ED2015 Interviews ED2015 Spoken Word ED2015 Week2 Edition

Stephen Tobolowsky: Opening his files for the Fringe

By | Published on Thursday 20 August 2015

Stephen Tobolowsky

You’re sure to recognise Hollywood character actor Stephen Tobolowsky from the countless films and TV shows he has appeared in. Though you might also be as familiar with his voice as a result of the brilliant Tobolowsky Files podcast he launched in 2009.
In it he recounts myriad true stories, from what happened when he was held hostage at gunpoint, to the time he broke his neck in five places while horseback riding in Iceland, to his experiences as an accidental drug dealer. And now he is bringing those stories to the Edinburgh stage. We caught up with Stephen for a very quick chat.

CC: Welcome to Edinburgh! Why have you decided to bring a show to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year?
ST: My reasons for coming to the Fringe? There are three that readily come to mind. First, all of my friends in the States who have performed here have had a wonderful time. Second, I think the Fringe is important, not just as the biggest theatre festival in the world – which it is – but there seems to be a larger gap these days between the theatrical impulse and bringing that impulse to life. The Fringe focuses that impulse like a laser. It becomes inspirational. And third, well, I was asked.

CC: The show shares its name with your brilliant podcast. Is it basically a live version of the podcast?
ST: The show will be live performances of some of my favorite stories … some from the Tobolowsky Files podcast, some new versions of podcast stories, and some new stories as well.

CC: Why did you launch the podcast in 2009?
ST: I was almost killed in 2008. It made me wonder, “What if my Doctor was right? What if I never saw my children again? What would I want them to know about their father?” Just about that time a student from Harvard, David Chen, asked if I wanted to record some true stories for a podcast. I had no idea what he was talking about, but it seemed to be the right idea at the right time. I said yes and morphed true stories I was writing into spoken form. The fourth story I did was about the day my mother died. That story went viral. I got emails from all over the world, and the podcast was born. My mother has always guided me … even in death.

CC: You’ve told some pretty dramatic stories on the podcast – and will do in the show too. Are they all 100% true? Is any poetic licence employed?
ST: All of the stories I tell are as true as I can make them. I have avoided poetic license. True always trumps clever. So I always tell my experience as best as I can remember and verify, and my wife Ann checks facts, and her memory, for me too.

CC: Let’s back up a minute, if readers aren’t familiar with your podcast, or your name, but are looking at your photo on this page and thinking “yeah, I know that guy”, remind them where they’ve seen you before!
ST: Most people know me as Ned in ‘Groundhog Day’. Though last night in Edinburgh, a dear waitress recognised me from ‘Glee’. And my cab driver recognised me from ‘Californication’. I have been in over 200 movies and television shows but most people think I am “the guy who looks like the guy who is on TV”.

CC: USA Today listed you as the ninth most frequently seen guy in films. Given the list of movies you’ve been in I wonder who the other eight are! Other than the obvious, like ‘Groundhog Day’, what have been your favourite roles to date?
ST: ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Bird On A Wire’, ‘Thelma and Louise’, ‘Sneakers’, ‘Memento’, ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Garfield’ all have one thing in common. I met remarkable people. That is the real joy of being an actor.

‘The Tobolowsky Files’ was performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: stephentobolowsky.wordpress.com