Interview: Stephen Tobolowsky – The Tobolowsky Files

This article is from 2015

Interview: Stephen Tobolowsky – The Tobolowsky Files

Stephen Tobolowsky has been in everything from Glee to Groundhog Day and Community to Curb. Now, he’s making his Fringe debut and reckons the internet has changed comedy forever.

How well did satire do under Obama? And would another President Clinton be good or bad for American comedy?
Satire didn’t do too well under Obama. Not his fault. At the beginning of his presidency, people were shy about targeting him or his policies for fear of being accused of being a racist. A couple of years ago things loosened up and got funnier. Then the world went to hell in a hand basket. Satire doesn’t thrive when people are getting beheaded. Another President Clinton would be fine for comedy. Hillary and Bill have been the butt of jokes for years. Decades, actually.

The British are overly keen on saying that Americans don’t do irony. Can you offer a piece of evidence that blows that theory out of the water?
The slam-dunk is Being There. Of course we had to borrow Peter Sellers to do it. But how about Spinal Tap? A Mighty Wind? Any Chris Guest movie. Going back in time, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?

Bill Hicks or Denis Leary?
Bill Hicks made a big impact on me when I was young.

Are American comedians bothered about winning awards?
Comedians LOVE awards. More shows they get to host!

What will Trevor Noah need to do to maintain The Daily Show’s success and reputation?
Jon Stewart didn’t catch on at first. He became a sensation by being a GREAT interviewer. He was truthful. He listened. Then he had our trust, and we laughed.

Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman?
Sarah. I love Sarah. I worked with her twice. Very funny. Very dear. Great actress.

How healthy is the state of live comedy in America? What should be done to improve it?
Live comedy from The Groundlings and UCB are still thriving. We are in the middle of a revolution. The internet has created a paradigm shift in American comedy. It is the hybrid of live comedy. Unknowns have a platform larger than ‘open mic night’. There is a lot of crap out there, but the democracy of comedy casts a wide net. The show I am on, Big Time in Hollywood, FL, sprung from the internet's Next Time on Lonny which sprung from Alex Anfanger, and sketch comedy mixed with film satire.

Do Americans generally welcome the likes of uppity Brits (John Oliver, Tracey Ullman and Ricky Gervais for three) coming over there and stealing all your jokes?
You got it backwards. We stole them for our ratings! (And we love them).

Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld?
Seinfeld before 9pm. Curb afterwards.

Billy Connolly is widely regarded as the man who helped pave the way for modern British stand-up comedy: who would you pinpoint as doing the same in America?
My first thought is Rodney Dangerfield. He was the common man, the loser spouting a million jokes a minute. Joan Rivers was in this category, too. Richard Pryor and Bob Newhart told stories. Seems like most stand-ups fall in these two categories.

Stephen Tobolowsky: The Tobolowsky Files, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 18–31 Aug, 5.20pm, £12–£14 (£11–£13).

Read more in our series of Q&As with US comedians appearing at Fringe 2015.

The Tobolowsky Files

Newbury Productions (UK) Ltd Hollywood character actor Stephen Tobolowsky shares some of his hilarious, moving, and profound stories about life, love and the entertainment industry. The Tobolowsky Files has been a podcast sensation since 2009, and now he brings his wild and crazy adventures to Edinburgh for the first…