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The Story of The Stories: Writing The Dangerous Animals Club

September 22, 2012

I had a lot of time on my hands when I broke my neck. I couldn’t do much but sit in different rooms. If I sat outside I became a bird watcher. If I sat in front of the piano I became a struggling musician scaring the cat. If I sat in front of the computer I became – what? No idea.

Enter David Chen. By chance he asked me onto his film podcast, for an interview. He seemed like a personable guy. He was a fan of the movie Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, the storytelling movie I made with Robert Brinkmann. David asked me if I wanted to continue telling stories in a different format. A podcast. Now I knew what I could become sitting at the computer.

David said I could swear. I could be outrageous. I could do anything I wanted. I figured the Internet had plenty of the first two and not nearly enough of the latter. I wrote a story that night. I was happy with it. Then I got another idea: What did I really want to do?

I was almost killed in Iceland on the son-of-a-bitch horse “Little Red.” In an instant I could never have seen my boys again. They would never know who I was. What if I wrote stories about my life – to introduce myself to my children. And tell the stories in a cycle. Stories that overlapped past, present, and future. Nothing sci-fi about it. It’s how we tell a story at a bar.

I began to see three arcs:

1. The beginnings of things.
2. What happens when things go wrong and you have to resort to Plan B.
3. And finally children – the biggest Plan B in anyone’s life. Even if you expect things to change you can never expect how much they will change.

The podcast began forming around these arcs.

Enter Ben Loehnen from Simon and Schuster. I made a book proposal. It got into the hands of several publishers. I had a feeling about Ben. He understood the stories from the git-go. He said that he wanted me to move away from movie-related stories and focus on the larger themed ideas of “The Alchemist” and “Conference Hour.” I began to put the book together from the stories that basically made up the first 25 podcasts of The Tobolowsky Files. The first cycle, the beginnings of things.

As I wrote and re-wrote, I wanted to preserve the ideas that people loved in the podcasts and add any new ideas I had to the stories. That process took almost a year. People who love the podcasts will love the book because they will have many stories they have loved in a readable form with some new material. Readers who know nothing about the podcast will be able to enjoy the stories for the first time.

I am very proud of this book. It always surprises me. Because of the way it moves back and forth through time, it never gives me a chance to settle, and a new part of a story, a new connection between past and present materializes. I end up seeing with clarity a part of my life I never understood before.

I believe that if I tell my story as honestly as possible, we can all relate to the broader truths of things I experienced. That was the theory. If it failed I hoped it would be funny enough to make up the difference.

With love to you, my listeners who have heartened and supported me in telling the stories, to David Chen – good friend and chief goader who kept driving me bigger venues, to Ben Loehnen, my editor, who worked with me to bring the best out in each story, to my agent Jud Laghi who pushed to get the book published, and primarily to my wife Ann – who dealt with me writing at all hours of the day and night for the better part of a year.

I offer this book to you with a lot of joy and a lot of love. We made it to the finish line kids!

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  1. Lisa D permalink

    Congratulations on the book! I absolutely adore your podcasts and look forward to reading your book next. You are a gifted and extremely talented storyteller. I really hope to see a show of yours someday in Chicago. 🙂

  2. Andrew Ryan permalink

    Am looking forward to buying this. Thanks Stephen.

  3. Lars S permalink

    The book is great news! Stephen Tobolowsky is a storyteller with a profoundly unique voice. Funny, moving, honest. I’m sure he could narrate anyone’s story and make it fascinating.

    I have loved every single installment of the Tobolowsky Files, and am super excited about the book. I tried to get the Kindle a minute ago, but it said it isn’t available yet. Does anyone know how long we have to wait?

    Also, will the audio book be available other places than iTunes? Like Audible? Or will I have to cave in and install iTunes?

  4. Hannah permalink

    Cannot wait to read. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  5. Laura Nash permalink

    I’m so thrilled this came out – the only question is how many copies should I buy for family and friends : ) You’re a master storyteller.

    • Dear Laura
      Buy a ton and I’ll sign them for you!!! Maybe just a half a ton. 🙂 Thank you for the letter. Smile inducing.

  6. theranch08 permalink


    I am listening to you read your book, having downloaded it from Audible. Ironically, I’m listening to you while doing chores and caring for my own “dangerous animals” on a ranch in rural AZ. But, once upon a time, I was an actor in Los Angeles, and because we share the same age span, your stories are bringing back that life to me. They are rich, vibrant, and full of human tenderness. Well done!

    • I am so happy you like the audio book. It was important to me to do. We recorded it in brutal conditions with amazing equipment. I felt a little bit like a critter in a jar.

      • Bonnie E. Jackson permalink

        Well that dashes my image of authors who narrate their own stories being treated like royalty. I’m still reeling that the “Beth” in all your stories turned out to be Beth Henley. To this day, I can’t drink a glass of homemade lemonade in the summer without reflecting on Babe’s lemonade monologue.

  7. MelanieW permalink

    I heard you on NPR yesterday after a day of chaperoning a field trip of 3 and 4 year-olds. It was just what the doctor ordered. Once I got home, I ordered your book. And now I find podcasts! Fantastic! Congratulations to you and your many successes and thanks so much for sharing your superb talent.

