Personally, I think Jeff Garlin undervalues his star power. Maybe it has something to do with my boundless love for anything or anyone involved with Larry David (Garlin is both a producer and costar on David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm). Or maybe I’m influenced by living in Chicago, a mecca of improv comedy where Garlin grew up, cut his teeth in the 80s with the Second City, and still keeps a residence. Either way, as we sit across from one another at 3rd Coast Cafe & Wine Bar in Gold Coast the interplay is more comfortable conversation than timed question and answer. There’s no air of entitlement, no gruffness from Garlin. “Ask me anything,” he says. And he means it.

When we settle in, he alerts me that I’m his “last one,” his final interview of an intensive four-day press stint he’s doing to promote his stand-up show Closer Than I Appear, which began last Tuesday, December 4, and runs through Sunday, December 16, at Steppenwolf. And he seems pleased by this knowledge. He’s laid back and amiable, with a sly wit that’s been honed over years of thinking comedy and thinking it quick. During June’s Just for Laughs Festival, I watched him do a short, completely improvised set at the Beat Kitchen—probably the most worthwhile five-buck cover I ever paid—and his demeanor was absolutely identical. If there’s one thing Garlin drives home during our lunch, it’s that he’s more comfortable improvising on stage than he is strolling through the real world. “No comparison,” he tells me. “That’s a controlled environment. Even when I’m improvising, I control it.”

Check out our conversation below: