ve done before that you just think of spontaneously?
Yes, yes, that happens too. Most definitely.
How long has your act been like that? I assume that in the beginning there was more written material.
I stuck to more written material those first few number of years but I’d say I’ve been doing it this way for 20 of my 30 years doing stand-up.
Do you ever mention it on stage?
I might mention it on stage, I might. I don’t do it to impress the audience; it’s certainly a creative move for me. It has nothing to do with the audience thinking that I’m so great that I’m making it up. That’s why I try and avoid telling them. But if it comes up naturally and there’s a reason to say it, I might have said it. I’m sure I’ve said it before. But I wouldn’t do it to show off because then it’s just a bunch of bullshit. Then I’m just doing a one-person Whose Line Is It Anyway?
So, do you want to just tell fans what they’ll be getting with the podcast?
What you’ll get is like you’re sitting in on a conversation with me and Larry David. It’s not Larry David is being interviewed by somebody, it’s Larry David and I having a conversation or Lena Dunham and I having a conversation and you’re a witness to it… The conversations have been funny and enjoyable. The audiences dig them, big time.