When we meet for lunch one afternoon in May at Eleven City Diner, Jeff Garlin extends his elbow. Garlin, who is in town to perform a benefit show for Northwestern University, is under the weather and while he declines to shake my hand, the offering of a hinge joint as substitute salutation suffices, and I elbow bump him right back.
For a man who isn’t feeling well, Garlin looks good, great actually. His battle with obesity, as chronicled in his recent, but barely read memoir My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World, has left Garlin a slimmer man, although he says he still has a ways to go. At his preferred lunch spot (“Eleven City Diner rules, my friend,” he tells me), he chooses an egg salad sandwich and couples it with a tempting bowl of matzo-ball soup rather than opting for the “Jeff Garlin,” a veggie cobb salad named in his honor. “Here I have an egg salad sandwich that’s on an egg bread,” he says. “But I’m kind of sick so I allow myself.”
What the 49-year-old Chicagoland native and Curb Your Enthusiasm star doesn’t allow in his life anymore is fast food or sugar, particularly the latter. In My Footprint, he explains it this way: “You can put me in a room. And in that room you have the best pot in the world, the best coke in the world, the greatest glass of wine of all time, and a two-day-old grocery store sheet cake. Guess where I’m going? I am an addict.” It’s this struggle that will form, in part, the basis of his new solo show No Sugar Tonight, opening Wednesday 13 at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre.
My Footprint, which according to Garlin sold poorly and didn’t receive a single major review in the U.S., chronicles Garlin struggling with his weight while simultaneously trying to make the world a greener place. “I’m very, very ecologically conscious,” Garlin says. “I don’t like waste.”
Despite daily affirmations, workouts with fitness guru Richard Simmons and two visits to the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida, Garlin succumbs constantly to his saccharine cravings. “My earliest memories were eating Life cereal in the little small boxes and I couldn’t get enough of them,” Garlin says. “This is probably when I’m four or five years old. So I’m thinking it’s more chemical than anything. I think it’s mental too, because really, to be an addict you have to be able to say, I am powerless. I’m powerless, man.”
Garlin says that No Sugar Tonight, which recently enjoyed a sold-out run in London, will be very different from performance to performance, which should surprise no one familiar with his casual stand-up style and impromptu performances at iO and the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles. Recent events may find their way into the show. “Now is a very dark time for me,” Garlin says. “All these bad things seem to be happening to me. They’re happening to others, I should make that clear, but they’re affecting me.” Garlin is referring to the February death of Second City’s Joyce Sloane, who he says acted as a surrogate mother while he worked and studied at the theater in the ’80s, and also to the health of his parents who live in the ’burbs and are both battling cancer. He’s purchased an apartment in the city to decrease the frequent commutes from his home in Los Angeles.
Curb Your Enthusiasm begins its eighth season Sunday 10. When I ask Garlin if his fictional wife, Susie Green, will still be able to use her trademark “fat fuck” line on the hit HBO show, he enthusiastically interrupts. “Hold on, hold on, hold on, I’m still fat,” says Garlin. “I’ve got another 30 or 40 pounds to lose before that might be questionable. Larry [David] laughs at the fact that people are concerned about that.”
Comedy is the place where Garlin feels most confident. “I’m a tortured individual and I wish I was just light and happy all the time,” he says. “My motivating factor is to be funny and to use my humor to ease people’s pain.” That’s worth another elbow bump.