Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Tobolowsky Files

Posted by Maximum Fun on 5th December 2009

Stephen Tobolowsky leads an eventful life. He’s narrowly escaped being crushed by a bull. He’s been forced to read manuscripts at Graceland at 3:00 in the morning. He was almost killed in Hartford, Connecticut — twice. He was nominated as one of the hundred coolest people in L.A. by Buzz magazine. He’s palliated his epididymitis with a groin-situated soda can. He’s been disillusioned by Davy Crockett. He’s played in a rock band with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s brother. He’s broken his neck in five places. He was held up at gunpoint at a supermarket. He’s been a regular at a gay breakfast joint. One of his birthday parties is a movie. He remembers his dad punching a bus. And, oh yeah, he’s acted a bit as well.

Tobolowsky, you see, is a well-known “character actor,” which is Hollywood code for “at least halfway intelligent.” You might know him as Commissioner Hugo Jarry from Deadwood, as Bob Bishop from Heroes, as the dad from Josh and S.A.M. or as any number of other oh-yeah-that-was-him! roles. (To say nothing of his salutable efforts as a writer on David Byrne’s True Stories.) When /Filmcast host Dave Chen Gchatted to your Podthinker about his new, Tobolowsky-starring podcast, though, two words came to mind before all others: Ned Ryerson.

Ned Ryerson, as all reading this will have immediately recalled, is the garrulous yokel who repeatedly approaches Phil Connors, the chronologically imprisoned weatherman (played with equal unforgettability by Bill Murray) in Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. Ryerson is Connors’ former classmate, a current insurance salesman and oh so irritating until our hero discovers the transcendence to be found in turning selflessly outward toward humanity, yadda yadda yadda.

Your Podthinker suspects that Tobolowsky has stories to tell about crafting the character of Ned Ryerson. If so, he’s got the perfect forum to air them in The Tobolowsky Files, [iTunes] [XML], the podcast where Dave Chen is joined by none other than Tobolowsky himself for gripping personal stories about life, love and the entertainment industry.

Recounting interesting times from his childhood, adolescence, adulthood and character actorhood, Tobolowsky demonstrates that his intelligence far exceeds the halfway mark, but it’s his storytelling ability that blasts way past even the three-quarters mark like it ain’t no thing. While we’ve already discussed that a lot has happened to the guy in his time — and he’s already regaled us with details of several of the colorful experiences listed in the first paragraph of this review — he somehow delivers his everyday, slice-of-life memories as flowing, suspenseful narratives you’d rather not pause. Is it magic? Maybe it’s just an actor thing, though your Podthinker prefers to regard it as some branch of the black arts. Either way, the listening experience is tantamount to a master class in the telling of stories.

Simplicity of format is another part of the key to The Tobolowsky Files‘ appeal. Each episode, Tobolowsky links up with Chen on what sounds like Skype — though the Tobolowsky-transmitted audio bears surprisingly few of that application’s signature distortions — and launches right into a set of his prepared recollections. What to call this? Serial interview? Not exactly. Serial monologue? Sort of. Autobiography? In a way. Just plain storytelling? Well, yes, but…

Really, only one description suits it: raw, unadulterated Tobolowsky. Aspiring podcasters looking to found their own venture in the same genre have stiff competition indeed.

Vital stats:
Format: raw, unadulterated Tobolowsky
Duration: ~1h
Running since: October 2009
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Got a podcast to suggest for Podthoughts coverage or any other sort of question and/or comment for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail. Or just GChat it to him — that seems effective.]