Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
You can hear Jeff Garlin’s signature rumbling laugh way down the hall from inside his publicist’s Hollywood office, and when he ambles into a conference room, he’s all smiles, appearing just as blustery yet affable as his character Jeff Greene, Larry David’s jocular manager, from all eight seasons of HBO’s hit comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The actor-comic-writer-director, decked out in casual plaid slacks and a “Clockwork Orange” T-shirt, was relaxed and somewhat slimmed down from his new diet eschewing wheat and sugar, which, he said, is all good because, “If I have more energy and feel great, I’m funnier.”
During a conversation to promote his new Little League comic film, “Dealin’ With Idiots,” Garlin was breezily droll (he tends to laugh before he tells a joke, as if he is amusing himself) as well as low-key — which was remarkable given that in a few days he was scheduled to attend a meeting with city officials regarding his much-publicized June 15 arrest in Studio City over alleged vandalism reportedly stemming from an argument over a parking space. No charges were filed against Garlin.
The comedian admitted that the incident sounds like something right out of “Curb,” although he wasn’t able to talk about the details, save to say the events were “entirely boring and nothing like they’ve been portrayed in the media.” Even so, he was “shocked,” he said, when he was actually arrested, and it was distressing to find himself handcuffed in the back of a police car, then jailed for a number of hours. “The police didn’t recognize me — and I didn’t throw out the, ‘Do you know who I am?’ [line] — but the prisoners did. They were like, ‘Wow, what are you doing here?’ ” he recalled.
Still, there’s a bright side, sort of: The whole affair will become great fodder for his stand-up comedy act, once “everything is cleared and I can talk about it,” he said.
“The entire idea of it was idiocy,” he said.
Garlin knows from idiots. His new movie — all improvised, much like “Curb” — was inspired by the absurdly over-involved, narcissistic parents he observed on his older son’s Little League team about eight years ago. Garlin plays a successful comedian, not unlike himself, who is so aghast by the parents’ over-the-top behavior that he decides to interview them as material for a possible movie. “Dealin’ With Idiots” co-stars “Curb” alumnus J.B. Smoove as well as Bob Odenkirk, Fred Willard and Jami Gertz, Garlin’s old pal from Jewish preschool in Chicago. The IFC film is available nationwide on demand.
When this reporter mentioned that her son was about to start playing in the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), Garlin immediately quipped, “I’m sorry,” then added, “You’re going to see some crazy, crazy, crazy stuff.”
He said his new film was born at one baseball game, when he actually turned to his wife and said, “I’m dealing with idiots here.”
“It’s just the fact that parents would obsess over whether their kids’ team won or not,” he said of his observations. “They can be at times incredibly mean or embarrassing, and just to see the competitiveness in the stands and the snide comments about little kids — it was upsetting.
“Anything that brings me sadness and frustration ultimately leads to comedy, and, therefore, the movie,” he said.
The conversation turned to Garlin’s definition of an idiot: “The word ‘clueless’ comes to mind, and selfish and arrogant. And the worst kind of idiot is someone who doesn’t know they’re an idiot,” he said.
His always-scheming character Jeff Greene falls into that category: “He’s not that intelligent, he has no integrity and he’s kind of arrogant.
“What stops you from being an idiot is being humble,” Garlin added. “Some people can be incredibly stupid, but at least they know it.”
Garlin admitted he himself can succumb to the i-word syndrome. “Oh my God, can I be an idiot,” he said.
When dealing with idiots, the most important thing, he’s learned from the events of June 15, is to act serene. “Next time, I’ll just wave and smile and say, ‘Merry Christmas’ — or ‘Happy Chanukah,’ ” he said, then reconsidered. “But someone might take offense at ‘Happy Chanukah.’ No one takes offense to ‘Merry Christmas,’ even Jews.”
Garlin, who got his start with Chicago’s comedy troupe Second City, may be one of the most versatile performers working today. In recent years, he’s starred in Pixar films (as the voice of Buttercup the Unicorn in “Toy Story 3”), co-starred on series such as “Arrested Development” (not to mention “Curb”) and penned a 2010 memoir about his struggles with weight loss. He’s now conducting a monthly podcast, “By the Way, In Conversation With Jeff Garlin,” recorded live at the Largo theater, in Los Angeles, featuring luminaries such as David, Lena Dunham and Will Ferrell. And this fall he’ll debut as a gruff dad in a loud Jewish family in the new ABC sitcom “The Goldbergs.” As far as a ninth season of “Curb,” he said, he’s been talking to David and “chances are good.”
