If you needed representation and could only choose from one of the three most famous agents from HBO shows-Arliss Michaels of "Arliss," Ari Gold of "Entourage," or Jeff Greene of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"-who would you pick? Arliss might show you more money, Ari wouldn't let you miss any opportunities, but Jeff would certainly be the one you'd want to hang out with most. (It helps if you're already rich and don't look for much work anyway!) Loyal as a dog, but not sycophantic; mercilessly henpecked but a loving father; and best of all-when Jeff Greene takes a client to lunch it actually involves eating! He'll lie to your wife for you, he'll mend relations with the friends and family you insult, and he'll insist (loudly!) that HBO pays for the porn you watched in your hotel room. Jeff Garlin brings to the role much of his own lust for life, years of standup and improv experience (including stints at Chicago's Second City), and a passion for the same classic sit-coms that Larry David admires. Garlin recently finished directing his first feature ("I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With") and talks with us here about phones, Jack Benny and sponge cake.
A lot of plot twists on Curb Your Enthusiasm involve Larry's discomfort with phones and answering machines.
Yes, a lot of mishaps. Larry doesn't like the phone that much. Although I've had pleasant conversations with him.
Your character is an agent so he has to be a phone person--but Jeff Greene would never be one of those agents who wears a headset, would he?
No, I think the odds of me wearing a head set are never.
Do you think you'd be a good agent in real life?
If I really believed in somebody, yes. I wouldn't have the scruples of Jeff Green, though--he has no integrity whatsoever. So, actually--no, I wouldn't be a good agent!
How did you become a comic?
I loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show...Saturday nights on CBS -- All in the Family, Bob Newhart.
I grew up in Chicago, and when I was twelve years old we moved to Plantation, Florida, which is a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale. I started doing standup comedy at twenty. I returned in my early twenties to Chicago to go to Second City and do standup. I was there until the late Eighties, when I moved to Los Angeles and New York to pursue my standup career. Then I moved back to Chicago to do more Second City work--it was there I met my wife. We moved to Los Angeles and we've been there ever since--eleven years.
I understand your favorite comic is Richard Pryor?
Richard Pryor is definitely my favorite standup comic. And there's Albert Brooks, Woody Allen, others I love-- but my favorite comedian of all time is Jack Benny.
Who made you laugh when you were a child?
When I was really young... Jack Benny and Jack Gleason of course. Jimmy Durante. Abbott and Costello. Martin and Lewis--all the classics. I love "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!"
How about Francis the talking horse?
And I was into Francis the talking mule! No, that wasn't my thing. (laughs) I loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show; you know, Saturday nights on CBS--All in the Family, Bob Newhart. My favorite TV show of all time--which I discovered later on, through videotape--is "Car 54, Where Are You?" And I discovered "Sgt. Bilko." One of the great things about being on Curb Your Enthusiasm is I think Larry David is akin to Nat Hiken, who is the man who created and wrote "Car 54" and "Bilko."
What do you watch on TV now?
My favorite shows are The Sopranos and Deadwood. I'm enjoying Rome. I watch sports--football and baseball. But often I don't see them until they come out on DVD, because I'm working so hard and I'd rather spend time with my wife and kids. I have two sons, a five and a nine-year-old.
You probably have an early cut-off time.
I go to bed around 9:30 or 10pm.
Sometimes there are references to HBO on Curb. Like in the pilot...
Right! "HBO pays for the porn!" I came up with that one. I loved surprising Larry with that. And the guy who played the HBO publicist in that scene was Michael Patrick King--who created Sex and the City.
You've directed a movie called "I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With."
It's based on my one man show.
There's only one character?
No, it features Sarah Silverman, Bonnie Hunt, David Pasquesi, Mina Kolb (who plays my mother on Curb), Paul Mazursky, Amy Sedaris, Richard Kind, Dan Castellaneta, Tim Kazurinsky, Wallace Langham...
That's quite a cast. What's it about?
It's about a guy who has trouble with food, women and his job--he's an actor at Second City, actually.
So can I assume the protagonist likes cheese?
No, he doesn't like cheese! He likes rice pudding.
Do you like rice pudding in real life?
Yeah, I love rice pudding. It's my favorite pudding. Number two is chocolate. And then all the other flavors are tied.
If I really believed in somebody, yes, I wouldn't have the scruples of Jeff Green, though -- he has no integrity whatsoever. So, actually -- no, I wouldn't be a good agent!
Do you like sponge cakes?
No, I don't like sponge cake at all!
You had to eat a lot of it "The Nanny," an episode from the third season.
That shows what a good actor I am. Larry enjoyed seeing me shove more of that down my throat than you can possibly believe.
Larry gets a sandwich named after him this season. If one was named after you what would you want in it?
You know what's really funny? I like the Larry David sandwich. I love whitefish. I'm a freak for whitefish! I probably wouldn't have the capers.
Susie Essman plays your wife, and she's really good at showering you and Larry with insults. Has there ever been a scene where she unleashed on you with such force that you were actually startled or afraid?
No, it's all pretend. (laughs) I've never been startled.
What else are you working on?
I'm getting my movie out there--screening it for distributors. That's my first priority. I'm creating a television show for another network--HBO and I have agreed that it's not right for them. It's more of a network TV show. I'm writing a book about my time on Curb Your Enthusiasm. However it will be fictional. I'm making up a whole story. Our show is fictional but you think it's sort of real so I'm doing the book in the same style.
A roman a clef?
Yeah, you know--Lolita. (laughs) And I'm doing lots of standup. Caroline's in New York. I have a concert coming up in Chicago, for the charity Gilda's Club.
A lot of the humor of the show is of the fish-out-of-water variety--Larry the transplanted New Yorker. Do you like living in L.A.?
I like living in L.A. I would prefer to live in Chicago where I grew up. And I love New York. I was single, a young struggling comedian. I lived in a studio apartment, a rent-controlled apartment on 72nd Street. That was the favorite time of my life besides now.
as Jeff Greene