Review “Jeff Garlin: ‘Closer Than I Appear’”

RECOMMENDED

Where: Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.
When: through Dec. 16
Tickets: $25
Phone: 312-335-1650

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

Reviewing a Jeff Garlin show is almost an exercise in futility, because it changes every night. The Second City alum, co-star of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and frequent voice-over artist (in Pixar films) improvises each evening, drawing material from his fertile brain, the audience (be forewarned, those of you in the front row) and whatever amuses him at the moment, sending him off on many digressions.

On opening night, he hit gold almost immediately with a couple who’d flown in from Florida on Spirit Airlines just to see him, or so they claimed. He stopped the show until they came down to join them, then riffed on how flattered he was, got them to do a mock commercial for Spirit and gave them parting gifts including a roll-on suitcase. A ponytailed man in rhinestone-adorned red loafers also provided plenty of grist for Garlin’s mill, as did a young woman who’d knitted her companion a cap he was wearing.

The performance lasted for almost two hours and only flagged when Garlin started referring to his notepad and rattling off a list of unconnected observations. He thought he lost the audience with some routines (he confessed), such as his musings on a strip mall he’d like to own, but I thought it was pretty funny. On the other hand, several of the bits and jokes that others found hilarious left me cold. “Closer Than I Appear” isn’t for all tastes, and Garlin sometimes risks wearing out his welcome (as he clearly recognizes), but I was, overall, entertained.