Sara Dahms is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd. She travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she shares her travels with us. You can read her ongoing column right here on The Interrobang. This week, HBO’s “Barry” came to Chicago and Sara connected with Henry Winkler to talk about the new dark comedy.
HBO premiered their newest comedy series last weekend and have once again struck gold. Barry tells the story of an ex marine who makes a living as a hit man and has recently discovered that his special purpose in life is to be an actor. I had the opportunity to sit down with the legendary Henry Winkler. We discussed Barry, being an author, his mantra on life, and all things comedy. Winkler has a reputation for being one of the nicest people in Hollywood and after spending just 10 minutes speaking with him I can completely understand why. Henry welcomed me with the warmest regards and was an extraordinarily open book throughout our conversation.
Henry Winkler and I
The Interrobang: I’m a big fan of the role you play on Barry. Gene Cousineau is a teacher who knows exactly how to get the best performances out of his students and I love that about him. When you were a student struggling with dyslexia, or during your time at Yale’s School of Drama, have you ever had a teacher or mentor like Gene Cousineau who could inspire you and get the best out of you?
Henry Winkler: Yes. My English teacher, Charlotte. She is still alive and lives in Massachusetts. I had her at Emerson College. She got me.
The Interrobang: Did she show you compassion and understanding?
Henry Winkler: She did. But I did not have a good time with school.
The Interrobang: Yes, but you have taken your personal struggles with a learning disability and turned them into a positive thing by telling your stories through Hank Zipzer in your children’s book series.
Henry Winkler: Yes. There are 34 books in the series.
The Interrobang: Is it true that there is a series finale on the horizon for Hank Zipzer?
Henry Winkler: There is. The last book comes out in September.
The Interrobang: Is there anything you can tell us about how it ends?
Henry Winkler: I will tell you the last line. His mother says goodnight to him after an adventure. She closes the door and Hank says, “You know, I think I’m going to be somebody.”
The Interrobang: That is so beautiful!!! *applauding* Speaking of professional accomplishments, you happen to be a cast member on one of my favorite episodes of The Larry Sanders Show. It’s the “Hank sex tape” episode and you, and your innocent delivery, have some of the funniest lines in that episode. The conversation on that couch, during that commercial break, kills me every time! What was it like working with Garry Shandling?
Henry Winkler: Let me tell you, that after I did that, my oldest son worked with Garry as one of his managers.
The Interrobang: That is pretty major!
Henry Winkler: And then, many years later, my youngest son met Garry working out at the same boxing gym. You know how he mentored all these people? Well, he would come over to the house and read over Max’s scripts. He mentored Max and in between, he and I had a lovely relationship.
The Interrobang: Barry has a moment of clarity on the show and you are definitely a part of helping him come to the realization that his “purpose” is to be an actor.
Henry Winkler: Barry is an amazing dichotomy and I don’t understand how these men did it, but together they make a bumble of brilliance because they took a comedy and a “shoot em up” and put them together to create this whole 28 minute show. I still don’t know how they did it! And what is really amazing is that Barry is great at killing people and hates it and is horrible at acting and loves it. It is the pull of those two forces on him to find himself that underpins this show. Tonight you’ll see the second episode. It only gets better. I don’t have the language to tell you what it’s been like.
I went to see the great John Lithgow on Broadway because he did a one man show. I told him I was doing Barry and he said, *in full John Lithgow voice* “I wanted that!”
The Interrobang: I can imagine what his version of Gene would be like. I could see that he would use that classic director’s chair.
Henry Winkler: That’s what he does on Broadway.
The Interrobang: Is it really? I can definitely see it!
Henry Winkler: Yes. He’s brilliant. He is really, really brilliant.
The Interrobang: Well, I like your version of Gene because I can connect to him and that is really everything you could want from a teacher.
Henry Winkler: I know this teacher. I’ve had this teacher.
The Interrobang: What words of wisdom would you give to those students out there who have been working their butts off, but are stuck at a D or an F even though they are trying their hardest?
Henry Winkler: This is my mantra. You are not defined by your grades. You are not defined by your difficulties. You are defined on this Earth by who you are and the brilliant thoughts you have in your brain because that is the beginning and the end. I took geometry for four years. The same course. I finally passed it in summer school. No one has ever said the word hypotenuse to me ever since. So all of these children should know that they are brilliant on their own.
After the interviews were over, we moved inside of the theater and watched the first two episodes of this dark comedy, Barry. Bill Hader stars as Barry and in much the same way as Larry David on Curb, Hader is able to bring depth and likability to this character making audiences both empathize and root for him. And true to his word the first two episodes delivered and just kept getting better and better. I can’t wait to see how the season unfolds.
Erik Adams moderating the evening with Henry Winkler
Henry Winkler stuck around after the screening and answered some questions with Erik Adams, TV Editor for The A.V. Club and the audience. Adams did a tremendous job as moderator of the event and was clearly a fan of Mr. Winkler and his large body of work. There was a party that followed the screening and Henry and his beautiful wife Stacey both attended. Winkler mingled amongst his fans, chitchatting and even posing for pictures. It was the perfect night of comedy and one heck of a celebration for HBO’s new hit comedy series, Barry!
It is not just TV. It’s HBO!
Check out new episodes of Barry on HBO every Sunday night at 9:30 PM CT.