November 7, 2012 by Heidi
Title: The Dangerous Animals Club [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Stephen Tobolowsky [Website|Twitter|Podcast]
Standing: Stand alone memoir encompassing the begining of things.
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Published: September 25th, 2012 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Format: Audiobook; 11 hrs, 41 min. Read by the author.
If you ran into Stephen Tobolowsky on the street, you would not be mistaken: Yes, you’ve seen him before. A childhood dentist? A former geometry teacher? Your local florist? Tobolowsky is a character actor, one of the most prolific screen and stage presences of our time, having appeared in productions that range from Deadwood to Glee, from Mississippi Burning to Groundhog Day. But Stephen Tobolowsky, it turns out, is not just an actor; he is also a dazzlingly talented storyteller and writer. He has earned a devoted base of fans for his original stories, told in front of live audiences as well as in a popular podcast. Now, for the first time, he has assembled those stories here. The result is creative mitzvah, a work of art, and a narrative feat that combines biography and essay, ranging in tone from the hilarious to the introspective.
To read these pages is to enter an astonishing world that, like all art, is universal yet individual, familiar yet disquieting. A dangerous world, indeed.
I realize now as an adult that I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a family that loved and utilized audiobooks. Living in Wyoming, road trips were a frequent occurrence. The nearest mall/bookstore/Target was 180 miles away, the closest family member 90 miles, and the majority of my family lived a minimum of a 13 hour car ride from our home. This meant that with some regularity we would pack up the car and take off, spending all day with pillows and suitcases piled about us. My parents would put a cooler and whatever else they could stack between my brother and I to keep us from fighting–“He’s on my side of the car!” I would perpetually whine.–and try to keep us occupied with activities other than slapping and crying. One of these activities, perhaps the best, was listening to stories.
My parents instilled in me a love of the oral tradition and an appreciation for a good story teller as much as for the story being told. Perhaps the most unanimously accepted teller of tales on our family road trips was Garrison Keillor. Yes, we took two hours out of every weekend to pump A Prairie Home Companion through our speakers, and we owned several boxes of tapes with Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon. We were also Lutheran, Norwegian, and from a small town. We knew what was meant by church ladies, we’d experienced green jello molds with carrots inside, we ate lutefisk and lefse every holiday. We got Lake Wobegon. There have been few things that me and my brother have agreed upon in life, but the one at the forefront of my mind is that the Tomato Butt story is hilarious.
The years have come and gone, and with them many beloved books and narrators, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered another storyteller I would love as much as Garrison Keillor. That man, is Stephen Tobolowsky. Stephen Tobolowsky has always loved to tell stories, and to me it’s no wonder, he’s great at it. In 2005, after being a character actor in well over 100 movies and TV shows, Stephen Tobolowsky starred in a movie, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party. The movie was simple, largely, it showed the actor in his home with friends telling stories on his birthday. As fortune would have it, a few years later /Film podcaster David Chen, a fan of the movie, would invite Stephen onto his podcast; a fortuitous encounter that would precipitate the creation of The Tobolowsky Files–my absolute favorite podcast. I’ve talked about The Tobolowsky Files on the blog before, but it was back when I was a wee baby blogger and probably nobody read it.
The Tobolowsky Files is a podcast in which Stephen Tobolowsky shares tales of life, love, and the acting community. This book, The Dangerous Animals Club, is a collection of stories previously told on his podcast, roughly the first 25 or so installments. Consequently, as you might imagine, a good 95% of what I heard while listening to this book I’ve heard before. But with a storyteller of the quality of Stephen Tobolowsky, that hardly matters. I can once again become completely engaged in his life, and I was more than happy to purchase this collection of tales.
As a character actor, Stephen has worked with innumerable writers, directors, and actors you would recognize, but he always tells the unexpected tale. Through Sephen we get to see the history behind the screen, to see him as a person so real and similar to ourselves that we cannot help but connect with the story. I’m sure many would say that Stephen has had a remarkable life, but to me the most remarkable thing about listening to The Dangerous Animals Club is how completely average his life has been. I realize that may sound degrading, or as if his stories were boring, but I intend quite the opposite. His stories have the ability to grab and affect the listener because they’re so relatable. The bulk of us are not struggling actors, but we have all struggled at some point in our careers. All of us have experienced love, heartbreak, the joys of childhood friendship, the love of family, fleas…okay…maybe those of you who haven’t worked in animal shelters can ex out the last one, but regardless, Stephen Tobolowsky becomes remarkable in his completely unremarkable being.
The Dangerous Animals Club covers, as Stephen has stated, one arch of his life–the beginning of things. This means that the stories largely cover his childhood experiences, college life, graduate school, and starting out as an actor in Los Angeles. As such, if you’re looking strictly for stories about his career and experiences on particular TV and movie sets, you might be better perusing the backlog of The Tobolowsky Files. However, The Dangerous Animals Club is not devoid of such stories, including some tales from Stephen’s time on Heroes, Mississippi Burning, and Wild Hogs. Wondering what ‘The Dangerous Animals Club’ is? Well, it’s a club, obviously. One that Stephen and some childhood friends started to celebrate dangerous animals. They figured Texas was full of them, and they would collect them all…
As stated, Stephen Tobolowsky is a damn fine storyteller. Listening to The Dangerous Animals Club or The Tobolowsky Files, you will inevitably develop feelings of kinship with this man that will allow him to pull at your heartstrings with every turn. With Stephen Tobolowsky I have laughed until I cried, and cried until I laughed. He is a reminder that actors and people too, and a voice I consistently turn to for comfort. I really couldn’t recommend checking out his movie, podcast, or books more–though I will say you want this one on audio, Stephen telling you the stories himself is more than half the magic.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Obviously, I’m a huge fan of Stephen Tobolowsky and everything he does. Heck, these days I find myself watching shows I otherwise might not (The Mindy Project) just because he’s on them. If he puts together more collections like this I will most likely purchase them, despite the repetitive nature for those of us who are regular podcast listeners. It’s nice to have them all in one file and arranged in a nice story arch!
Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a good storyteller and can appreciate that the one telling the story is just as important as the story being told. Particularly recommended via audio.
Get a second opinion: Have you posted a review of The Dangerous Animals Club? If so, let me know and I’ll link you here.