Most people know Stephen Tobolowsky for the roles he’s played: Ned in Groundhog Day, Sammy Jankis in Memento, or perhaps giving a sexy line reading of “passport” in Sneakers. But there are a growing number of people in the corners of the Internet who know him not just for his acting, but also for his storytelling prowess, as heard on the podcast that shares the name with tonight’s event, The Tobolowsky Files.
The Tobolowsky Files podcast started as an offshoot of my favorite movie podcast, The /Filmcast. He came to their attention through a film called Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, a fantastic film in which his birthday is celebrated by him telling stories about his life. Now, he makes it very clear in every episode of the podcast, and again tonight, that all of his stories are true, and that all of them happened to him. He says that “the truth trumps clever ever time,” and because of this, he refuses to tell friend-of-a-friend stories. (To hear the genesis of this, you can listen to his interview on the Pop My Culture podcast.)
Now these stories aren’t just your typical Hollywood actor stories about working on famous films (although those are included). Tonight at Yoshi’s, for example, he told of how he experienced a miracle on a trip to Iceland, how he learned about a Talmudic interpretation of Psalm 94 called The Afflictions of Love, and about a remarkably astute conversation he had with a dog. The stories themselves twist and turn in ways that it would be unfair for me to describe. These become classic stage monologues in his hands, bringing the audience both laughter and tears. These are fascinating tales, well told.
There was a brief slideshow in the middle of the event followed by a Q&A, where Tobolowsky gave an important tip to storytellers everywhere: write down what happens in your life so you can remember it later. He was also asked to talk about authors who inspire him, and named Dickens, George Eliot, Shakespeare, Chekhov and Loren Eiseley, but also admitted he’s afraid to read others when writing for fear he’s steal from them. Finally, one audience member asked him to talk about auditioning for Glee, and he happily told that story as well.
With the increasing exposure national public radio will be bringing to The Tobolowsky Files, I expect him to become somewhat of a sensation in the public radio crowd (we know who we are). I strongly recommend both the podcast itself and his new book, The Dangerous Animals Club.