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?