Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Dangerous Animals Club

About a year ago lured me in to renewing my monthly audiobook subscription by offering a free audiobook to listeners of This American Life (which I love; I don't even mind that my girlfriend probably likes Ira Glass more than me). I promptly downloaded Steve Jobs' biography and loved it. Initially, I only planned on downloading my free audiobook and then cancelling my subscription. But then I forgot and kept charging my credit card. And so the audiobook credits began to build.

So every now and then, with the intention of using all those built-up credits so I can cancel my subscription, I peruse the site for an audiobook that will keep me entertained during the more menial moments of my job. My rule for audiobooks is simple: it has to be something I won't likely take the time to read, but something I have a legitimate interest in reading (or listening to, in this case). Because there are so many books I do want to read, it's rare that I come across something worthy of downloading.

A couple months ago I came across an interesting title called The Dangerous Animals Club by Stephen Tobolowsky. The author's name sounded familiar so I Googled him. I learned that Mr. Tobolowsky is an actor and that he looks like this:

Image from here.

You've seen him before, haven't you? I couldn't pinpoint how I knew him so I went straight to his IMDb page, where I saw that his acting credits contained familiar films like Groundhog Day and Memento (I need to watch that one again) and the TV show Heroes, among so many other movies and shows I have and haven't seen.

I don't know what compelled me to download The Dangerous Animals Club, a compilation of Mr. Tobolowsky's autobiographical stories. Maybe I was interested to see what the film industry looks like through the eyes of someone who, on the surface, seems more grounded and human than the actors we see on the magazine covers that we are subjected to at the grocery store check-out line. Really though, I think my gut told me go for it. My gut didn't let me down. (I have since listened to it twice, purchased the e-book, and gave it to a friend for Christmas (I thought about giving it to all of my friends for Christmas, it's that universally awesome, but apparently I'm not that generous).)

It's a shame that our society doesn't value oral storytellers like we do actors and athletes. If we did, Stephen Tobolowsky -- who also narrates the audiobook -- would be a household name. This isn't to say that he's not a great actor, because he is. His storytelling is unparallelled, that's all I'm saying.

Throughout the book, Tobolowsky, or Tobo, as his friends call him, recounts tales from his life as an actor, college student, family man, and ordinary member of the human race. And he does so with the warm and humorous intimacy of close friend. In fact, by the time you finish The Dangerous Animals Club you feel like you're close friends with Stephen Tobolowsky. And just like a visit with a close friend, you don't want to the book to end. The most disappointing thing about The Dangerous Animals Club -- perhaps the only disappointing thing? -- is when you put the book down at the end (or remove your earbuds, in my case) and you realize that you're not actually friends with Mr. Tobolowsky. But that doesn't change the fact that if I ran into him on the street I'd have no problem calling him Tobo.

Aside #1: One of my favorite lines from the book was on filming at 11,000 feet on a mountain in New Mexico: "On the way up to the mountain, I got dizzy and nauseated at the same time, like when I was fifteen years old and made out with a girl who had just eaten a chili dog."

Aside #2: Stephen has a free podcast, appropriately named The Tobolowsky Files, that you can listen to here. Each episode is about 45 minutes long. If you're vacillating on whether or not to read the book, check out the podcast to get your feet wet. If you read the book and are craving more Tobo stories (if you read it, you will), check out the podcast. Either way, check it out. You can also find the podcast on iTunes.

Aside #3: As if on some kind of actor-memoir kick, I've also listened to Tina Fey and Rob Lowe's autobiographies. Both are funny and entertaining in their own way, but are nowhere near as interesting, heartfelt, relateable, and fun as The Dangerous Animals Club.


  1. Touche.
    Man I miss reading your stuff, I'm definitely going to check that podcast out

  2. You know how I feel about Steve Jobs' book, and since we agree on that, I may need to download this one. Sounds intriguing, despite the chili dog image.

  3. Crap! I like Sarah even more now. She may have to fight me for Ira though.

    1. Well, I'm hoping there won't be a fight and she'll just let you have him.