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updated: 6/7/2011 11:33 AM

Jeff Garlin: Spontaneous, sugar-free and suburb-loving

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  • Growing up in Morton Grove "was the greatest time of my life. It was the last perfect time," says Jeff Garlin, comedian, actor, producer, director and writer.

       Growing up in Morton Grove "was the greatest time of my life. It was the last perfect time," says Jeff Garlin, comedian, actor, producer, director and writer.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Jeff Garlin, who plays manager Jeff Greene, sits with his sharp-tongued, on-screen wife Susie, played by Susie Essman, on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

      Jeff Garlin, who plays manager Jeff Greene, sits with his sharp-tongued, on-screen wife Susie, played by Susie Essman, on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
    Photo by Jessica Miglio/Courtesy of HBO

  • The new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" starts July 10 on HBO, starring Larry David, left, and Morton Grove native Jeff Garlin.

      The new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" starts July 10 on HBO, starring Larry David, left, and Morton Grove native Jeff Garlin.
    Photo by John P. Johnson/Courtesy of HBO

  • Jeff Garlin in 1971, pictured in Mrs. Kountzman's 4th grade class at Melzer Elementary School in Morton Grove.

      Jeff Garlin in 1971, pictured in Mrs. Kountzman's 4th grade class at Melzer Elementary School in Morton Grove.
    Photo courtesy of Melzer Elementary School

  • Video: Garlin describes 'Curb' role

  • Video: Garlin talks about his book

 
 

He didn't have a bathing suit or towel, but a few summers ago, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Jeff Garlin spontaneously stopped for a swim at Oriole Pool in Morton Grove.

As a kid, he'd spent many fun summers there. Now, a celebrity in his late-40s and co-star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Garlin was driving through his old neighborhood and feeling nostalgic.

So he parked his car, paid the nonresident fee, walked in, pulled off his shirt and jumped off the high dive. Then he left, and walked back to his car dripping wet.

"No one recognized me," he said. "It was great. It was just how I remembered."

Garlin remembers a lot about his childhood in the suburbs and frequently visits his old stamping grounds when he's in town, which is often. He regularly performs stand-up comedy in Chicago (he did a surprise walk-on at a Wrigleyville improv club one random Monday night last month), stays at his apartment in the city, and visits his brother in Buffalo Grove.

Garlin will be here again next month for a weeklong, stand-up comedy show about his new diet called "No Sugar Tonight," at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre in Chicago.

During a recent interview, Garlin exuded a low-key, regular-guy vibe. He took the "L" to the interview, came alone (no entourage of "handlers" -- not even one), and dressed like he was going to spend the afternoon in the Wrigley Field bleachers.

He was unshaven, because he's growing a beard for a future role, and had a noticeably smaller girth than "Curb" fans would remember. He couldn't say how much weight he lost, but it's a lot.

"At worst, I'm healthy," he said. "I've given up sugar, and I liken it to coming off heroin. But I feel great."

He's frequently asked about working with "Curb" star Larry David, or his new weight-loss regimen, but during this interview, he was talking Chicago suburbs.

"If I have any normality to my life, it's because of the time I spent in Morton Grove," Garlin said. "My childhood in Morton Grove was idyllic. It was the greatest time of my life. It was the last perfect time."

His memories include hanging out in Golf Mill ("The Sears in Golf Mill is where I got my Tuffskins,") seeing shows at the Mill Run Theatre, shopping in Bargaintown, and being the funniest kid in the class at Melzer Elementary School.

"I took it very seriously that I was the funniest kid in school," he said. "If a kid came up to me and said someone else was funnier, I was crushed, and I'd go do something to make sure I was the funniest again."

He also fondly remembers his Chicago TV lineup: watching "Ray Rayner" in the morning, coming home for lunch and watching "Bozo's Circus," and then running home from school to see "Dark Shadows."

"Saturday nights were my favorite. My parents would serve macaroni and cheese before they went out, and I'd watch 'Mary Tyler Moore,' 'Newhart,' 'The Carol Burnett Show' and then 'Creature Features.' Newhart was my favorite."

Garlin was no couch potato, though. Most nights, he joined the neighborhood boys in an open field next to a temple and played kickball, baseball or football.

Garlin's father owned a plumbing supply company, Billco, and Garlin sometimes went with his dad to work. While his dad took care of business, Garlin would play with boxes of screws, nails and models, and it was a thrill.

"My children's lives are nothing like mine. The only thing their childhood has in common with mine is that they have parents who love them," he said of his 11- and 15-year-old sons.

When Garlin was in sixth grade, his father sold Billco and moved the family to South Florida -- an experience Garlin said was difficult because of anti-semitism he encountered.

He enrolled in the University of Miami but dropped out and started doing stand-up comedy in clubs, eventually returning to Chicago as a Second City cast member. He has been working as a comedian, writer, actor, producer and author ever since.

Garlin's stand-up show in July will be about his diet, "but maybe I'll talk about Golf Mill for all I know. What gets reviewed on opening night will change, because I do different things every night."

• For tickets to "No Sugar Tonight," go to steppenwolf.org

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