Exclusive Interview: Jeff Garlin on The Goldbergs


You cannot help but respect Jeff Garlin. The man is an absolute legend in comedy. Perhaps best known for playing Jeff Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he traded barbs with Larry David on a regular basis and earned himself quite a following in the process. Now it seems Garlin has brought his very distinct brand of timing and cynical comedy to the wonderful new ABC show, The Goldbergs. The show has hit a stride with viewers for being equal parts nostalgic and side-splittingly hilarious. It is all the nostalgia of The Wonder Years, with a family a lot more like the one you grew up with.

Jeff plays Murray Goldberg. A Dad who is destined to go into pantheon of great TV dads like Bill Cosby and Al Bundy. Yes, we used those two examples on purpose. Murray works his butt of for his family and loves them with all his heart (like Cosby), but he is also a working class, no-nonsense kind-of-guy (like Bundy). The Goldbergs love each other, but they are not perfect people, and therein lay the charm of the show. For anyone who grew up in the 80’s (or had two insane but loving parents) The Goldbergs is like a time machine back to a time you forgot was so funny because we were all so busy being awkward.

We recently contacted Jeff Garlin about his role on the show. We were lucky enough that Jeff Garlin talked to us about The Goldbergs. It was even more of a bonus he talked to us about the 80’s, and what him and Murray Goldberg have in common as Dads. Just an overall nice guy, and here is what transpired.

TVO: First off, congrats on the success of The Goldbergs. The show is doing really great in a time when not too many shows can say that.

Jeff: I am thrilled with the success of this show! I don’t question it, I don’t ask why or how.

TVO: The show seems so focused on the 80’s and the theme of nostalgia, is there any one moment or situation on the show that has been a flashback for you? Just a moment that reminded you or mimic’ed something that happened to you in real life.

Jeff: Not one thing.

TVO: Don’t lie to me, Garlin.

Jeff: (laughs) No, no, I am not lying. I just mean that the main goal for me is to make sure how good the scene is at any time and I do the best I can for that. There’s never a moment where I go ” Oh, that feels like that one time…”. I will tell you, what does strike me as strange is that I have two boys who are the same age as the boys who portray my sons on the show. Sometimes when I come home, I feel like I am in my show.

TVO: So just like Murray, you open the door and one of them is sitting in your recliner?

Jeff: Yes. (laughs) Exactly.

TVO: I can see where that might seem surreal.  So I know you had a lot of freedom with input and improve when you did Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David. Do you get to bring any of that improv energy to The Goldbergs?

Jeff: It’a all scripted and written out for us, and I just focus really hard on doing what’s there and making it the best I can. However, that being said, if something doesn’t feel right I certainly have the opportunity to fix it or change it. I do get to improvise in those situations, and they seem to like it, but the scripts are already so tight, there just isn’t much of a need for it.

TVO:  Do you ever find it hard to tone down, considering your old show was on cable and this is on regular TV? Do you ever feel restricted by that?

Jeff: There was a lot more freedom to doing something like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but this is different. Scripted versus unscripted. When something is written, and written as well as The Goldbergs is written, I just need to go in and deliver that the best I can.

TVO: I realize the episode coming up this week, The Other Smother, has you getting stuck with a massive late fee for bringing in a VHS cassette late to a video store. Did doing that episode bring up any memories of huge late fees you may have had to pay back in the heyday of VHS?

Jeff: It brought up a lot of memories, but as for specifics, can’t think of one off hand.

TVO: Well, I had to pay a forty dollar late fee on Hellraiser 2, and I am still bitter about that.

Jeff: Oh God…

Remy: (laughs) Right?  So what attracted you to playing the character of Murray Goldberg on The Goldbergs?

Jeff: There is always two-sides to everything. A, is the writing good, and B, is it something I can pull off? The part immediately appealed to me, and I knew it was something I could do. But the writing was so just fantastic it floored me. I never thought I would be doing a network television show, and look at me now!

TVO:  Well, you guys have hit the nail on the head. I think the audience relates because they are an honest, loving family, but they are far from perfect, and we get to see and relish in that and relate to it, all at once. Do you ever feel aspects of YOUR father coming through when you play Murray?

Jeff: Yes, I do, actually! Not in terms of the mean-ness, but just in the way a scene with me happens, I will think: Oh, that feels like my Dad.

TVO: I don’t even think Murray’s mean . I think the appeal for many with The Goldbergs, and Murray in particular, is that’s the Dad that most of us had. Working class, tired, can seem grumpy but his heart is always in the right place. Television has sort of watered down the working class Dad, and Murray reminds us he is the majority. That is all you, my friend.

Jeff: Thanks man, that is very nice of you. Truth is, I am a sort of watered down version of Murray when it comes to my own kids. But in terms of Murray, I do play it like me.

TVO: Well, I honestly cannot imagine anyone else in the role of Murray Goldberg. That would have been a casting misfire, for sure.

Jeff: Well aren’t you just Baron Von Compliment?!

TVO: It makes my job a heck of a lot easier when they ask me to interview someone I already a fan of. I think it also limits the awkward, stunted and generic questions.

Jeff: Oh, if you think that I don’t get a ton of generic questions like that still, you’re crazy (laughs).

TVO: Yeah, I imagine the phone junkets must be a pain in the butt. Having said that, thank you for taking the time to absurd our insane questions.

Jeff: It’s all good, my friend.

There you have it. The skinny on The Goldbergs and why you should be watching it from the man himself. Murray Goldberg. The Goldbergs airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m on ABC. Check out their website, and a huge thank you to Jeff Garlin for taking the time to field our questions.

[Photo via Danny Feld/ABC]

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  1. Mesnard March 24, 2014

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