Dealin’ with Idiots — Jeff Garlin’s new movie, which he co-wrote, directs, and stars in, and which is out today — can be summed up with just one brilliantly painful line of dialogue. Kerri Kenney-Silver, who plays a mother in the film, tries to psych up her son for a youth baseball game by asking “What does Mommy always tell you? Don’t fuck up. But have fun, that’s what’s most important.” The “idiots” of the movie’s title are the parents who care way too much about their kids’ athletic abilities, and Garlin, as a befuddled comic looking for his next movie idea, thinks there might be comedy gold in their awful behavior.
I met with the former (and possibly future) Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star in Chicago, his hometown and the place he always returns to like a bad habit. As Dealin’ with Idiots opens nationwide this weekend, he’ll be at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, because obviously. The first thing we discussed was the Second City, the legendary comedy theater in Chicago (alma mater of Tina Fey, John Belushi, Steve Carell, etc.) where he got his start as a performer. He also worked at the theater’s box office, as did I, so there was a lot of “inside baseball” talk that would only be interesting if you had a minimum-wage job selling tickets for improv shows in Chicago in the 1990s. Let’s pick up where the conversation got less boring.
Jeff Garlin: I actually worked at the box office with Stephen Colbert.
Eric Spitznagel: Holy crap, did you really?
Back before he got put on a stage.
Was it just non-stop hilarity?
Not really. Actually, I have a great box office story, nothing to do with Colbert. When people were jerky to me on the phone, I would tell them that they were sitting in the puppet section.
What’s the puppet section?
I told them that during the show, marionettes and puppets would drop from the ceiling onto exactly where they were sitting.
And they were excited by this news?
Always. The trick was, you had to really sell it. I would be like, “You know what? We’ve got the puppet section for you!”
Like somehow they’d been upgraded for being jerks?
Right. So then I’d write it next to their reservation. And I would show up that night for the show and ask the hosts, “Where are the puppet people?”
The whole show they’d be looking up at the ceiling, waiting for puppets and marionettes and various things to drop on them, which never happened.
We should probably talk about your movie. Dealin’ with Idiots was inspired by real experiences you’ve had as a parent, right?
Yeah. My kids have played soccer and baseball and basketball, and the parents who come to games are always saying and doing things that are just wildly inappropriate.
It sometimes seems like they think they’re watching professional athletes. The way they talk to their kids, it’s just terrible. It’s a big bowl of bad behavior. Parents shouldn’t even be there. Stay home! Kids don’t need you to watch them play sports.
That does seem to be a new thing. I don’t remember parents going to games when I was a kid.
They weren’t there! Parents rarely came to games. When I was a kid, you might have two or three parents in the stands at the very most. But now it’s the opposite. Maybe two or three parents don’t show up for a game. It’s crazy.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t have a clue. I’ve thought about it, especially while making this movie, but I don’t know. Maybe parents are trying to fill holes from their own youth?
You never get worked up when you’re watching your kids play sports?
Yeah, but I don’t yell at them. Never. Never. You root for them. When a kid strikes out, my reaction is “Awww.” You know what I mean? I’m disappointed, but I mostly feel bad for them.
Do your kids get away with more if they’re funny?
Like bad behavior?
Yeah. If they make you laugh, are you less likely to punish them?
Sure. But that’s not just them. Anyone who’s funny gets away with more. There’s only one true superpower amongst human beings, and that is being funny. People treat you differently if you can make them laugh. Women like you more if you’re funny. You get away with things other people don’t get away with. And the kryptonite for people who are funny are people without any sense of humor.
Have you ever used humor to get out of a difficult situation?
Absolutely. But it depends on the situation. I was recently arrested and I didn’t use my humor at all. I kept my sense of humor about me, but I didn’t use it. I was very respectful to the police officers, and I think that had a lot to do with the charges being dropped.
But at least privately, you thought getting arrested was funny?
A lot of it was hilarious. Especially when I was in jail. I did find humor in things, and I’ll use it later for a stand-up routine. But while in the midst of it, I only used my sense of humor to keep myself sane. I wasn’t trying to make other people laugh.
Was it scary, being in jail?
Not really. The whole thing was really extraordinarily boring. Even the incident. I didn’t smash someone’s car window because of a disagreement over a parking space. It wasn’t that at all. But that’s what was written in the press.
It was all conjecture?
Completely. And I didn’t comment on it. I still can’t really comment on it. But it wasn’t anything horrible and the charges were dropped. I just wish my humor could have gotten me out of going to jail.
So a sense of humor has its limitations?
Yeah. If the policemen were fans of mine, I would’ve used humor, to be honest. If they knew who I was, I would’ve been funny and I would’ve gotten out of it. But I’m certainly not going to say, “Do you know who I am?”
You’re not going to pull a Reese Witherspoon?
Yeah. Poor girl. I feel bad for her. The “Do you know who I am?” question never works. I’d just feel silly asking that. Forget full of myself, I’m not remotely impressed with myself. I know I’m funny, but I think of myself as being incredibly lucky.
You’re going to be at Wrigley Field tomorrow for the Cubs/Angels game?
Yeah, I’ll be there.
And you’ll be doing seventh-inning stretch action?
[Laughs.] Seventh-inning stretch action. Yes, there’s a lot of action when you sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Especially if there are Tiger fans in the crowd.
You’re talking about last year.
When you concluded the seventh inning sing-a-long by telling Detroit Tiger fans that they suck.
