“Your stories are so good, and I bet you have many more of them just waiting to get out into the world. Let me know if you want me to help you get them out into the world.”
I spoke these words to legendary character actor Stephen Tobolowsky 11 years ago. At the time, I had recently created The Slashfilmcast podcast. Writer/director Kevin Smith had been one of our first guests. Stephen had also appeared on the show to promote his storytelling film Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party. We had just cracked 1,500 listeners per week. I felt like there was nothing the medium of podcasting couldn’t do.
To my great surprise, Stephen took me up on my offer and The Tobolowsky Files was born. Each week, Stephen told a series of stories from his experiences in Hollywood. How he made Groundhog Day. Working with Mel Gibson Bird on a Wire while his son was being born. What it was like to read the script for Memento the very first time.
Early on in the podcast, Stephen asked me what I thought about him doing stories that weren’t strictly showbiz related. Of course, I said yes. That led to our fourth episode, The Alchemist, a devastating story that Stephen tells about his mother’s passing. To this day, it’s one of the most powerful pieces of storytelling I’ve ever heard. That’s when I knew we had something special.
The podcast grew and took on different forms. A man named Jeff Hansen asked if he could put the podcast on Seattle Public Radio. Adam Zacks invited us to Seattle where we performed our very first live show. In 2017, I directed a movie called The Primary Instinct, a concert movie featuring Stephen’s storytelling. Stephen used his stories to get two book deals with Simon and Schuster.
Stephen’s life and my life also changed. I uprooted my life, moved to Seattle, and eventually ended up working at a small tech startup called Amazon. Stephen started getting more high-profile work and becoming more recognizable. He got major roles in The Goldbergs, Californication, and eventually, Silicon Valley. He went from “Hey, it’s that guy that I can kind of vaguely recognize!” to someone who was getting swarmed in public places. Eventually, he joked, he could no longer go to Ralph’s without being recognized — a major imposition.
The podcast’s release schedule started fluctuating dramatically. Each episode consisted of roughly 5,000 words of Stephen’s original writing. Initially, Stephen and I were cranking these episodes out on a weekly basis. In the early days, it felt like the podcast was a hole in the wall of a dam; Stephen had spent so many years writing down notes and shaping narratives, and the podcast finally allowed his words to flow freely as they’d always desired to do. But as time went on and we both got more busy, the time between episodes eventually grew from one week to several weeks to several months to several years.
In June of 2017, we published episode 83 of the podcast, with a promise to come back the following year. That obviously didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. In the time since then, I’ve felt an even greater responsibility to help get Stephen’s stories out into the world in a way that was as impactful as possible.
Over the past few months, Stephen and I have been painstakingly recording and editing more of his stories. We wanted to bank a bunch of them so we could release them weekly. So people would have something to look forward to.
I’m pleased to announce that beginning today, there will be a brand new season of The Tobolowsky Files, with new episodes every Monday through the rest of 2020. We are also launching a new YouTube channel, featuring Stephen’s stories told in front of a live theater audience (filmed pre-COVID). The latter project came together through the massive effort of many people who loaned us their time and expertise, including Valentina Vee, Jon Berry, and Tyler Schirado. I hope you enjoy this latest version of the podcast – yet another form for Stephen’s stories.
Stephen and I have kept in touch and our friendship continues. It is one of the most unexpected, rewarding friendships of my lifetime. Stephen’s kindness, understanding, and faith in me has helped me through some challenging times. I hope this new season can help you through the rest of the year.
I’ll close by sharing an email (excerpted) that we received from a listener who I’ll refer to as K from India. K shares their love of the podcast in powerful terms.
I can’t express in words just how much listening to your stories has changed my life, but I’m going to try.
I began listening to the tobolowsky files podcast when it first came out. I revisited each and every episode this month and I’m quickly making my way through them since you’re such a compelling storyteller.
I have been heartbroken the past year and these wonderful stories have helped me get through this incredibly difficult time. The way I see it, your stories are about being lost and found, and I hope that one day I will also be found just like you were.
I love how you derive meaning out of everything that happens to you, connecting them to literature, philosophy, science….you transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, Stephen. I don’t know anyone even in my real life who is able to do that…
Your stories are a source of guidance for me. It has been the reason why I want to get out of bed. Being heartbroken can really crush you, as you can imagine. They’ve given me a sense of purpose, and I can’t thank you enough for that. They make me feel like….like life matters.
❤️ Sending you lots of love.
The beautiful thing about stories is they can bring us together. They can help us find universality in the specific. And maybe, just maybe, they can make the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Stay safe and happy listening.