Comedian Jeff Garlin somehow managed to make murder a perfectly acceptable basis for comedy.
The Curb Your Enthusiasm favorite wrote, directed, and stars in Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie as the lonely homicide detective Gene Handsome. He's an officer of the law with a dog who's surrounded by inept trainees, quirky neighbors, and his firecracker partner (played by Natasha Lyonne). Good thing she's there, because it's a gruesome case in this offbeat murder mystery comedy. But don't worry; there's no blood and gore in this playful investigation of an L.A. neighborhood's weirdos.
In an interview with TIME, he considers the perks of making comedy for a smaller audience and the importance of tone and nuance.
TIME: Where did the idea for Handsome come from?
GARLIN: The way it works in my career is, I think of it and I go do it. That’s really what it is. I love murder mystery shows like Columbo. In my movie, there’s the influence of Robert Altman. There’s a lot of style. I thought it would be fun. So there you go. And it was!
What was it like working with Netflix for this project, instead of HBO?
The difference is making shows for specific demographics, or just making regular shows and seeing who tunes in. If you try to appeal to everyone with a show - especially a comedy - you can’t help but fail. You know who’s successful that relates to everyone? Pixar. Because they’re brilliant. How brilliant to appeal to the smartest of us, and the most soulful of us, the most soulless, and the stupidest.
It’s hard to get through to them all. That’s what network TV has been trying to do, and the studio movie system has been trying to do. The reason Netflix is such a wonderful place is they have something there for everyone. And the other thing is, they hire people they respect, and they let them do their job. No one from Netflix even visited the set while I was filming.
How do you define your audience?
Guess what? I have no idea. I don’t wanna know. I don’t want to analyze it. I just do what I do. It’s none of my business who likes me.
Do you ever feel pressure to deliver a certain type of comedy, or to be a certain character for those who have followed you?
Nope. The only pressure I feel is to perform at the top of my intelligence. I just write what I like. There’s no thought process about who it's going out to. The only concern that I have is that people come to my shows, and the only concern I have with something like Handsome, is that people are watching it. If no one’s digging it, then I obviously have nothing to offer.
How do you keep your comedy chops sharp?
The real way is by going up on stage and improvising my standup. As a writer, as an actor, that’s what does it for me. What the crowd can do is lift my show, because it’s improvised to another level. And they can also make it not that exciting. It’s really the audience that instantly lets me know if we’re going in a good direction or a not-so-good direction.
Do you think that people have become more sensitive in their approach to comedy than in the past?
I’m conscious of it. Understand this, I don’t even have an act, I improvise. But I am conscious of the fact that so many things can be said and upset people today. I find it ridiculous, to be honest with you. The approach for friends would be, 'yeah, let’s talk about it. Let’s be empathetic.' But especially in comedy, it’s gotta be irreverent. It’s gotten to the point of ridiculousness.
Curb Your Enthusiasm took a five-year hiatus. What was it like to returning to filming for the ninth season?
From the first scene we filmed, it felt like we had just worked the week before. It didn’t feel like five years off; it felt just comfortable and perfect. There was no stress or anything — it was just delightful.
What should we expect for the new season?
Tone-wise, more of the same. In other words, what people love about the show, the feeling, the vibe, that’s still there. But the storyline, which I can’t go into, is pretty incredible.
The reason I get to do this is Curb Your Enthusiasm. These are opportunities I wouldn't even have from The Goldbergs, which is a mainstream hit. Curb was part of the zeitgeist, you know? Curb is iconic. So therefore I’m afforded opportunities. I’m a very lucky man.
What other shows are you watching these days — what's in your Netflix cue?
My favorite show right now by a country mile is Better Call Saul. There's nuance. Vince Gilligan does nuance better than anybody. A lot of people’s work on television and movies, there’s no tone, there's no nuance. That's why I try and avoid superhero movies. But Deadpool, that had a lot of tone. The right tone, the right nuance, it was a beautiful movie.
Would you ever go for a blockbuster yourself?
If it had the chance to be a great movie. I wouldn’t do it for the money. Money’s delightful, and I make a good living, but I definitely wouldn't do it for the money. I truly would love to be in the Silver Surfer movie, if they ever make them.
How do you feel about late-night TV these days?
I pretty much go to bed early, so I don't watch much late night. But I've seen all of them; each of them has something interesting to offer. But there's nobody that captures my attention the way that Johnny Carson, David Letterman, or Jon Stewart did. I think that they were at a level that's beyond anything.
What are you most excited about with Handsome? Is this the start of creating more of these movies?
Hopefully I'll make more Handsome movies. It would be wonderful if it happened.