Jeff Garlin is everywhere this fall. He wrote, directed and starred in the movie “I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With,” which hits theaters in New York this Wednesday and goes national Sept. 14. Come Sunday, he’s back on HBO, playing Larry David’s manager on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” And next month, Netflix will release the DVD of John Waters’ one-man show, “This Filthy World,” which Garlin directed. Here, he speaks with WWD about his new movie, his food addiction and why Jewish mothers are ultimately so loveable.
WWD: I found your film quite sad. You play a 39-year-old comic who lives in Chicago with his mother and can’t get his career or his love life together.
Jeff Garlin: It is sad. And people will either be surprised in a good way or surprised in a way they’re not happy with. I can’t control it.
WWD: How much of the film is autobiographical?
J.G.: Well, I never lived alone with my mother. What’s 100 percent true is the food stuff. I was and am an addict.
WWD: Before you dealt with your addiction, what was your big thing?
J.G.: All of it. If you gave me a bowl of pudding and a bowl of ice cream, I’d eat both. But my God! Pop-Tarts, Ho Hos, Drake’s Cakes. I ate them all.
WWD: Pop-Tarts? What a waste of calories.
J.G.: Pop-Tarts are the purest crap there is. Would I prefer a good bowl of ice cream? Certainly. But I would take Pop-Tarts and put ice cream in between them.
WWD: In one scene in the movie, you’re doing a TV show and the director says you’re funny because you’re fat. And you get very angry. But it does seem to me most comics thrive on their outsider-ishness.
J.G.: Being fat can come in handy for two things: vulnerability and low status. If you’re fat, you’re low status. But I don’t think that if I lose another 50 pounds, I’ll be less funny.
This story first appeared in the September 4, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: You’re one of the few comics who doesn’t do a lot of ethnic jokes. Why?
J.G.: Lots of stereotypes are just mean-spirited and false. I don’t even like Polish jokes. When did Polish people become stupid? I know a lot of Poles and I don’t get the sense that they’re more stupid or less stupid than anyone else.
WWD: Who was your favorite comedian when you were a kid?
J.G.: Steve Martin during “Saturday Night Live.”
WWD: Do you still watch it?
J.G.: No. Never. But when I was in junior high and high school, it was who I was. Then I graduated in 1980 and that first group left — Bill Murray, John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. The next thing to motivate me was Woody Allen. I learned so much from watching his movies. There are people who say, “What’s your movie?” I say, “Woody Allen, only not as good.”
WWD: The other day I called you and asked how you were and you answered by saying, “I’m thin and handsome.” Are you always so self-deprecating?
J.G.: I don’t think I’m self-deprecating. I’m very confident. I know that I’m funny. But I’m not young and handsome. And I’m always intrigued when a woman finds me attractive.
WWD: You proposed to your wife at a Neil Diamond concert. Was this ironic?
J.G.: Well, I was given the ultimatum of, “Marry me or we break up and you move out.” So I had to find the right place and the right time. Now, Neil Diamond to me is one of the greatest singers ever, but you also can laugh at him. He’s got that Kenny G, Vegas-y thing. So when someone’s that great and that goofy at the same time, there’s more value in that concert dollar than anything. When he sang “Hava Nagila” I went for it. I didn’t have a ring or anything.
WWD: Is your wife part of the comedy act?
J.G.: Definitely. I talk about being married and not having sex. But it flies off of her.
WWD: Do your parents get upset when you make fun of them?
J.G.: They’re not thrilled, but I had a Jewish mother. What can I say? She was a wellspring of material.
WWD: Did she feed you constantly?
J.G.: Oh, God. I’m probably fat because of her. Did she feed me the way she fed me in order to make me fat? No. But Jewish mothers shove food down your throat. That had an effect on me.