Jeff Garlin at Steppenwolf | Comedy Review
Jeff Garlin said a lot of things last night at Steppenwolf and he said them in no particular hurry. The latter, in my opinion, is a sticking point to an evening that was both amusing and occasionally tedious. Garlin's new show, Closer Than I Appear, plays through December 16.
Garlin arrived on stage in jeans, a black polo and a letterman's jacket that said L.A. on the front and Wrigley Field on the back. The first words out of his mouth were, "I have prepared nothing. I'm relying on my wit." Only a few among us are brilliant ad libbers and Garlin's statement might have caused some in the audience to brace themselves. I was not among them. It is an art form to find the perfect rhythms and hit the right beats that will illicit laughter from an audience, and kudos to Garlin for eschewing that in favor of playing it loose much in the same way some cabaret artists do. But please, Mr. Garlin, keep it short and to the point. At a running time of more than two hours, I curbed my enthusiasm for the evening right around the 75-minute mark.
Garlin relies heavily on discovery, largely from audience interaction. In an early detour that amused, the Curb star plucked two members from one of the upper rows who claimed to know him. That proved not to be true, but Garlin was visiblity delighted to discover that the husband and wife had flown in from Florida on a pair of discounted air tickets to see the comedian. He asked the couple to reenact their discovery that Garlin was playing in Chicago and this inspired a funny impromptu performance. "In comedy, we call you gold," he said as he took out his wallet and reimbursed the couple for their air tickets in cash and gave them a carry-on bag as a souvenir (Garlin often uses his shows as an opportunity to dispense with personal belongings). Garlin gave the couple a night to remember (and might have even saved a marriage).
Virtually everyone in the first two rows came under surveillance. A gentleman wearing red loafers became the subject of much scorn and Garlin tried to romantically link up a pair of friends, one gay and the other straight. "It won't be different than most marriages," he quipped, noting how quickly the sex goes out of a relationship. In this respect, Garlin's style succeeds. He uses crowd work to take his comedy to unexpected places, delivering segue after segue as he goes along. Connecting with this gay audience member, for example, led to Garlin's insider secret about how to know who's closted in Hollywood based on which way the family picture on their desk faces. (If the picture is facing toward the visitor, it means the person is gay because they want the world to see they have a family.)
More than 60 minutes into his set, Garlin finally picked up a notebook and started rattling off a few observations he'd written down. This went on far too long and revealed a few amusing anecdotes (including a riff on why he loves waitresses) and some dead ends (I'm not sure the world would be a better place if Lou Malnati's only allowed customers one slice of pizza per visit as Garlin suggested). Likewise, he gave us a Q&A that brought us over the two-hour mark. By this point, I'm certain I wasn't the only one squirming in my seat.
I enjoy Jeff Garlin both on Curb and otherwise. I think he's a funny man who his extraordinarily generous with his fans. But Closer Than I Appear was uncomfortably long and Garlin knew it. At one point, he offered anyone in the audience with ADD a chance to beat a hasty retreat. Next time, I will take him up on that offer.