Then there’s his stand-up work, which he performs almost nightly around town, at venues like The Comedy Store and Largo — though he’s held off lately as he’s itching to talk about his arrest onstage and can’t as of yet. His act is almost all improvised, he said, with just a list of premises committed to memory. But no, he doesn’t tell audiences that he’s virtually flying blind: “That would be bragging,” he said. “It would be not unlike [jazz artist] John Coltrane stopping a show and going, ‘You know, I’m really making a lot of this up.’ ”
Dealing with hecklers — another kind of idiot, he said — “is pretty easy for me. I do it in a very friendly, affable way. The key is to not get angry and make sure the crowd’s on your side, and you can destroy a heckler in seconds.”
Garlin is about to start shooting additional episodes of “The Goldbergs,” which he describes as “like ‘The Wonder Years’ with an edge — and with Jews.” He’s pleased about the tribal title: “The only way it could be better is if it was called, ‘Jew,’ ” he said. “I play an Archie Bunker-like character who is a frustrated curmudgeon and emotionally unable to express himself except through anger.”
Will people assume that Garlin is an angry person because of his arrest?
“I’m crazy laid-back,” he said. “I do Transcendental Meditation, I take Lexapro, and I’m as calm as you can be.
“The truth is that at times we’re all idiots,” he said. “You’ve just got to recognize it, embrace it, forgive yourself and move on.”
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July 17, 2013 | 12:35 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
In 2009, Patti Linsky, now cantor emerita of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, conducted services for the High Holy Days with a low-grade pain in her abdomen that had been throbbing for months. The cause was a small stone in her bile duct that required a simple two-hour laparoscopic procedure. But during the ensuing operation, which took place around the time of Simchat Torah, Linsky’s pancreas was nicked, and she spiraled into a medical nightmare that would end her pulpit career and forever change her life.
“The pain was off the charts,” said Linsky, 57.
She tells this harrowing true story and others in her new cabaret show, “Altar EGO,” which will play to a sold-out house at Upstairs at Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club on July 25 and reprise on Oct. 23 and 24.
Two days after the damaging medical procedure, a different surgeon told Linsky, “You’re a very ill woman, and without another surgery, I cannot guarantee your life.” A day after that she woke up in the ICU. “They had to rebuild my core stomach muscles, which is not great for a singer,” she said.
After three and a half months of bed rest, Linsky attempted to return to work, but during her first bar mitzvah service she found herself overwhelmed by exhaustion and pain. For the rest of the weekend, she prayed for guidance, and the following week made the difficult decision to retire, leaving her professionally adrift.
“I never thought I would be anything but a cantor; it had been my identity for so long,” she said while sitting at her piano in her Valley Village living room. “But then I realized that being a cantor was just part of what I do; it’s not all of who I am. It became clear that act two of my life was coming, and I needed to trust God that I would be taken care of.”
“Altar EGO” was born when Linsky, who studied jazz vocal performance at the University of Miami, wrote a “bucket list” during a women’s spirituality workshop in 2010 and realized that her new dream was to write and star in a one-woman show.
Created with Bob Garrett, the show’s director, and performed with a backup band consisting of piano, bass and drums, the piece features songs ranging from ballads to bossa novas — some spiritual, some amusing and edgy, and all based on the various chapters of her life. A lyrical ballad titled “I Am Enough” sets up the theme of her show; there’s also a lullaby to her son as well as a number, sung to the tune of “Maria” from “West Side Story,” which describes Linsky’s hypoglycemic yearnings during Yom Kippur services: “Suddenly I hear the growling in my stomach blast, T’Kiyah!/I’d kill for some chips and sangria.”
Hilariously satirical numbers recount the lousy men she dated before meeting her husband of 21 years, psychologist David Rubin, as well as her devastating hospital stay and the time she visited a fat farm and actually gained weight.
When Linsky sings the soulful “My Mother’s Daughter,” written by one of her friends, she draws on her own painful relationship with her late mother, who at 17 was accepted as a soprano with the prestigious La Scala opera house but prevented from going by her parents.
“As a result, my mother vicariously lived through my voice,” Linsky said. “Yet everything was a judgment, and nothing was ever enough. But I understand her now, and I have forgiven her. She was a single parent, and she had a very difficult life.”
Linsky found her own voice as the junior cantor of her childhood Reform congregation in Coral Gables, Fla. After moving to Southern California with her first husband, at the age of 21, she became the cantorial soloist at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura before arriving at Ahavat Shalom in 1986. In 1993, the soprano received her cantorial certification from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Since becoming cantor emerita at Ahavat Shalom, she continues to teach, to conduct lifecycle events and to substitute for other cantors around town.
Her unabashedly honest show also recounts an especially dark chapter of her life that began after she suffered back and neck injuries during a car crash in 1996, followed by another botched operation, this one for a hernia, in which a doctor accidentally cut a nerve in her leg. Linsky found herself in chronic severe pain: “So I started on Neurontin, Oxycontin and other medicines that made the pain go away — and also made the emotional pain go away,” she said.
