Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
July 11, 2013
In “Dealin’ with Idiots,” Chicago native Jeff Garlin stars as a comedian who gets so fed up with foolish parents he observes at his son’s youth baseball game that he decides to spend more time with them—not to increase his understanding but to research a movie.
Since Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With”) was inspired by real-life frustration with his son’s teammates’ parents, and he co-wrote, directed and stars in an improvised comedy that aims to generate laughs from his character’s condescending commentary, it’s fair to wonder if people who see the film will perceive him as an angry person. Particularly in light of Garlin’s recent arrest, during which he reportedly fought with someone over a parking space and smashed the person’s car windows. (An account Garlin disputes.)
At the James Hotel, the 51-year-old Second City vet, who appears at Friday and Saturday night’s screenings of the film at the Music Box, said he tries to be kind and peaceful. However, he also said that he has no idea how to handle the world’s stupidity and in real life makes the same type of comments his character makes without any effort to understand others. To a degree, he got angry about the possibility of people seeing him as angry.
You’re such a big Chicago sports fan. A friend of mine wanted to know why Jim Belushi is the representative for celebrity Chicago sports fans when a lot of people would rather see you out there.
Well, I gotta be honest with you: You’d see more of me, but I don’t want to be the guy in every sports documentary. I actually sometimes go to sporting events and don’t let the Bears or the Cubs know that I’m even there.
I don’t want a shot of me watching the game.
What’s wrong with that?
I don’t want to bother people! … Jim Belushi’s doing a fine job. Let him do it or the other people who they show.
Why do you see that as bothering people?
Because I think it can be annoying. I did this great Cubs documentary that was on HBO. I was happy they included me and all, but then I did another documentary and then I got asked for another doc … and at a certain point, I don’t want to be the talking head. Like, “What the [bleep] does he know?”
It shows we need more Chicago celebrities so they won’t keep going back to the same people.
There’s tons of Chicago celebrities. It just is that Jim Belushi happens to go to all the games and they know—I don’t know what Jim Belushi’s story is. The only thing I know is that his TV show had the worst name of any TV show in the history of mankind: “According to Jim.” You know how many times in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” we’d discuss a scene and I would just go, “You know, according to Jim …” Or we’d say, “Tomorrow’s ‘Mike and Molly’ day. Dress as your favorite ‘Mike and Molly’ character.” [Laughs] Just having fun. But “According to Jim” is a terrible title. Never watched the show, but a terrible, terrible title.
That’s been adopted so much recently, like “Hart of Dixie” or that Will Arnett/Keri Russell show whose title escapes me now, but it’s like, “Let’s think of the character name and then” –
I don’t like puns.
My new show on ABC is called “The Goldbergs.”
Right. That’s not a pun on anything.
Love it. Love it. You might as well have called the show “Jew.” Which I’m very pleased with. We shouldn’t be afraid anymore of being—and the show’s not necessarily, on any level, about the Jewish experience. It’s just a Jewish family, and all different types of people will be able to associate with it. But I love that it’s called “The Goldbergs.”
I’m Jewish myself as well. How difficult do you think it is to avoid--there’s a lot of stuff that winds up succumbing to stereotypes in one way or another.
Well, if you’re intelligent you’re not going to succumb to stereotypes. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a Jewish show. There’s no stereotypes.
You mentioned annoyances earlier. “Dealin’ with Idiots” is a movie that seems to come from annoyances that you have. How much is this based on people you know and have interacted with? Why did you want to do a project like this?
I came up with the idea while watching my son play baseball in an organized league. And I watched the behavior of the parents, and it was astonishing to me that these people—I actually thought to myself, and I do say it in the movie, “What are their private lives like that would make them behave this way?”
Why do you think the youth baseball setting brings this behavior out of people?
I don’t have a clue. Here I made this movie, I thought about it, and I have no idea why as parents we’re so involved now. I don’t remember my mom even ever coming to a game. Maybe she came to one game. But I never thought, “She doesn’t love me.” My dad came to two or three games. He was busy working. Parents just didn’t come. Sometimes they did. But now they all go to every game. It’s crazy.
