Jeff Garlin of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on His Photography Obsession

The comedian's first ever exhibit is now on display in Los Angeles

Jeff Garlin Curb your Enthusiasm photo
"The rhythms feel the same. The experience feels the same. Larry David and I spend most of the day laughing."
Mike Pont/FilmMagic
By Bonnie Stiernberg / February 3, 2020 7:00 am

If you’ve at all been paying attention to Jeff Garlin’s talk-show appearances over the past few years, you know the drill: the actor comes out camera in hand, snapping a photo or two of the host seated across from him. “I have pictures of every talk show host from this position, which nobody else has,” he proudly told Stephen Colbert in 2017. But it’s not just late-night TV; the camera stays with him on the red carpet, at premieres, even on set while he’s working.

That’s how Garlin has managed to amass such a large collection of behind-the-scenes photos from his time on Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Goldbergs and his stand-up gigs. Those photos are currently on display at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles as a part of his first ever exhibit, “Big Bowl of Wonderful.” Just don’t ask him what inspired him to finally display his work in a gallery.

“I still don’t know. It took a long time for me to be convinced,” he tells InsideHook. “And I still don’t know that I’m happy I did,” he cracks, before erupting into that distinct laugh of his.

Photography’s not just a hobby for him; it’s a longtime fascination and, as Garlin — who executive produced the 2014 documentary Finding Vivian Maier about the titular mysterious nanny-turned-acclaimed-photographer — puts it, “the only thing I do seriously besides comedy.”

“I’ve always been drawn to it,” he explains. “I actually have had numerous photographers in my family on my mom’s side — professional photographers. And I always found it fascinating, and I just started shooting. My biggest inspiration probably is the work of Jim Marshall, Alfred Eisenstaedt too. Those two, they inspired me, and I thought, ‘I’m going to start taking pictures.’ And then I started. I bought a Nikon camera — film first, a film camera then a digital camera. And then there was a gentleman named Tibor at Samy’s Camera. I went in to have him help me figure out the Nikon, and he talked to me all about Leica, and then I studied up on Leica, and the next thing you know, I had a Leica X1 and then an M9, then an MP film camera, and I haven’t stopped.”

Richard Kind, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Garlin)

Garlin’s unique perspective as a performer and a filmmaker comes through in his photography, and his work often sees his subjects at ease between takes or relaxing backstage — due in part to the fact that his friends and co-stars are so used to him snapping photos whenever he has a free moment.

“My camera is always out,” he explains. “And they’re used to being with me, and they’re used to my camera being out. So there isn’t a moment where they would react. That’s how I’m able to get intimate pictures because there is no moment of, ‘Oh, here’s the camera.'”

“All my portraits are candid,” he adds. “So my preference is always, always candid. Always in the moment. I don’t really pose anybody. I might say ‘put your hands by your face’ or something. But really, very minimal instruction if I say anything. And I use all natural lighting.”

JB Smoove, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Garlin)

That fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants philosophy extends to Garlin’s stand-up career as well, like his most recent special, Our Man in Chicago (currently streaming on Netflix), which was mostly improvised. “I go entirely by my gut,” he says. “What inspires me, what makes me happy, what makes me smile or what I think is interesting. There’s not a lot of thought process. Generally in my work, there’s subtlety, there’s preciseness, there’s craft, but I also don’t go into my head too much. I really trust my gut.”

Of course, he has to as Larry David’s manager Jeff Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which famously does not use scripts. The show’s actors improvise their dialogue based on a rough outline provided by David — a formula that has served the beloved HBO comedy well for nearly two decades now.

 “It hasn’t changed much,” Garlin says. “The rhythms feel the same. The experience feels the same. Larry David and I spend most of the day laughing.”

John Mulaney, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Garlin)

He won’t go into specifics about what Curb fans can expect from season 10, which premiered on Jan. 17 — “More of the same, but different,” he demurs — but, as is typical for a show that has never shied away from the uncomfortable, the first episode features a recurring gag about Jeff Greene’s (and thus, Jeff Garlin’s) resemblance to disgraced producer and serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.

“I’ve never been mistaken for him [in real life] before,” Garlin clarifies. “People have made that joke. And then Larry said, ‘I want to do this thing in the first episode. Do you mind?’ And I said no, because for one, I’m not Harvey Weinstein. I’m happy I don’t have to play him. I never want to play Harvey Weinstein.”

In addition to the new season of Curb and the seventh season of The Goldbergs, Garlin has tentative plans for a photo book (“I’m very interested in that, but it’s in the early development,” he says), and he’s gearing up another photo exhibit in his native Chicago this summer — where the diehard Cubs fan will hopefully be able to take in a game or two, in spite of an uneventful offseason that has left many North Siders scratching their heads.

Richard Lewis, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Garlin)

“I actually look at it maybe differently than everyone else,” Garlin says. “I’m pretty pleased with the team we have. And I’m excited about [David] Ross becoming manager, but I’m also sad that we lost our manager [Joe Maddon]. So I have mixed feelings, but I don’t know what Theo [Epstein] knows. And Theo could be making moves right now or preparing moves. I have no idea. I never think that I know more than this regime. Other regimes, yes, I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You’re not fooling me. This is a crap team,’ all that stuff. But I don’t feel that with this team. I love this team. So I’m curious to see how they do this year.”

And while he’s hopeful that the Cubbies can surprise everyone, the baseball fan — who wrote, directed and starred in the 2013 Little League comedy Dealin’ with Idiots — says that the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal has him feeling vindicated.

“I’ve always hated the Astros so I’m not surprised,” he says. “My hatred paid off. They’re going to be, for at least the next half-dozen years, the evil empire, which is fun. If anyone’s thanking the Astros — although they’re not probably, because they lost to them because of cheating — it would be the Yankees because the Yankees have suddenly become likable.”

But whether he’s at a game, performing stand-up or readying another exhibit, one’s thing’s for certain — Garlin’s camera will be out, as always.

Jeff Garlin’s “Big Bowl of Wonderful” will be on display at the Leica Gallery in Los Angeles through March 2.