What followed was a decade of abusing prescription drugs and, in the later years, a descent into alcoholism. Nevertheless, Linsky, a mother of two, managed to maintain her hectic schedule as the cantor of a thriving congregation, plus duties at home and with the American Conference of Cantors. “I felt this pressure to be Superwoman,” she said. “I did it all until I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Finally, Linsky had what she describes as a nervous breakdown and checked herself into a rehabilitation center in Malibu in 2007. “For the first time, I was experiencing my authentic feelings,” she said. “There was shame and self-judgment: I had been working in this very public arena, and I had been leading a double life. But it was also very liberating.”
Linsky said her relationship with God deepened and she returned to work a month later “a much more deliberate woman with a purposeful intention to really stay on this course. I went into a recovery program, and since that time I have been repaid a million times over with blessings, with love and with God.”
In her show, she recounts her years of drug abuse in an irreverent song, “Addiction!” sung to the tune of “Tradition!” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” that asks, “Who day and night must take an Oxycontin, chase it with Neurontin and a Xanax, too/And who do you know who thinks Vicodin’s a food group/Could it be this Reform Jew?”
How does Linsky — now clean and sober for years — feel about congregants learning about her addictions through “Altar EGO”? “I’m sure the word is going around, but what matters to me is that people leave the show feeling like they are ‘enough,’ and that there’s no shame in being human.
“This piece is teshuvah [repentance] in a lot of ways,” she added. “There are many ways of making amends and forgiving ourselves, and it’s never too late for that.”
For tickets and information about Linsky’s October performances, visit http://www.vitellosjazz.com/event/patti-linsky-altar-ego-4.
July 10, 2013 | 11:57 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Actor Rick Moranis has busted ghosts in the “Ghostbusters” flicks, shrunk the kids in that comedy film franchise, tried not to get gobbled by a man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” spoofed Darth Vader as Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” and over-parented in “Parenthood.”
So what’s he doing with his new comedy album, “My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs,” complete with klezmer, rhumba and jazzy ditties including “Pu-Pu-Pu,” “My Wednesday Balabusta” and “I’m Old Enough to Be Your Zaide”?
In a phone conversation from his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the wry, 60-year-old Moranis said he’s been hanging with the Tribe since withdrawing from Hollywood to raise his two kids about 15 years ago. “I noticed that people of my generation were starting to use more [Yiddish] expressions,” he said. “They were in an odd sort of way becoming their parents.
“Twenty years ago, my sister never said, ‘Pu pu pu,’ and now she’s constantly spitting it into the phone. Last Labor Day, I went to a wedding, and I said to a cousin of mine, ‘I saw your grandson’s video on YouTube, he’s so talented — pu pu pu! And I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m writing a song.’ ”
The result is a klezmer-inspired tune that warns, “Before you’re jumping up and down and holding hands and kicking up a hora/ consider possibilities of triggering a juicy kanahara [evil eye].”
Another number, “Live Blogging the Himel Family Bris” describes a nosy online journalist who is fressing (stuffing his face) with one hand so he can type with the other; “Wednesday Balabusta” was inspired by Moranis’ housekeeper; and “The Seven Days of Shiva,” sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” marvels, “On the first day of shiva, the Stulbergs sent in/the biggest potato kugel I’ve ever seen. On the second day of shiva, the Katzmans had delivered/Two tureens of borscht and a bigger potato kugel than the Stulbergs’.”
The album’s title song, of course, pays homage to his mom’s prowess with that signature Jewish dish: “When I was a little kid, it was not uncommon for a cousin or an uncle, before they would even say ‘Hello,’ to gush, ‘You know, your mother’s brisket is just incredible; it’s so good,’ ” Moranis recalled. “That was an inspiration for creating a love song in that well-worn terrain of the relationship between a Jewish boy and his mother.”
The CD’s cover art depicts a “before” photograph of Moranis getting ready to tuck into mom’s victuals and an “after” picture of him asleep, with his belt loosened, zonked out from all that overindulging.
Consider the album a kind of comic revenge: “When I first began writing jokes and sketches with various Jewish partners, it was not uncommon for one of us to stop the proceedings and declare, ‘Too Jewish!’ ” Moranis said. “The songs on this album are all in that category.”
And they’re dedicated to “all of the soon-to-be alter-kackers” [old guys] from his childhood summer camps and “my former fellow inmates of the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto.”
While Moranis admitted to having regarded Hebrew school as “cruel and unusual punishment,” he said he grew up in a “joyful” Jewish home in a modest bungalow on a street of all-identical houses in Toronto.