What would you say to someone who was an inspiration for this movie if they see the film and say, “Hey, Jeff, I feel like you were depicting me in this movie”?
No one will say that.
Because they won’t recognize themselves. Also, no one’s going to ever say, even if it was right on the money, “That’s me.” Trust me; they wouldn’t know.
Do you think there are any idiots that know that they’re idiots?
No! That’s part of what makes an idiot an idiot. They don’t think they’re an idiot.
What percentage of the world do you think is stupid?
What percentage is stupid?! I really don’t know! I’ve never sat and wondered about that! There’s so many people, so it seems like there’s a lot of stupid people out there, but I don’t know. Smart people could outnumber ‘em for all I know. By a great deal.
Why does it seem like there are so many stupid ones out there?
Maybe the stupid ones are the ones that go out, and the smart ones stay in. I don’t know! I certainly run into my share of stupid people.
You got this idea from observing people’s foolishness—
If you want to see the stupidity of America, become a comedian. Because you experience—(addressing RedEye photographer Lenny Gilmore) I have never had a guy who is in charge of a camera--I’m not mad!—make as much noise as you. I don’t know what you’re screwing over there or what you’re walking into! OK. I just think it’s hysterical. That’s all.
You were saying about—
I don’t even remember.
Become a comedian to see the stupidity in people.
(watches Lenny) You just squeaked!
Become a comedian to see stupidity. Why do you say that?
Because perform in comedy clubs. The majority of people that go to comedy clubs: not that smart.
Like they’re heckling you, or what makes you say that?
You engage them with what you’re talking about. It’s not that—(gets distracted by Lenny) (mouths) What’s he doing?
We’re just getting ready for photos and want to make them look good. We don’t want to bother you.
No, I’m fine! I was just wondering. (to Lenny) How are you?
I’m curious why you think people at comedy clubs—those are your people, that’s your audience—
No, it’s not. Everyone’s my audience. It’s not one thing in particular. Have you spent much time in comedy clubs?
Not as much as you, but I’ve been an audience.
OK. Have you ever witnessed a terrible comedian who is homophobic, misogynistic, arrogant, and the audience is laughing?
I fortunately have not been in the club for that, but that happens all the time.
I’ve seen people worse than what Michael Richards says. So generally when I perform at a place that’s alternative and off the beaten path, the audiences are a lot more intelligent. Or you play a theater where there’s no alcohol served. Alcohol is the one common denominator of stupidity.
Because it brings everyone to that level of laughing?
It just brings everyone to a level below themselves. I’m not talking about necessarily having one beer or a glass of wine but drunks.
[SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING EXCHANGE CONTAINS INFORMATION ABOUT THE FILM'S ENDING.]
When being inspired to do a movie like this, why approach it this way? For a lot of the movie you’re observing the stupidity and almost treating it like a comedy routine, ripping on these people. To me it was like a one-man, judgmental Greek chorus. Why make a movie like that of complaining?
All right. So you can’t use this part. You’re going to be able to cut this.
Why would we do that?
Because I’m going to talk about the ending of the movie.
OK. We don’t want to ruin the ending.
Exactly. Well, the ending, who becomes the biggest idiot? Me. By far!
You think so?
I lose my [bleep].
You do …
That was my intent. So whether you interpreted that way … my intent was the guy who’s the Greek chorus, the guy who’s judging everyone becomes the biggest idiot of them all. That’s what I thought.
The movie is meant to show that getting upset and going on a rant is not a solution to the idiots in the world. What is a better way to deal with this behavior?
Well, I don’t know. That’s not my purpose as a filmmaker.
How about your feelings as a person?
My feelings as a person is don’t go to the game. Let your kid just play. That’s my opinion that I shouldn’t even be there.
What if your kid really wants you there?
