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The Tobolowsky Files

So, I’m going to do something a bit different this week.  Dear readers, you have seen us at Faceplant review movies, games, books, and web comics.  This is because we’re pretty nerdy.  As I wondered over the weekend what I should do for my Wednesday update, I ran through the list in my head.  All my video game time has been World of Warcraft Cataclysm and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, both of which I already posted about.  So those were out.  The last two movies I watched were True Grit and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I reviewed True Grit and reviewed the book of Dragon Tattoo so that seemed redundant.  So I was at a bit of a loss on what to do.  As I was debating whether to review an older video game or pick something that looked interesting on Netflix, I asked myself one last time, is there anything else I’m reading/watching/playing that could be interesting enough to write about?  The answer was no.  However, one thing I am LISTENING too is a podcast called The Tobolowsky Files.  The podcast itself is very basic:  Actor Stephen Tobolowsky tells stories about, as the intro to the podcast says, “life, love, and the entertainment industry.”  That kind of thing would only work if the source is both interesting and a good storyteller.  Tobolowsky is both of those things and then some.

The podcast came to be when Slash Film managing editor and host of the Slash Film cast David Chen watched Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, a film I haven’t seen, but to hear Chen and Tobolowsky describe it, is basically just Stephen telling stories on film.  Chen, who calls himself “a sucker for a good story” enjoyed the film so much he convinced Tobolowsky to tell more stories in podcast form.  We’re all better off for him having done so.  Two things make Tobolowsky an amazing story-teller.  First, and Tobolowsky himself makes a big deal of this (rightly so!) is that all his stories are TRUE.  As crazy as some of them are (I’ll get to that!) they really do ring authentic.  While I question his ability to remember specific details in some cases (though Tobolowsky has said in the podcast that he keeps a detailed journal, I’m sure that helps) I one hundred percent believe the events he talks about.  The second, and I think most important, is that these stories are not told off the cuff.  Tobolowsky writes these things down and almost does them as performance pieces.  In some cases I can hear the rehearsal Tobolowsky no doubt did, but 99 percent of the time he really does sound like an old friend telling you a good story.

Another strength of the podcast is that Tobolowsky is just plain likeable.  Despite talking about himself (as none of the stories are secondhand, all directly involve him) for 40 odd minutes, Tobolowsky never comes across as self-centered or narcissistic.  In fact he’s quite self-deprecating.  I almost found myself waiting to be annoyed, my brain conditioned to say “Yeah ok these stories are good, but you’re not the most amazing thing in the world Mr. Tobolowsky!”, but it NEVER HAPPENED.  He has no problem talking about himself but one never gets the sense he’s talking in that “wow look at ME” mode.  He’s telling the stories because they’re funny.  Or sad.  Or happy.  In fact, the range of emotion I get from this podcast is pretty amazing.  Tobolowsky discusses a good amount of inside baseball kind of stuff for Hollywood, such as the trials and tribulations of getting an agent (he was asked to change his name by one!) or adding extra layers of difficulty to an audition, such as having a broken neck when he auditioned for the role he eventually won in Glee.  Anybody interested in acting, be it theater, television, or film, will enjoy all of that stuff.  Intermixed with the insider stuff  is the “life and love” portion of the podcast, and it too is compelling.  Tobolowsky is very candid.  He tells of his failures, both professional and personal, in a very matter of fact way.  A good number of episodes of the podcast deal with a relationship he had with a woman named Beth, and he the openness of which he discusses this very personal matter is refreshing.

I have to give props to host of the podcast David Chen.  Chen, who also hosts the slashfilm podcast (also a good one, although more traditional, film news, reviews, and discussion) made a very wise decision.  The first couple episodes he would do the normal introduction, lead Tobolowsky into his story and then could be heard laughing in the background.  In fact, in I believe the first the episode, he even remarks at the end that it was a struggle to not burst out in laughter at points during Tobolowsky’s story.  I’d like to point that Tobolowsky has caused me to do JUST that a number of times, including at work (Episode 18 has the best use of the phrase “my pants fell off” I’ve heard in a while).  By episode 3, Chen does the introduction of the podcast, banters with Stephen for a minute or two, then mutes himself until the story is over.  Since I also listen to the slash film podcast, I know Chen is an interesting guy who has opinions I like hearing, but he wisely realized this was Tobolowsky’s show.  To mute one self on a show YOU host seems crazy, and I applaud Chen for not being greedy or selfish enough to try to interject himself where he would only hurt.  He realized, much like I do, that Tobolowsky is worth listening too without interruption.

You should be listening to the Tobolowsky files.  You’ll laugh (listening to Tobolowsky describe the cliché’s of sci-fi movies and how he invented an alien detector floored me), you’ll cry (the episode detailing the death of his mother was soul crushing) and you’ll learn lots of cool stuff about how the entertainment industry works (if someone asks if you can be shorter or taller, you say yes!).  He’s an amazingly interesting guy who has found the perfect forum to tell his myriad of stories.  Previous to the Tobolowsky Files I would have never thought to review any of the podcasts I listen too like I would a book, movie, or video game.  They just weren’t on the same level.  The Tobolowsky Files reaches that level.

Here’s how to check out the podcast:

http://www.slashfilm.com/category/features/slashfilmcast/the-tobolowsky-files/

That link will take you the archive of the podcast with the newest episode first, although I have some advice:  Start listening at episode one and go through them in order.  Tobolowsky calls back to previous episodes and some are true cliffhangers.  It’s the way they should be experienced.  Of course it’s also available through Itunes, I’m sure just searching for Tobolowsky Files will get you there.

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