    • Thank you for the kind words, and especially, right now for ordering the book. We are hoping to impress the publishers with sales, so I can do more!

  8. Christopher Foerstel permalink

    Can’t wait to read it Stephen.
    Your podcast has been forcibly shared with all the people I care most about. Finding myself crying and laughing in the same breath, these stories stir in me a hope that I too could gain such humor and wisdom as I travel through life.
    And thankyou for signing the my birthday copy of STBP.

  9. Do audio book sales impress your publisher too? I enjoyed nightly dog walks last winter, catching up with your podcasts, laughing and crying while Charlie checked his pee-mail. Now that your podcasts have become rare, I want a new dose of your storytelling for our nocturnal wanderings.

  10. Dear Stephen,
    My son and I just came back from your show in Seattle. On the way back home, my son said that he thinks that you and him could be good friends despite the age difference. I am not sure what made him think that way. He has been your fan for years, he is 15 now and he introduced me to your stories when he was 10. For his 10th birthday he said all he wanted is to have Stephen Tobolowsky to tell him stories before he goes to bed.

    We are excited to read your book, I am sure it will inspire us and make us laugh and cry, thank you for your sharing your gift with other.

    • Dear Algul
      It could be we have the same likes and dislikes. That’s. good basis for friendship. I have had different life experiences. That doesn’t necessarily men we can’t be friends. It just means he hasn’t had as many hangovers. I am honored he feels that way.

    • I think that is one of the nicest things I have heard in a long time. I appreciate your son’s opinion that we could be friends. I recall when I was 15. I had a pretty good grasp on things at that time. It was in my 30’s the trolley sort of came off the tracks. Hope to see you next visit to Seattle.

  11. Loved the Audible version of the book. Giving it as Christmas gifts. Great story telling.

  12. Betty Lewis permalink

    Loved the book Stephen, you used to come to the house in Oak Cliff ,with my son Dan Barry, yrrab….We wish you a great many #1’s
    Be Blessed
    Betty Howard Lewis

    • Danny and I saw many James Bond movies together. I remember you had the first Keurig sort of thing where you pushed a button to get chicken soup or hot chocolate!

    • Dear Betty, Danny and I were thick as thieves. What a great fellow. We were in love with all of the James Bond movies and books that were the new rage at the time. I am so glad you liked the book. Many blessings right back at you.

  13. I’m halfway through the audiobook downloaded from Audible. Stephen, the book is really knocking me out. We are likely close to the same age as I was nodding in recognition at your Davy Crocket story and my similar reaction to the Disney film that was so anxiously awaited when released. I met Fess Parker many years later at his winery and explained to him how upset I was as a youngster at the death of Davy.

    He smiled and explained that, “We’ll, that’s part of history, son. Davy died at the Alamo.” I acknowledged this fact but said, “Yeah, but it was Disney…they could’ve changed that.” Old Fess didn’t seem to understand and just smiled as he poured me another glass of wine.

    Thank you also for sharing the story of the passing of your mother. It was moving and personal and unexpected. Not only was the story well crafted but more deeply affecting than you may have intended. I was reminded of a thing my dad often said, “We come into and leave this world the same. It’s all the stuff in the middle that matters and it matters a lot. Do what you love, see as much as possible and care for one another.” Dad was a pretty smart guy.

    I will be giving your book as gifts to my brother and a few friends. I know they will enjoy and appreciate the stories as much as I.

    Cheers and best of wishes for your next book.

    • Dear Terry, what an amazing Davy Crockett story. Met Fess Parker? Wow. I am so glad you liked The Alchemist, the story about my mother. I just performed that story in Ottawa…it was what would have been her 88th birthday.

  14. LivelyExchange permalink

    You’re one of the top “that guy”s in the business, Stephen. My favorite was Memento. (“Measure THIS, you **** quack!”) Anyway, sorry about Mindy. I would really like to know what the heck is going on with show (not asking, just rhetorical.) Anyway, onward and upward, sir. Thanks for all the entertainment.

    • Thank you for the kind words. It was certainly a disappointment but there are more shows out there and certainly there will be happier times ahead.

  15. Michael Lent permalink

    I’ve enjoyed your work. After hearing you on NPR, I ordered copies of DAC for actor friends and kept one for myself. Wonderful, wonderful read! With a new baby in the house, the book makes some long nights easier. Thanks. I’m in Burbank and would love to get my copy signed.

  16. Lyn Brodovcky permalink

    Dear Stephen! I love the book, The Dangerous Animals Club” even though I have listened to the podcasts a few times over , the book allows me to reread a phrase or paragraph over again. Thank You! When is the next one been published? Regards, Lyn Brodovcky . South Africa.

    • Dear Lyn
      Just got word…the next book, My Adventures with God, will be published in spring 2017! I am in the final stages of editing now.

      • Lyn Brodovcky permalink

        Dear Stephen,
        I can’t wait for new book. I am also keen to find out when Episode 71 of the podcasts will be released? Best regards, Lyn.( South Africa)

  17. Lyn Brodovcky permalink

    I meant Episode 72 Stephen. Lyn

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Win A Copy of Stephen Toblowsky’s “Dangerous Animals Club” | The Tobolowsky Files Coming to PRI |

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