“I was really good at impressions,” he said, which was one reason he eventually got into show business. As a stand-up comic in the late 1970s, Moranis mined laughs by mimicking celebrities like Woody Allen and George Carlin, and later, on the late-night sketch show “Second City Television” (“SCTV”), he was Bob McKenzie, one of the beer-guzzling Canadian McKenzie brothers, an act he re-created as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live.”
Eventually he got into feature films, working with directors such as Frank Oz and Ivan Reitman. But Moranis made the decision to stay closer to home, switching mostly to voiceover and commercial work, after a family tragedy: In 1991, his wife, Anne, died of breast cancer that had metastasized to the liver, leaving the actor alone to care for their two children, then 4
“It just got to the point where I felt like I didn’t want to be talking to my kids from airports and hotels, and so I took a break, and then discovered I didn’t miss it,” he said of the film biz.
Moranis has loved music since he listened to the Beatles as a teenager and put down his hockey stick for an electric guitar; in 2005 he put out a country comedy album, of all things, titled “Agoraphobic Cowboy,” which went on to earn a Grammy Award nomination and made a profit to boot.
One song on that CD, “Mean Old Man,” was inspired by his friends’ Jewish parents, who used to regale an elderly Russian immigrant who whacked them with eucalyptus leaves at the shvitz (steam room). That, in part, whet his appetite to explore more of his Jewish roots with “My Mother’s Brisket.”
The new album features at least a dash of social commentary: The bris song, Moranis said, “was a good place to write what I wanted about blogging, which is how I loathe it and how dangerous I think it is. There’s no filter, no editing, no anything. And I thought a bris would be a perfect place for someone to violate privacy, act immorally and publish.”
While Moranis said he doesn’t much care if the album sells — “I made it for, like, 16 people,” he quipped — he was worried some of the naughtier tunes might alienate segments of the Jewish community.
“There’s a gray area between Conservative and Orthodox people, for whom you don’t screw around with the mezuzah, you don’t mess with the holy melodies,” he said. “Now, I’m glad I had that compass on me, because that kept me from doing other things that are far worse. But the record came out this past month, and I was completely surprised by the reaction: Nobody found anything to be offensive.”
The bonus add-on gift of an inscribed yarmulke with every purchase can’t hurt.
BONUS CLIP: Ludicrous speed ("Spaceballs")
July 5, 2013 | 7:10 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
The radio program “The Rise of the Goldbergs” premiered in 1929, introducing America to an unabashedly Jewish immigrant family whose matriarch, Molly (Gertrude Berg) dished out compassion and comedy as rich as her own chicken soup.
Two decades later, a television version of the series – a groundbreaking domestic sitcom years before “I Love Lucy” – aired for seven years on CBS, where Molly reigned in her tenement flat and was serenaded by a neighbor leaning across an air shaft to call out, “Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!”
Now a new Goldberg family is coming to prime time, in an ABC sitcom also titled “The Goldbergs,” created by Adam F. Goldberg, 37 ("Breaking In," Fanboys"). But it’s not a sequel or a remake and, in fact, doesn’t draw at all on Berg’s work. Rather, it’s based on Adam Goldberg’s family life growing up in Pennsylvania in the 1980s with a Camcorder glued to his face to capture the antics of his crazy mishpoche, whom, we’re told, had only one means of communication: shouting at the top of their lungs.
A trailer for the show reveals these Goldbergs to be like “The Wonder Years” on high-octane fuel, and perhaps Jewish in name only, even though Tribal archetypes seem to abound. The hilarious Jeff Garlin (Jeff Greene from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) is the gruff, abrasive patriarch (“I don’t say it a lot but you’re not a total moron all the time” is his means of saying “I love you"). And when his 17-year-old daughter returns home past her curfew: "It's 2 a.m., I thought you were dead. I could kill you!"
Wendy McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”) portrays the overprotective, boundary-challenged mother; in one sequence she barges in on her middle son (played by Troy Gentile) in the shower and asks what he wants for his birthday, prompting him to retort: “Privacy!” In another, she announces, "Fine, I'll eat the way I'll die -- alone!
George Segal (“Don’t Shoot Me”) is the mischievous grandpa, Hayley Orrantia portrays the tart teenaged daughter and Sean Giambrone is Adam, Goldberg’s alter ego, who is extorted by his parents to “Stop with the camera [already]!”
Whether or not we’ll see a bar mitzvah or a Shabbat dinner on “The Goldbergs” remains to be seen when the show premieres this fall; it may be that the series depicts just another American family struggling with typical suburban concerns (middle child Barry, for example, wants the keys to the family car, to his parents’ chagrin) – albeit an octave or two louder than the denizens of “Seinfeld” or “Everybody Loves Raymond.”