Remains Theatre

Jeff Garlin’s first one-man show, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, opened two years ago with little fanfare at Second City’s E.T.C. space. It ran for a while, attracted very little attention, and then abruptly closed for reasons I’ve never completely understood. (Garlin dropped out of rehearsals for the E.T.C. company’s next show, an elaborate parody of Our Town, at the same time.)

Several months later the show reappeared as a late-night offering at Live Bait, where it had a highly successful run, and then it was lured to Remains. Over the course of this odyssey Garlin had a chance to improve and refine his material, turning a show that was funny but a bit rough into something that was truly great–an evening of entertainment that also worked as a critique of the entertainment industry, specifically television and stand-up comedy clubs.

Garlin’s new show opened immediately at Remains, which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he won’t have to perform for six months before the critics pay attention to him. A curse because he won’t get to perform for six months before the critics judge him.

That’s a shame, because Jeff Garlin: Uncomplicated (directed by Mick Napier, who also directed I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With) is a very good show, clearly on its way to becoming a great show. But it’s not there yet.

Don’t get me wrong. The show’s funny enough. Garlin tells some killing stories about life on the road as a stand-up: the nightmare gigs, the desperate lengths he and his fellow comics would go to to amuse themselves on tour. And he makes some witty comments about love and getting hitched: “Marriage was invented by people who only lived to age 30.” Anyone who wants to sit back and laugh for an hour and a half will not be disappointed.

But the show lacks the sense of urgency that made the last one more than just an evening of funny stories. I suspect part of the problem is that this may not be the right time in Garlin’s personal and professional life to create another show with the emotional resonance of I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. Things are just going too well for him. He’s starring in a TV series–My Kind of Town, which will premiere on Fox in November–and has someone to eat cheese with every night.

Little in the current show comes close to the angry but very funny account of the god-awful pilot he shot for CBS–in which he (and a staff of professionals) played cruel practical jokes on innocent citizens–that was part of his last show. And nothing in Uncomplicated equals the poignant, witty story he told about the various tortures he endured chasing a woman he thought he loved who wouldn’t and couldn’t return his love.

The stories about the development of his current TV series seem rather toothless, though I can hardly blame him for not wanting to piss off his producers–a hit sitcom could subsidize a lifetime of one-man shows. And the closest he comes to deeply examining the always complicated human heart is the wistful observation, never elaborated, that an awful lot of married friends are getting divorced. The Jeff Garlin of I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With would never have let such a troubling but emotionally rich subject as divorce go unexamined.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kim Soren Larsen.