Jeffrey Tambor has been a fixture on movie and television screens for the past 40 years, so it’s safe to assume that by now he has become somewhat of an authority on the subject of performing. We all recognize Tambor from his consummate work on The Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Development, ...And Justice For All, The Hangover trilogy, and countless other performances.
San Diegans will soon have the good fortune of seeing him up close and personal when he performs his one-man show, What Keeping You? on December 10 as part of Congregation Beth Am’s second annual Inspiring Minds Speaker Series. (Visit jeffreytamborcba.ticketleap.com for more information.)
We spoke in two parts, just before and during his ride to the airport. In most interview situations critics are lucky to get 15 minutes. During that time one basically waits for their subject to finishing answering a question before pitching a new one. Such was not the case with Jeffrey Tambor. The ease and dexterity in his voice as he answered my during our 30 minutes together compelled me to go off list and simply talk.
Tambor won’t be the only celebrity superstar in attendance on December 10. His old friend, Richard Dreyfuss, will be on hand to introduce the star speaker. All 1300 seats for last year’s event in honor of Gloria Steinem were filled, so I suggest that you act quickly.
Scott Marks: I caught you about to leave for LAX where you'll hop a plane to New York. Anything going on there career wise we should know about?
Jeffrey Tambor: Well, I live there.
SM: Oh. Okay. I knew that you were born in San Francisco, so I just assumed that you were Southern Californian.
JT: We moved to Long Island about two years ago and now we live about an hour north of the city and we love it. My wife is a New Yorker and my daughter teaches there. She's a professor of European history. And my grandson is there. So it's good.
SM: Growing up were you the tummler? Were you the funny, noisy kid on the block?
JT: No. No. I didn't learn that until very late. I had a bilateral lisp and I was overweight. I was the kid who played with the flowers on the ground in the outfield during baseball. I was that kid. And I was Bar Mitzvahed at gunpoint.
SM: Did you dread having a party?
JT: I don't know…uhh…it was just…I was very good. I was very moving. I actually got thrown into my Bar Mitzvah because my teacher, my Cantor, did not tell me that they would all say amen at the end of each, for want of a better word, paragraph. And that threw me completely. I almost went into an Ella Fitzgerald sort of scat. Did you know that I did theatre in San Diego at The Old Globe Theatre?
SM: No I did not.
JT: I worked at The Old Globe Theater under the great baton of Craig Noel. One of the great theater heroes that we have. He was so great and so inspirational. I think I did Antony and Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew. I lived in Ocean Beach and my rent was $140 a month.
SM: $140 a month!? You must have done this when you were twelve.
JT: No. I was just turning six. My father loved coming to see the performances because he was a golfer. He loved San Diego. San Diego is great.
SM: You are coming to San Diego now what is basically an inspirational performance. You have been fortunate enough to work with a lot of big name actors and during the course of the interview I want to talk about some of them and ask how they inspired you. Do you remember the first time an entertainer made you laugh?
JT: Oh sure. You never forget. But, uhh…
SM: (Laughing): I had that coming. That really was a stupid question, wasn't it?
JT: (Laughing): I think most of my heroes are not the traditional types. A guy I was fascinated with was Buster Keaton. I just love what he did. I love that mug. Another one of my loves was Jack Benny. He was a great inspiration and someone who made me scream. And I just have to say, because I love him so much, Lou Costello.
SM: So far you're batting a thousand. Sadly, not enough people remember Jack Benny and recognize him as the comedic genius he was.
JT: Oh, Jack Benny was one of the funniest people; his sense of timing, his sense of self. Easy does it. His mix of grace and humor was so generous and so loving. Another one of my heroes was Peter Sellers. Being There. It's funny, I was just talking about it last night. Being There was one of my all-time favorites and Hal Ashby was one of my gods.
SM: Speaking of gods, you made your Broadway debut in the 1976 comedy Sly Fox opposite someone who is one of my gods, George C. Scott.
JT: Yeah. He was my mentor. He was my guy.
SM: Please regale me with tales.
JT: I don't know if he knew that he was my mentor, but I've been and still do always ask myself what would George do. Arthur Penn , by the way, directed that, speaking of gods. And Larry Gelbart. I couldn't speak. I was in some highfalutin company. And I knew it. That 'little' trio was my launch, if you can believe it. George was great and I learned so much from him. He was a great technician. He loved the theater and had such great passion.
SM: Long before it became fashionable you were one of the first to lampoon O. J. Simpson. I remember that commercial you did for Hertz Rent-A-Car.
JT: WOW! I thought you were going to talk about Hank Kingsley because he made a reference.