'Ned Ryerson'! — you see him every day
One of the most well-respected character actors of his generation, Stephen Tobolowsky is best known for his part in the 993 comedy "Groundhog Day." Tobolowsky's at Seattle's Neptune Theatre Jan. 7.
Special to The Seattle Times
On the Internet
Check out Stephen Tobolowsky's podcast: www.slashfilm.com, search "The Tobolowsky Files."
Stephen Tobolowsky8 p.m. Saturday at the Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $19-$24 (877-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
Say the name Stephen Tobolowsky and most people draw a blank. Put a face to that name and most people will gleefully respond "Ned Ryerson"!
Tobolowsky, one of the most well-respected character actors of his generation, is best known for his portrayal in the 1993 comedy "Groundhog Day" of Ned Ryerson — you know the guy, the annoying insurance salesman Bill Murray runs into every morning.
Tobolowsky, who also has appeared in hundreds of well-known movies and TV shows, will share stories of his career in the entertainment industry Saturday at the Neptune Theatre.
Tobolowsky spoke over the phone a few weeks ago about his podcast, "The Tobolowsky Files," and the eventful year he had in 2011 — one that involved open-heart surgery along with high-profile roles on the TV shows "Glee," "Community" and "Californication."
Working as a character actor can be frustrating, moving from role to role without a lot of recognition. After each job, it's "like falling off a cliff," said the veteran actor. "When people have a normal profession they always get the idea of downtime or vacation time or a sick day. In acting you're just unemployed."
But the podcast, he explained, provides creative continuity. The idea was born from a self-produced movie, "Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party," in which the actor tells stories from his life to party guests. Few saw the movie, but David Chen, senior editor at Slashfilm.com, thought it was a great idea and suggested they produce a podcast together in late 2009.
On the show, Tobolowsky's voice is calm and soothing and he delivers his narratives at a slow and melodic pace. Unlike the rhythm of typical stand-up, the payoff isn't quick. Tobolowsky relies on the listener's ability to come along for the whole ride.
Tobolowsky is fortunate to have a plethora of fascinating stories to tell — like the time his high-school band hired a 14-year-old Stevie Ray Vaughan to play guitar on a few tracks. Or the time he was held hostage at gunpoint while shopping for groceries.
In his most recent episode, he details the emotional and physical toll of undergoing open-heart surgery.
"It changed me in ways that are so profound it's difficult to track," he said, adding: "The future is promised to absolutely no one."
For this performance, Tobolowsky is playing himself. He's alone onstage — no fancy lighting, no costume changes and no musical cues.
"I have learned in my life that truth will outdo clever any day of the week," he said. "It's just me and the relationship to the audience. Whether it's successful or not depends on that connection."
Jeff Albertson: 206-464-2304 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published Jan. 6, 2012, was corrected Jan. 6, 2012. A previous version of this story described Slashfilm.com senior editor David Chen as Stephen Tobolowsky's book editor.