I won’t be doing that this time. I live in L.A., so I can’t say anything about the Angels. I’m not going to say anything about anybody anymore. I’m really not. I’m turning down the irreverence switch.
It’s not helping anybody. It’s not helping humanity. There’s just no positives to it, my being irreverent. I think it’s important to be kinder. I’ve always been thoughtful about having noble targets. That’s been important. But Tiger fans… [laughs] are not exactly a noble target.
No, no they don’t.
They kinda do.
So you were lying last summer?
It was just frustrating. I was in Wrigley with more Tiger fans in the crowd than Cubs fans.
You think the Cubs can do it this year? Are they finally going to win a World Series?
Really? I was joking.
No, no, I’m feeling very positive about what [Cubs president] Theo [Epstein] is doing. I think they have a chance.
But that’s the classic tragedy structure of a Cubs season. I’m a third-generation Cubs fan and I’ve seen it happen. They get our hopes up in the beginning and then dash them at the end.
When we’ve gotten close, the reason they’ve choked is that nobody acknowledges the elephant in the room.
How long it’s been.
Since they’ve won?
It’s been 105 years since they won a Series. If players acknowledge that and go, “Yeah, this is pretty stressful,” then we’ll be in good shape. But if they don’t acknowledge it, they’ll internalize it. When they internalize it, they make errors, they strike out.
They freak themselves out.
Right. The Red Sox were able to do it, and they did it by being gregarious and fun and winning ugly. That’s what we need to do.
Do you believe in the Billy Goat Curse?
[Long sigh.] Okay, let me talk about this.
I’m not being facetious. I’m honestly curious if you think the curse is real.
So the Red Sox curse was that they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, right? Well, if you sell the greatest baseball player of all time to your archenemy, that’s a bit of a curse. It’s just a curse of stupidity. Now, one day in the 1940s, when people wore suits to the ballpark, ladies wore dresses, a man wanted to bring his pet goat into Wrigley Field. And the Cubs said no, you can’t. And this man who had no superpowers before said, “I put a curse on you.” Do I believe in the curse? No I do not.
Maybe if he’d been funny, they would’ve let the goat in?
No. Not even if he was funny. There was no chance in that era. Even today, when people come to Wrigley dressed like homeless people, if you tried to bring a kitty-cat to a game, they wouldn’t let you. You know what I mean? “I have a puppy.” Sorry, no, can’t bring the puppy in. “But he’s my pet.” Answer’s still no.
I hadn’t thought of it that way. It’s kind of a dickish move.
And this was back when people wore dresses and suits and hats and umbrellas to baseball games. Why should he have been able to bring his goat? It’s insane!
So all that fuss about getting the bad juju out of Wrigley — you’re saying it’s not worth the time?
It’s nonsense. And I say that as somebody who believes in ghosts. I believe in the supernatural. But I think when it comes to the Cubs, it’s a lame excuse and it’s not true. It’s all in our heads.
Another Second City alum, Bill Murray, owns a few minor league ball clubs.
He owns two, right?
The St. Paul Saints and the Charleston RiverDogs.
Would you want to own a baseball team, either major or minor league?
My God yes. But I don’t have as much money as Bill Murray. Hey, if I do more Curbs and I get more movie roles and my standup audience builds, I think owning a baseball team would be a strong possibility. I’d like to own the Cubs.
I would love to own the Cubs. I’m a big bowl of I would love to own the Cubs.
What would you change if you were in charge?
Not much. I wouldn’t change what Theo is doing with the team. I’d be more interested in protecting the inside of the ballpark. Here’s the thing: I’ve been to most ballparks. It’s a constant barrage of noise. They have loud music when a player comes up to bat. They have loud music in between batters. They have loud music between innings. But at Wrigley, it’s just the organ, which is so nice.
You want to keep things 20th century?
I don’t mind an ad or two on the wall. I really don’t. But do I mind a big LED scoreboard in the outfield? Yeah, I don’t want that. That takes away from the experience. That’s just noise. There is something about baseball that’s calming when it’s done in the right way. You can’t turn baseball into basketball or hockey. For me, baseball is more comparable to chess than it is to hockey.
You said something earlier about there being more Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes.
It’s a possibility.
A movie or another season?
I thought it was over. It seems like you wrapped things up.
Did we wrap it up? Larry went to New York and then got kicked out. What does that have to do with wrapping it up?
But when most TV shows end, that’s it. They don’t change their mind. If they get canceled, maybe they’ll get picked up by another network. But when a show ends because the creator ends it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of two years passing and then they say, “Let’s do another season!”
We could keep going forever. Larry has a lot of money, so he’s not going to continue unless creatively it’s interesting to him. That’s been true with guys like Larry, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld. I could just name great comedian after great comedian.
And/or rich guys.
Money is great, but if you think that’s even slightly their motivation, you are wrong. Money has no part in the creative choices they make. I’m not rich and it has nothing to do with my creative choices.
But would you do something for an obscene amount of money if it meant you could own the Cubs?
No. Not even then. Because what’s the purpose of that?
Owning the Cubs.
But then I’d always have that hanging over my head as owner of the Cubs.
But you’d own the Cubs. Who cares if you sold out to buy the team? You own the Cubs.
I don’t want to sell out. I don’t want to pass off something as good if I don’t believe it’s good just because there’s a big paycheck on the other end. I don’t want to be too much in people’s faces, like pitching for Doritos or something, because I’m getting paid. You sacrifice a piece of your soul when you do that. [Long pause.] There’s got to be an easier way to buy the Cubs.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)