Jeff Garlin: Comfort and Joy

Comfort and Joy

Comedian/actor Jeff Garlin’s stand-up show Built for Comfort settled into the Eisemann Center Friday night.

published Saturday, October 13, 2012

The set up for comedian Jeff Garlin’s show at the Charles W. Eisemann Center on Friday was classic stand-up: a bare stage and basic backdrop with stool and a mic on a stand. Not what I expected. With a show title like Built for Comfort, and Garlin’s renowned love of napping, it seemed a recliner might be more appropriate.

But expectations really weren’t the theme of the night: I had none. Too cheap to pony up for HBO, I’d never seen Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Garlin plays Jeff Greene, the amoral manager ofLarry David and the reviled “fat f**k” of a husband of Susie Essman. I was barely aware of his voice-talent work of The Captain in WALL-E and characters in otherDisney-Pixar pictures.

Yet this is a guy not to be underestimated. He’s near ubiquitous in television and movies, and is known as a guy who can take a small part and make it memorable. He manages the egos of a lot of big name talent as executive producer of wCurb and producer/director of his own films. He toured for two months with the alternative rock band Guster, known for its humor and progressive ideals, and holds down a popular Conversations series at the Largo in Los Angeles that has wider range of guests than even Alec Baldwin’s podcast Heres The Thing.

So it was a little underwhelming to see Garlin amble on stage in rumpled jeans and a plain T-shirt and carrying a crumpled set list.

He razzed about the U.S. and Texas flags flanking the stage, went on about the hotel staff being decked out in University of Texas burnt orange, and obsessed over a noisy scaffold light above him, even dragging a tech on stage to explain the matter. He harassed couples on the front rows, speculating on age differences and bedroom habits. Then he announced to the tittering audience: “This isn’t a warm up. I don’t have an act. This is it. So there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all downhill from here.”

Nonetheless, Garlin went on to be, as a friend deemed him, “the best case of ADD ever.” After a long ramble about sex with cookie dough, Garlin explained that he had typed up some thoughts that morning for his mini Texas tour. He told of realizing on the way to the airport that he forgot his wallet, and then gave his set list to a fellow on the front row for safekeeping. He asked his impromptu assistant throughout the next 90 minutes what his next bit should be, sometimes telling him that “No, that’s an actual bit, some of the only good stuff I have, save it for the end.”

So continued Garlin’s comedy ricochet, bouncing from vague explorations of set-list prompts, to more harassment of the front row, to odd stories, to questions from the audience, to the occasional glimmers of a routine. But an improvisational comic like Garlin feeds off the audience’s energy. He deemed this crowd to be timid: “Look at you out there, sitting so tight and still.” Probably rocked the Paramount the next night in Austin.

Topics: Reclaiming the word “retard” to apply to the willfully ignorant… Phantom places like Billy’s Boutonniere Shop, the Purse Snatchery and a restaurant called the Harpoonery with waiters in diving suits serving only seafood killed with harpoons… Jerry Jones seeming like a villain on Scooby-Doo.… And ordering five donuts and low-fat milk, which is Garlin in a nutshell. An extended ramble on the joys of napping, his love of pudding, and the pointlessness of taking a walk in LA, especially when it interrupts a nap, led into some material of actual depth about the evolution of his marriage from sexual boink-a-thon to a love of napping together.

After an audience Q&A when he grew animated talking about his old Second City days, his love of WALL-E, and the joys of touring with young musicians like Guster, he recounted his comedy club touring days and his gigs at the late unlamented Dallas Improv. It was there his obsession with Pudding Pops started after a late-night bender with pack of 12, even calling the Pudding Pops hotline (Pudding Pops hotline?) the next day and not finding a lot of compassion on the other end.

Finally, he launched into his bits. A piece on a guest shot on Baywatch involving a chase scene on the beach explored how what moved about on his body was not what jostled on Pamela Anderson’s—now THAT stimulated some interesting visuals. He recounted a flight next to an old man obsessed with lotions (“They’re water-based, use as much as you want) and creams (“They’re oil based, a little dab’ll do ya”) who was fond of chasing skirt at the Waffle House (using words unprintable here).

Built for Comfort was mildly, but continually, amusing. The woman down the row from me slept through most of the second half. It brought to mind a low-key Howie Mandel set. Even if I spent much of the time waiting for something, anything, to jell, it was punctuated with enough guffaws and name-dropping to justify the experience.


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