For years, I have enjoyed the work of Jeff Garlin as Larry David’s manager on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” arguably the best American comedy series of the past decade. He has a very likable screen presence which plays off the curmudgeon brilliance of David quite nicely. So when I saw Netflix was streaming his new stand-up DVD “Young & Handsome” a week before it hit stores, I was very eager to view it.
Sadly, while Garlin’s likability is still very present on stage, much of “Curb’s” hilarity isn’t. “Young & Handsome” is occasionally amusing but never hilarious, at times a bit tedious, and it lacks the polished feel you’d expect from a stand-up concert DVD.
“Young & Handsome” was filmed last June in Chicago. Technically speaking, the concert is presented in a very cheap fashion, focusing on the performer with a few cuts to laughing audience members . This I feel was the right way to go, as it’s in a very small club, and as Garlin puts it, “I never move” on stage, so presenting it with a bunch of cheap effects would have been distracting. The only gripe I have is there are titles shown every time the film switches gears. Almost as if to tell the audience we don’t feel you are smart enough to sense when a transition is coming, so we are going to tell you. A minor gripe, but I found this to be off -putting.
As for the performance, there aren’t many thrills there, either. An easy comparison to make would be between Garlin and Jim Gaffigan, as they both play up the overweight everyman angle in their acts. Aside from the obvious physical comparisons, Garlin actually seems to be channeling at times Gaffigan, in particular his “inner voice” shtick where he uses an effeminate voice to emulate either the audience or people he knows. The difference is Gaffigan’s material is very polished and he really makes the bit work for him. With Garlin, his bit, which he calls his “elderly gay man” voice, seems unfocused, and while he uses this for a much smaller percentage of his act than Gaffigan, it meanders and becomes annoying pretty quickly.
Even the shows funniest bit, a conversation he had with a man who tells him about the joys of “Waffle House Pussy” leads to a whole bit about the filthy nature of Waffle House restaurants almost directly out of Gaffigan’s “King Baby.” This is not to imply Garlin is simply a Gaffigan clone, as there are differences in their acts. But when there are moments so strikingly similar in both acts, it’s easy to distinguish where one performer is superior to the other.
I don’t want to be solely negative, as there are funny moments in “Y & H” to be sure. I laughed very hard at a story about a gay man telling Garlin strait men didn’t understand the subtlety of the world “caulk.” He also has fun with the old cliche of comedians resting water bottles on foot stools, instead choosing to keep his water in a plastic trick-or-treat pumpkin and scooping it out with a ladle. This bit was a bit weird and seemed to confuse the audience, but I must say it amused me.
Despite these laughs, much of the DVD tends to falter. Even with a brief 48 minute running time it drags. Garlin tends to get side-tracked very easily and doesn’t really have enough stage presence to make the distractions work in his favor. I can understand how the sloppy feel can be seen as endearing, but, on stage anyway, Garlin isn’t really funny enough for the viewer to ignore the shows sloppy presentation.
I recently reviewed Mitch Hedberg’s posthumous “Do You Believe In Gosh?” and actually praised the unpolished feel to his show. Other than the fact that Hedberg died before finishing the material, the reason he could make a sloppy batch of material work is because many of his jokes were so unique that even if they weren’t quite what they could be, you got the feeling that Hedberg would have undoubtedly made the best out of the material. While Garlin’s act isn’t buried in cliche, the bulk of his jokes deal with food and problems with his wife, and you are left feeling like he wasn’t able to make this show all it could have been.
Aside from his work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I also enjoyed Garlin in the virtually unseen indie comedy “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With,” which he wrote, directed and starred in. I think what makes these works more effective than his new DVD is they exist in the concise world of film and television, where any experimentation can be weeded out for moments that work. Several comics do possess the ability to make this chaos work in their favor, but if “Young & Handsome” is any indication, Garlin can’t.
All in all, this DVD has amusing moments, but much of it is just sort of bland. You almost wish Susie Essman would show up and start yelling about what a fat fuck she thinks Garlin is. He is a talented performer who has been involved in some side-splitting moments on Curb. In addition to this, he seems like a guy who would be enjoyable to hang out with. Knowing this, it’s a real shame this set wasn’t funnier.
- Some funny moment
- Garlin is appealing as the “everyman”
- Not trying to be anything more than it needs to be
- Sort of bland
- Not memorable
“Young & Handsome: A Night With Jeff Garlin,” will be available Tuesday, July 7. Netflix users can watch the episode online.
Final Score: 6.5/10 (Watch Curb Your Enthusiasm instead)