Monday, November 22, 2010

Stephen Tobolowsky and His Fantastic Files

"There are two requirements that make it workable. One is that all the stories have to be true. And two, that all the stories have to have happened to the teller, to me."

Stephen Tobolowsky

I am a self-admitted entertainment junkie and in my lifelong quest to elude boredom, I have turned into a glutton for amusement and my appetite runs the gamut of media forms. In between sleeping, meals and my obligatory rites of personal hygiene, I am always watching, reading or listening to something. And one of the ever-present hazards of being my girlfriend is that she would be pestered almost daily to check out this movie or TV series or that book or song - whichever thing it is that got my passion ripping its shirt apart at the moment. It's no fun being excited about something on your lonesome, let me tell you.

Last year, I discovered the joy of podcasts. They are basically digital media files (usually audio) released on an episodic basis which you can download and listen at your leisure on your computer or MP3 player. This is why I think radio and television with their scheduled programming will be made obsolete soon (haven't watched telly in half a decade now, on my part). We are a generation of instant gratification. The world revolves around us, us, us, got it? Another thing you should know about podcasts is that they are almost always available for free. Anyhow, it didn't take me long to discover The Tobolowsky Files, described in its website as "a series of short stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry as told by legendary character actor, Stephen Tobolowsky." It quickly became one of my favourite things.

So, who is Stephen Tobolowsky? Movie fans will know him mainly as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day and Sammy Jankis ("Remember Sammy Jankis") in Memento. To TV enthusiasts, he's Bob Bishop (the guy with the Midas touch) in Heroes and Sandy Ryerson (paedophilic former director of the Glee club) in Glee. He's that C-list actor you can probably recognise on sight but couldn't place a name on.


The man has a hypnotic voice, a magical way with words and fantastic life stories. He can talk about anything and I would lap it up. I even enjoyed the episodes in which he spoke on matters of faith - like that time he made a bet with some guy in a bar that he could prove that God exists or his interpretation of Joseph's story from his Huge White Family Bible™. This is high praise indeed coming from an angry atheist like me. However, it's his time as a theatre major in the SMU, the difficult start he had in pursuit of his acting career, the behind-the-scenes anecdotes on the set of Memento, Groundhog Day and Mississippi Burning, and his love life with Pulitzer-winning dramatist, Beth Henley and his wife, actress Ann Hearn that I enjoy listening about most. And it's not just me. The podcast received so much attention that it was soon syndicated by several radio stations and scored the man a book deal.

Now, everyone would have interesting stories to tell once they have lived long enough, but it takes a gift to turn them into something which means more than the sum of its parts. Stephen Tobolowsky had made me laugh and cry - often in public on my own, I am unashamed to admit - and most importantly, he is an inspiration to me. To borrow the word he used to describe his mother in a heartbreaking episode he recorded to commemorate her birthday; he is an alchemist.


I can go on, but instead of continuing this as a review, I would like to give a testimonial instead. If there's anything I learnt from Mr Tobolowsky, it's that the best way to convince anyone of anything is through a tale well-told.

Now, I had been trying to get the girlfriend to listen to the Tobolowsky Files for months, but it is nigh impossible to get her to do anything once she has made up her mind not to. But I am no defeatist myself. Our relationship dynamic is one modelled between an immovable object and an unstoppable force - but dating long-distance managed to keep us out of collision course most of the time, thankfully. One afternoon in the recent month of September, while I was on vacation and staying in her apartment in Butterworth, I managed to jam the buds of my MP3 player's headphones into her ears just as she was sinking into her siesta, too enervated to resist. Playing on it was one of my favourite episodes of the Tobolowsky Files. It's titled It's Not My Dog.

When I checked up on her about an hour later, I found her with her face buried in her pillow. "Asleep," I thought and felt kind of thwarted. She still had the headphones on though - was probably too lazy to pull them out. Then I heard a sob. And another. I turned her over and found that her eyes were red and puffy. She was crying! I knew that this particular episode can really stir up some emotions, but wow.

"So, um, how's the podcast?" I asked sheepishly.

"I hate it," she said between sniffles. "I hate Stephen Tobolowsky."

P.S. Here's the first episode. You're welcome.

Bringing the joy of Tobo to everyone,
k0k s3n w4i


~*caryn*~ said...

thanks to you, i am a full-fledged tobolowsky-file-addict

k0k s3n w4i said...

Yes! A convert! The Tobolowsky Files has such a broad appeal that I think just about anyone would find it relatable. My only complaint is its highly irregular schedule and hiatuses, unlike the other podcasts I follow D:

~*caryn*~ said...

actually, i sought them out right after you posted this piece. took me a few months to get through the episodes. then i remembered the blog that got me started on them, and thought that it would be nice to tell you thank you for the recommendations. they're great.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Glad you enjoy them. Dave Chen actually tweeted my post and sent me an e-mail - but I have yet to reply him to thank him (for producing such awesome podcasts). Let me know if you are looking for something new once you run out of Tobolowsky Files :)