Then I go. But my kids don’t give a [bleep]. I think most kids don’t give a [bleep]. If a kid needs you to be there based on feeling whether you love ‘em or not, you’re not doing a good job as a parent. I care! I would go to an occasional game. I went to a lot of my kids’ games. My son plays soccer for his school; I go to most of the games when I can, but I don’t let myself be known. I don’t yell to him on the field. I stay in the background. I think all parents should stay in the background. It’s not about you.
Let’s say you’re in that setting observing all these people who are bothering you: What do you do? A lot of people in the world are dealing with this frustration all the time.
I would sit with my friends or my wife and talk about it. Just like I do in the movie. “Did you see what he just did?” Yeah, I’d do the same thing.
One of my favorite rap lyrics of all time is when Jay-Z says, “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools because people from a distance can’t tell who is who.” I think that’s really profound.
That’s very profound! And that’s true. From a distance, you see two people yelling, you don’t know who the fool is. And if two people are yelling, odds are they’re both fools.
To your point about the way that the film ends, I feel like it’s always a delicate balance with films that laugh at behavior that they wind up condemning at the end. Did you see “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”?
The Adam Sandler movie? No.
That movie is mostly poking fun, making homophobic gay jokes that they want the audience to laugh at, and ultimately at the end it’s like, “Well, you should have known better.” But obviously the movie doesn’t work if you’re not laughing at it in the first place. I’m not comparing the two movies—
You actually just caught yourself using “Chuck and Larry” as a reference to me.
You’re generating laughs out of—
I’m just showing behavior.
But judgment, certainly.
No, I’m showing behavior. You judge. My character judges, but my character could be wrong.
Do you expect people to relate to anyone but you in the movie, though?
I don’t expect them to do anything. I think the movie could be a complete failure. I have no idea who they’re going to relate to, how they’re going to react. I don’t have a clue, man. I’ve done one screening of the movie. One. At Pixar of all places.
How did that go?
It went great! Which shocked me because they’re so story-driven there, and the idea that all the people that work there liked the movie and there’s not much of a story in my movie I think. I went for a feeling in my movie. But I have no idea how an audience is going to associate or react.
You’re not playing yourself in this movie but it comes from your observations. Is there any sense of you wondering if people will see this and wonder if you are an angry person?
[Laughs] No! I don’t wonder what anyone thinks, man! I just do my best day in and day out to get through the day and be kind to people and be thoughtful, and hopefully I’m contributing. But I can’t sit back and wonder that. That’s like the last thing on my mind. I just hope people see the movie and dig it. That’s what I hope for. But if someone watches this movie and thinks that I’m an angry person, I think that would be crazy. That’s just my take. You obviously think it or you wouldn’t have asked it! It’s too much of a non sequitur otherwise.
I’m not saying you are an angry person—
But you must have watched it and thought, “I wonder if Jeff Garlin’s an angry guy.” Because otherwise that’s a giant non sequitur, and I feel a huge jump.
That’s an interesting point. I don’t think I was saying, “I wonder if he is.” I think when I watch movies I think about what audiences may take away from the film. And I think that’s something they may be wondering about.
So if you watch a James Bond movie, you’re wondering—
That’s a completely different thing!
If you’re watching a Fellini movie or you’re watching any movie, you’re actually wondering what an audience is going to take away from it? Aren’t you only concerned with what you take away from it?
Well, if someone writes a movie, directs it, stars in it—
When you watch “Manhattan” … have you seen “Manhattan”?
Yeah. You don’t think people watch Woody Allen movies and wonder how much of that is his own personal behavior? I think people absolutely do.
No, I think I come away [from] watching a Woody Allen movie and just think whether or not I dig it or not. I’m not thinking about what other people are thinking or wondering.
But you don’t think people see Woody Allen movies and think, “This is probably what he’s really like”?
But I don’t think of what people are thinking. That’s not in my thought process.
