Actor, writer, storyteller Stephen Tobolowsky has a podcast. It is not to be missed. It is, thankfully, so many things for an internet-age audience short on attention. It is smart, hilarious, serious, sappy, thoughtful, sad, thrilling, educational – all those things push things from “entertainment” to “art.” I am only in about 6 episodes but can already tell that he is an exceptional, practiced storyteller.
Three months ago, I didn’t know the name Stephen Tobolowsky. After nearly a year of listening (and enjoying) writer/director Kevin Smith’s podcast network (recommended, also), I decided to look up a few other top-ranked podcasts. I scrolled through list after list and somehow came across Tobolowsky. I saw the name, searched it online and instantly recognized the podcaster as “that guy from the film Groundhog’s Day.”
Tobolowsky’s credits go on forever – see imdb. So many I nearly forgot he was in my favorite series, Deadwood until he mentioned it in one story. He is mostly recently seen in Showtime’s Californication as a wealthy and horny film producer, Stu Baggs (great name!).
Back to the podcast. The first episode of the Tobolowsky Files that I listened to happened to be about his time on the set of Groundhog Day. He talked of getting the part, filming scene after scene in varying weather and the people he met. I won’t spoil it – listen to it. What was different in his podcast was the day-to-day details, the humor, and self-awareness of what it means to be a working actor (hard work, time, talent, etc) in a world where we think actors and actresses have got it made. There is more to be learned in this podcast than a lifetime subscription to any celebrity-filled magazine. Because acting is just part of the story in the Tobolowsky files.
Not every podcast in the Tobolowsky File is film/actor-related. This is a nice surprise. Too often we turn to podcasts to hear celebrity (small or large) bitch about other celebrities and directors. Do I want to know what it is like to work with Bill Murray? You bet. Bill is God. Who doesn’t? But is it more rewarding to hear about Tobolowsky and his time at university dealing with a professor who was hell-bent on ruining his academic career? Or the time he spent babysitting an egg with his son, waiting for it to hatch? Absolutely.
The best of Stephen Tobolowsky stories that I’ve heard involve the ‘life lesson’-type podcasts. They are not preachy and often Tobolowsky puts the lesson out there, not even sure himself of what is being learned (I’m thinking of “Man in the Closet” episode #40). There are stories of his time at school, time with his family, and time with friends during his struggling actor days in Los Angeles.
I’m not on expert on storytelling (I took one class in grad school and barely got through it – it was too ‘actorly’ for me, to out of my comfort zone to, I suppose, be that honest in a story to be presented to an audience. I prefer the jaded, sarcastic one-liners in my stand-up comedy). Some might find some episodes to be too corny or too nicely wrapped in a lesson, maybe not entirely true in every detail – like something your mom would listen to and believe every word – but I think they are perfectly measured with humor and insight and truths. Those episodes that I’ve listened to are miles ahead of the typical ‘entertainment’ podcast where the actor/actress/comedian interviews his friends and spends an hour with unprepared material talking about what was on Conan last night. That works sometimes. But with Tobolowsky, it is obvious he treats the time in the podcast as valuable time. He doesn’t waste a minute. He has something to share with his listeners. So, listen!!
Stephen Tobolowsky at Slashfilms.com, program listing. And, of course, available on iTunes.
I look forward to listening to the rest of the episodes…