September 23, 2005

TOUCHING BASE:

2nd Banana Whose Taste Is Irresistible (JACQUES STEINBERG, 9/23/05, NY Times)

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 21 - Just as there has never been another lead character on television quite like Larry David - it would be hard to imagine Ralph Kramden or Ray Barone picking up a prostitute to qualify for the carpool lane to Dodger Stadium - there has never been a sidekick quite like Jeff Greene, the fictional Mr. David's fictional manager. [...]

Mr. Garlin's Jeff is more than Larry's bumbling enabler. Given how hard it can be, at times, for even loyal fans to watch Larry - in the second episode of the new season, he squares off with a man in a wheelchair over a handicap-accessible toilet - Jeff dilutes Larry's acidity with much-needed base.

"You're dealing with a show where the lead character is making the irritating and uncomfortable choice," said Jon Stewart, a friend of Mr. Garlin since both were stand-up comedians in New York in the late 1980's. "They both do a lot of shameful things. But Jeff is a cushion to Larry's harder floor."

"He is what I consider to be a human Cinnabon," Mr. Stewart added. "You probably shouldn't partake, but you just can't resist."

Mr. Garlin, 43, also plays an important role off camera on "Curb," as one of five executive producers. That title serves, at least in part, as an acknowledgment from Mr. David that the series might not have materialized had Mr. Garlin not broached the rough idea for it over lunch at a Koo-Koo-Roo chicken restaurant in Beverly Hills in the late 1990's.

While that conversation was impromptu, it was consistent with the backstage role that Mr. Garlin has played throughout a two-decade career as a comedian and actor: that of a trusted sounding board for fellow practitioners. In the mid-1990's, Mr. Stewart and Denis Leary extended separate invitations to Mr. Garlin, who trained at Second City in Chicago, to travel with them for several months to winnow stand-up material for HBO specials. (Mr. Stewart's was called "Unleavened"; Mr. Leary's, "Lock 'n' Load.") Mr. Garlin was charged with telling each comic where the laughs were.

"I literally go out with a set of bullet points," Mr. Leary said of his sets. "I start talking. I find spots the audience finds interesting.

"When we'd get done, Jeff would tell me: 'This bit is good. This other bit has nothing to do with what we're talking about.' "

"I'd object," Mr. Leary added. "And like a baseball manager, he'd come right back at me."

By 1999, Mr. Garlin and Mr. David, who knew each other casually, were working in nearby offices at Castle Rock Entertainment. Mr. Garlin had just finished a run on "Mad About You" - he played Marvin, who worked in a sporting goods store - and was working on a pilot. Mr. David had finished "Seinfield" (he was a co-creator and executive producer) and was trying to figure out what was next.

When Mr. David mentioned to Mr. Garlin over lunch that he was mulling a return to the stand-up stage, Mr. Garlin had a ready reply: Mr. David should have it filmed as an HBO special. Implicit in Mr. Garlin's suggestion, both men agree, is that the backstage run-up to that special be a component of the special itself.

"I was very specific as to what the special would be because I had just directed Jon and Dennis," Mr. Garlin said, in an interview at one of his favorite haunts, the sprawling Farmers Market here. "The difference was that mine included a lot more stand-up and Larry's included more behind-the-scenes."

"He was right," Mr. Garlin added. "I could have brought the idea to a million other people, and we wouldn't be talking about a great show."

Mr. David refined that lunchtime conversation into a special in which the real Mr. David prepared a real comedy special while assisted by a fictional wife and manager. Cheryl Hines, a sketch comedy veteran, was cast as his wife. For the manager, Mr. David recalled thinking, "Why not Jeff?"

"Jeff never gives you anything that's off in a scene," Mr. David said. "He also has a great eye for what's wrong in a scene, when he's off camera."

"He is always honest," Mr. David added. "We've gotten in fights about that from time to time."

Having studied improv at Second City and mounted three one-man shows there, Mr. Garlin embraced the structure of "Curb." In lieu of dialogue, the actors are given outlines, sometimes just moments before the cameras roll.

Some actors appearing as guests have vomited with anxiety, Mr. Garlin said. "For me," he said, "being able to act out scenes with Larry David, you can't get more freeing or lucky than that."< /blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2005 3:12 PM
Comments

It's a wonderful series.

Best comedy since Fawlty Towers.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at September 24, 2005 3:51 AM
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