Reviewed by Jasleen Jaswal Vines
Towards the end of last Thursday’s show, already 40 minutes past when the set is supposed to end, Jeff Garlin flips through a notepad of ideas he brought for the evening. The jokes are straightforward – bits about his wife and kids, marriage, airports, gross seatmates at concerts. None are as amusing as the show’s open, when Garlin pulls a fan and his wife from the audience, reimburses them in cash for their flight from Florida to Chicago, and gives them luggage and DVDs – all because the fan says he knows Garlin and is a huge fan. He does not, in fact, know Garlin, but since Garlin is a good sport, he engages with the couple and plays with the concept that they are huge fans willing to drop everything for a show in Chicago.
Closer Than I Appear is entirely improvised, without overtly being an improv show. Fans expecting a solid set of material that’s been meticulously workshopped may be disappointed. But I think it’s more fun to watch Garlin mess with the audience and the random thoughts in his head in realtime. This is how the show goes, one tangent after another – the world’s best strip mall with an un-PC parking lot and old dancing twins; deconstructing the psychology of men who are vocally homophobic; interactions with audience members who knit, wear red shoes, or snag Garlin’s attention for some reason. It’s fun to watch, and Garlin makes it look easier than it is. He is especially adept at knowing he is bombing and informing the audience that he knows, this sucks, here’s an ETA for the end of the bit and the launch of the next one.
Garlin himself sums the show up by saying, “I’m not funny, I’m amused by what I say.” The audience finds him amusing too, plus sharp, funny, witty, and occasionally harsh (pro tip: audience members who engage or sit in the first few rows should be ready to become the subject of Garlin’s musings, and he’s not going easy just because you paid to be there). It’s a great show, though, mostly because Garlin seems genuinely happy to have an audience for his random musing.
Predicted running time: 1 hour 10 minutes, no intermission.
Shows on Tuesday through Sunday at 8 PM, through December 16
For a complete list of showtimes and to purchase tickets, visit Steppenwolf’s website.
Photo courtesy Michael Brosilow