Jeff Garlin’s giggle is one of the greatest things on this earth. If you’ve seen him on Curb Your Enthusiasm or listened to his wonderful By the Way podcast, you’ve heard it; it’s a full, hearty, robust laugh, inexplicably high-pitched considering the deep, Midwestern tones of his normal speaking voice. It’s not the kind of thing you can fake — when he giggles like that, he’s genuinely amused. So it was one of my greatest achievements in life thus far to have prompted that giggle in our recent telephone interview.
We were there to discuss his new film Dealin’ with Idiots. His second narrative effort as writer/director/star (after 2006’s terrific I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With), the movie has him playing a comedian named Max Morris, who gets a load of the comically dysfunctional parents of the kids on his son’s Little League team and decides to spend some time with them as research for his next movie. We talked about the film and its stellar cast of improvisational comics (including Fred Willard, Bob Oedenkirk, Kerri Kenney-Silver, and J.B. Smoove), as well as the chances for another season of Curb. But first I wanted to talk to him about Michael Bay, a line of questioning that prompted the aforementioned Garlin Giggle.
Flavorwire: So, I love the movie, it’s a big bowl of funny, and we’ll talk about it. But first I wanna talk about Michael Bay, because one of the things I love about your podcast is how, no matter who the guest and what the topic, it will eventually come up that you hate Michael Bay. I feel the same way, and bring it up about as often — especially here in the middle of summer movie season — and I was hoping you could explain exactly why you hate his stuff.
Garlin: I’ve never seen it. I’ve only seen — I shouldn’t say I’ve never seen it. I’ve never watched a complete movie of his. I’ve watched five minutes here, ten minutes there, but what I’ve seen has always disgusted me. It’s truly lowest common denominator. I remember there was a chase scene in The Rock, and I remember at the end of the chase scene, nothing happened, so it occurred to me that it was just there to be a chase scene. It wasn’t there for any emotional value whatsoever. It was like, “Oh, people will like a chase scene.” Well, why don’t I just go on Space Mountain instead of watching a movie?
A small movie like this sort of seems like counter-programming to that kind of big, dumb, blockbuster stuff.
It’s not counter-programming because his movie opens in thousands of theaters and my movie opens in a few theaters, so there’s no doubt as to who is more successful in terms of the business, and I can’t say I’m jealous, but you can’t compare it. It would be counter-programming if my movie was in every theater that his movie is playing at the same time. Then you could call it counter-programming.
Well, as grown ups who like movies, it’s nice to have that option.
It is. Sure, sure, but I wish it was opening in more theaters.
You’re a very good interviewer on the podcast — to such a degree that it’s a little intimidating to interview you, since you do it so well. And it seems like the interviews on your show feel like real conversations, stripping away the artifice of a “fake conversation” that so many interviews and podcasts have. How do you achieve that?
I achieve it by not preparing.
At all. I mean, no, I don’t have a list of questions. What it really is, is if I was having lunch with this person, what would we talk about? Sometimes I think of a first question, like, Henry Rollins is my newest one, and my first question to him is “Do you take baths?” I know, funny! And the perfect person to ask that to! But that led to so much great stuff. And when I say I don’t prepare, I have a lot of respect for preparation, but for the style of this show, preparation is the enemy.
Well, it helps to be a great improvisational comic, so I’ll probably play it safe and stick to the questions I already have. So in the movie, you play a comic who is inspired to make a movie about the insane parents on his kid’s Little League team. So I’m assuming it is, to some degree, autobiographical?
Yes, the entire movie is inspired from my own experiences.
Were both of your kids in Little League?
No. Only the older one. The younger one never had any interest.
Your background is heavy on improvisation, so when you’re directing a movie, what is your process — in terms of how much is written and how much is improvised?
Well, I’ve directed two narratives. One was completely scripted and I encouraged the actors to improvise, and they didn’t improvise very much — some, but not a whole lot. And then on this movie, I didn’t even give a script to anyone. I told everybody right before we filmed what the scene was about.
That sounds even less structured than how you and Larry do Curb.
I would say it’s pretty equal, because here’s the thing: on Curb, I read the scripts and some of the other regular people — I’m sure JB reads something — but for the most part, we just tell the actors what they’re doing.
You’ve got so many brilliant improvisational actors in this cast, and a structure that really allows each of them to do what they do. How early on did that casting occur? Were you writing for specific people?
I had my wish list for all the characters, yes, and I’d have to say, if I’m not mistaken, all of my wishes came true.
Fred Willard’s scenes are amazing. He’s so funny, he’s just one of those guys who’s funny no matter what he says, just sitting there. What was that experience like, of working with that kind of, y’know, legendary guy in your field?
And by the way, when you say that it’s a legend, all I’m thinking when I’m in scenes with Fred is, “Oh my god, I’m acting with Fred Willard!” because I love him so much. That’s what I’m thinking. That’s my inner monologue when I’m performing with him, is, “Oh my god, that’s Fred Willard, who I love so much.”
So when you’re doing a scene like when Bob Odenkirk goes off on a long riff about his brother the locksmith, that was entirely in the moment?
Entirely him, entirely in the moment. All I said to him was — I bought that can of food that’s on the counter. I bought that goulash at a store next door. I couldn’t believe it was goulash. I go and I say to Bob before the scene, I say, “Some point during this scene, bring up the goulash. I don’t care what you do. Just bring up the goulash, because it’s going to be on the counter.” He said, “Okay,” and the goulash led to the back door being open and someone stealing his goulash and that led to the whole story. I was in awe as he was telling it and we did it a couple of times and it’s one of the highlights of the movie for me.
You said you did it a couple of times. On a scene like that or in another scene, will there be a moment where something will start to happen in a take and then you’ll say, “Let’s do more of that”?
Yes, most definitely, most definitely. Yes, “Let’s do more of that,” “Less of that,” “This time, let’s do the same thing, but have this in mind.” I don’t try and mess with things too much. The key is hiring brilliant people, and then directing is pretty gosh darn easy once you hire great people.