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4 Keys to Keeping It Funny from Jeff Garlin

4 Keys to Keeping It Funny from Jeff Garlin
Photo Source: Aaron Epstein/Copyright IFC Films

You don't need outrageous events or over-the-top characters to make a funny movie. Jeff Garlin has a talent for finding the humor in simple, real-life events. While watching his son's baseball game, the comedian realized he was spending just as much time watching the parents as he was watching the actual game. "They were just out of control," he says. After observing the parents, Garlin knew that “Dealin’ With Idiots” would be his next project.

In the film, Garlin's character Max wants to make a movie about his son's little league team and proceeds to interview all the parents to see if there's a story there. Garlin's process was different. "I never went and spent time with the parents," he says. Instead he created the characters and relied on improvisation for the film. Garlin shot the film in a manner similar to "Curb Your Enthusiasm"; he only wrote a long treatment instead of a full script. When Garlin started shooting, he just had a 20-page outline as his guide.

Garlin shared some advice on comedy and filmmaking as well as some words of wisdom. "Do the best work you can and try to be a nice person along the way," he says.

Know what you want.
When casting the film, Garlin already knew the archetypes he wanted for each character, and made his decisions based on that, rather than a typical auditioning process. "I picked people that would be great as the part, and also that would be great as improvisers…Pretty much everybody who I wanted, wanted to do it," he says.

Be in the moment.
Garlin may have known what the big picture for the film was, but the other actors did not. "As a matter of fact, I didn't even let the actors see the outline. I told them what was going to happen right before each scene," Garlin explains. Even now, the cast doesn’t necessarily know how their part relates to the bigger picture. In fact, Garlin says that “they will have no idea until they see the movie.” Shooting the scenes without any rehearsals also helped to achieve the natural, real-life feel of the movie.

Be adaptable.
Although most of what Garlin wanted to do worked, he was willing to adapt when necessary. "There were scenes that I cut from the movie that I didn't like," he says. "That always happens." But overall, he was pleased with what was shot. Despite the improv, Garlin says it was still important to stick to the outline and shooting schedule. "The budget allows you to shoot certain scenes, you can't just say, ‘Let's go shoot the scene today with this…’ You have to stick to the schedule," he says. And working with the editor on cutting the film allowed Garlin to shape and adapt the story in another way, as well. "The movie comes together during the editing process so it's pretty wild," he says.

Do what you love.
Garlin's talents span multiple disciplines. Besides acting in hit TV shows ("Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Arrested Development") and features ("Toy Story 3," "Daddy Day Care") he also performs live with his stand-up comedy shows. And he works behind the camera as well, having directed his own comedy shows as well as comedy specials for other comedians such as Jon Stewart, and Denis Leary. "I do love directing. It's probably my favorite thing that I do," says Garlin. "I hope to direct more." But he doesn't find it challenging. "When people use the word challenging; I want nothing to be challenging. I want everything to be easy," he says. "Why do I want to be challenged or have challenges? That's why I don't go climb mountains." 

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