Right. I’m asking you if—that has never occurred to you, that if films are written, directed and starring someone—
They’re fiction! If it’s a documentary … I’m sure that the story that he’s writing comes from somewhere and there may be truth somewhere, but it’s fiction! So I’m not wondering, is Woody Allen … working with Larry David, people always ask me, “Is Larry David really like that?” No, he’s not! He’s not! It’s not like him at all! And so I don’t wonder that. Your questions are very intriguing, my friend.
Is that a good thing?
No. But it’s not a bad thing. It is what it is. You like being, what’s the word I’m looking for? Causing a thing. Putting a spin on the thing. And I think you should just ask what you’re generally curious about.
OK, then I’ll come out and say: I don’t want to pry, but when someone has a personal incident that deals with something—
Oh, you’re trying to get away with [asking about] me getting arrested?
I’m saying if something happens involving in anger.
How do you know that it involved anger? You only read it on TMZ.
All you can go from is what you read.
I don’t read TMZ.
Where do you think everyone got the story from? TMZ. Reported by TMZ.
I appreciate that, but all I’m asking you about is what people may think, and that is information that people have perceived. True or not, it’s what they’ve heard.
But you went around it. So that’s where it came from. If people perceive me as an angry person. It’s based on me having been arrested. Which is crazy because if you were there, you would go, “That’s all that happened? That’s all?” The charges are dropped. No, I’m not an angry person. I’m an extremely peaceful person. I do transcendental meditation. I’m very content and happy. Certain things will frustrate me or whatever, but in general I’m not remotely angry. But I do at all times, as an actor, I’m in the moment. So when you ask me the questions you ask me I will react in the moment and accordingly.
Absolutely. And I appreciate that. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather talk about things that are interesting to talk about when it comes to an interview like this. I’m not looking to offend you—
By the way. You didn’t remotely offend me.
OK, that’s good. But you can see how it may be something that the public may be wondering. Information, misinformation, whatever it may be.
OK, but you weren’t clear on that. You were saying that in an abstract form that if people will watch the movie and think that I may have an anger problem.
Well, I was leading into that. It’s usually not good to lead off with questions like that.
Well, then you’re talking to angry people. Because I think it is good to get to the point: What is it you want? Boom.
To ask the hardest-ball question right away?
Well, whatever you ask them, ask them. As opposed to making it strange, the journey to get there.
Well, I’m glad that we got there together, Jeff.
Yeah. It’s all good.
How often he comes back to Chicago: “As often as I can. Could be half a dozen [times per year]. Could be one. Depends on what I’m doing. I at least come here once a year. I can’t remember the last year I wasn’t here. Even after moving away … I still call it home. I have an apartment here … I’m not [the neighborhood] where I live! People could still look for me. I don’t know; leave me alone! I’m not saying my neighborhood.”
Bars or restaurants he likes frequenting when back in town: “Not bars; I don’t drink. But when I was at Second City I went to Old Town Ale House probably more than any other bar. But Chicago has great bars on every corner. Restaurants, I don’t have to hit but Eleven City Diner is one of my favorites, which is now open in Lincoln Park too. Eleven Lincoln Park. RPM is always one of my favorites. Joe’s Stone Crab. The Vienna hot dog factory. Lou Malnati’s. Every level of food in terms of the presentation. [Laughs] I go to a factory to eat; I eat at a fine restaurant.”
The chance of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returning: “I think there’s a good chance… I don’t have a clue [when it would be]. I never do. He just calls me and goes, ‘Do you want to do more?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s do more!’ That’s all.”
His favorite rap artists: “I used to listen to NWA and A Tribe Called Quest. A Tribe Called Quest is probably my all-time favorite. ‘I Lost My Wallet in El Segundo’ is probably my favorite Tribe Called Quest song … I don’t rap. I’m a 51-year-old man who doesn’t come from a rapping world. I can appreciate great rap, but I don’t rap. [Laughs] I’m sorry. Actually, I’m not sorry! I’m thrilled I don’t rap … It would be so sad if I could rap right now!”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC