Comic Jeff Garlin reaches heights atop
Some people believe that it takes hard work and
talent to make it in show business. Others believe that luck and
timing are just as important. Comedian Jeff Garlin, co-star and
executive producer of the HBO hit "Curb Your Enthusiasm," shows
that sometimes, the answer to the question, "What's needed to be
a success?" is "All of the above."
Garlin is a former member of Chicago's famed "Second
City" improv group, and a 21-year stand-up comedy veteran. He credits
"Second City" -- where he worked with people such as Tim Meadows,
Bonnie Hunt and Mike Myers -- for providing him with an education
in the finer points of acting, writing and directing comedy. While
he has never turned his back on stand-up, he has slowly crawled
up the Hollywood success ladder as a triple threat: He writes numerous
TV pilots, directs stand-up specials for comics such as Jon Stewart
and Denis Leary, and acts in shows such as "Mad About You," where
he was a regular for three seasons. But while he found success on
his own as a TV writer and actor, his biggest break just might have
occurred because his partner turned down a lunch invite.
Several years ago, Jeff shared a suite of writing
offices with Billy Crystal, "Seinfeld" creator Larry David and former
"Saturday Night Live" writer Alan Zweibel, with whom Garlin was
writing a pilot for CBS. One day, David asked Garlin and Zweibel
if they wanted to go for lunch, but Zweibel declined. So Garlin
and David ate and talked about David's desire to return to stand-up.
Garlin shared with him an idea he had for an HBO special about the
making of a HBO special, and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was born.
Bankrate spoke with Garlin about his own success and
that of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which had a Jan. 4 season debut
on HBO and releases its first season on DVD on Jan. 13.
Bankrate: When you were with "Second City,"
how did you make a living?
Jeff Garlin: When I did "Second City," I had
my car repossessed. I made a very small living. But when I was doing
stand-up I was working on the road, making cash. I made more than
enough to pay my rent, anywhere from $400 to $700 per week. Then
I focused on "Second City," and things weren't as good financially.
Bankrate: So how did you pay the bills?
Garlin: I worked at the box office of "Second
City," selling tickets to the shows and answering phones. That was
the last day job I had. I've been doing stand-up for 21 years, and
making a living at it about 14.
Bankrate: When did you hit the point where
you were making great money as a stand-up?
Garlin: Here's the thing. As a stand-up, I'm
only now making a good living. I maxed out at maybe, during the
heyday, $1,000 a week. Only now do I make a really good living as
a stand-up, where I can work full time as a stand-up and have a
house. It took "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for me to make a real good
living at it. Even when I had done Letterman and an HBO half-hour
special, those meant nothing. I had offers to go on the road for
$2,000 a week, $3,000, tops. But that wasn't enough money for me
to leave Los Angeles and a lucrative TV and movie career. I was
making a living as an actor in L.A. Nobody's going to pay any real
money until you can put people in the seats. When you put people
in the seats, that's when they open their checkbooks. They're happy
to. So now I put people in the seats and sell out shows, and I do
clubs and concerts. And people come.
Bankrate: What acting were you doing?
Garlin: I was on "Mad About You" for three
seasons. I did lots of different sitcoms, bit parts in movies. I
was working. But just prior to "Curb," I really made my living in
a big way by developing television shows for myself. For example,
I'd sign a deal with NBC, and I'd write the pilot for myself, so
I got paid to do that, and I made a really good living. When we
did the special for "Curb," I was writing one for CBS with Alan
Zweibel, which HBO was producing, which was ironic. I've had deals
with ABC, Fox, every network except for the WB and UPN.
Bankrate: How lucrative are those deals?
Garlin: They're not lucrative enough that
you get rich, but enough that you make six figures, and have enough
to live on for a year.
Bankrate: And that's even if they don't get
Garlin: None of them did. I did one pilot
years ago for Fox that I didn't write, it was just a development
deal, that got picked up for six episodes. But it never aired. The
first show I ever had that got picked up that was successful was
"Curb Your Enthusiasm." But I had four deals before that.
Bankrate: How has "Curb Your Enthusiasm" changed
your financial life?
Garlin: I'm very successful, but not rich
yet. I think I'll be rich soon. I'm a lot more successful than I
was before, a lot more successful than most people in show business.
Because, look, I'm doing a series for HBO, which doesn't necessarily
make you rich. I've only starred in one movie ("Daddy Day Care,"
with Eddie Murphy), and when you star in your first movie they pay
you eight bucks, because they know they have you. What -- I'm going
to say "no" to starring in a movie with Eddie Murphy? Now, if we
do a sequel, I'll make some money. I still won't be rich. But if
my career keeps going the way it's going, I'll be rich.
Bankrate: What do you consider rich? Because
with the great success of "Curb," I'd figure you'd be a millionaire.
Garlin: Here's the best way to say it. With
the success of "Curb," if that was a show in CBS, I would have millions
and millions of dollars. When you're on HBO, there's nowhere near
a million. They looked at our show as experimental until we won
the Golden Globe. Now don't get me wrong, I make a good living.
But I have to work. I take plenty of weeks off, I could afford to
not work for a month, not do anything. But rich to me is, I don't
have to work for a year, I don't have to work for the rest of my
life, either one of those things. You have to be as rich as Larry
David to be rich. He could buy a country.
Larry Getlen is a freelance journalist
and comedian in New York. Enjoy his frivolity at http://zhet.blogspot.com.