Janeane Garofalo Interview: "There’s Nothing Really Anyone Could Say to Penetrate Not Just Trump but the Republican Party"
Image attributed to Steven Dewall
Janeane Garofalo is an actress, comedian, political activist and writer. She was a regular on the comedy-drama TV series Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and reprised her role from the cult movie Wet Hot American Summer in the Netflix original series Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. Film roles include Reality Bites, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Cop Land, Mystery Men and Ratatouille.
Garofalo was nominated for two consecutive Emmys for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on The Larry Sanders Show. Other TV credits include Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Felicity, The West Wing, 24, Inside Amy Schumer, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and Broad City.
"Somebody turned me on to Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and reading about them was a turning point, as was just being exposed to different ideas and different people. It actually fell more in line with what I kept inside but didn’t challenge. So it was just actually a very natural progression. Maybe had I not gone to that religious university, I wouldn’t have had such an enlightened experience."
The versatile talent stars in The Happys, described by writers Tom Gould and John Serpe as “a dramedy about sexual awakenings, Hollywood stardom, sushi burritos and spider bites.” Along with Garofalo, the film features Melissa McBride, Amanda Bauer, Jack DePew and Rhys Ward. The theatrical release date for The Happys is March 16, 2018, and it will be available on VOD nationwide April 10, 2018.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Janeane, I truly enjoyed the film. How did you become involved in The Happys?
Janeane Garofalo: Okay. We’re going back to 2014 or 2015, I think, when I met Tom (Gould) or when he sent the script. I just really liked the script, and we met for coffee and talked about it. It was one of those things where it was in the earliest stages of it where it may or may not happen. He just seemed so nice, and I said, “Yeah. I’ll do it.” So many times, these things never happen (laughs).
But then he did a fundraising thing to get it going, which always makes me feel a little conflicted because I feel like there are so many other things we should be raising money for. But having said that, I made some jewelry to kick in for financing, and other cast members, I guess, offered to do stuff. By and by, they got the money together, and then we just did it. It was really enjoyable. I haven’t seen it, but I very much enjoyed the process, and they seem like such nice people, so I’m very glad you liked it, and I’m glad it’s good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You play Luann who is described as a true free spirit. Any similarities to Janeane?
Janeane Garofalo: I’d say “no,” in that she was a little wackier, let’s say, than I would be in my life. Also she’s a person that moves toward action better than I do in that she was a landlord of sorts, a landlady, and I can’t imagine myself doing something like that, getting people’s checks and interacting with the lives of the people and things of that nature. I don’t really consider myself much of a free spirit. You know what’s weird? I’m the most extroverted introvert you’d probably ever meet. I’m an extremely chatty introverted person, oddly.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought Jack DePew was awesome as Tracy’s husband Mark in the coming out storyline. Had you worked with him before?
Janeane Garofalo: I hadn’t met anyone before. Amanda Bauer is a lovely actress. I didn’t know her either. But it was really nice. We just all got along really well. It was a fun set and just a real pleasure all the way around.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How would you describe the film?
Janeane Garofalo: Oh, my gosh, I can’t. I don’t know, especially since I haven’t seen it. I’m not familiar with Los Feliz in Los Angeles where this is supposed to take place. But I have been to those neighborhoods. Maybe it’s a bit of a slice of life of a time and a place. I honestly don’t live there, but I’m assuming that the writers and producers of the film are capturing a kind of a slice of life of what they know of that place and that neighborhood.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe The Happys is an ironic title with all the tenants having their share of problems in life. The film doesn’t tie everything up in a nice bow, but at the end, the characters seemed to be on their way to getting it all together.
Janeane Garofalo: Right. Well, it wouldn’t be that great to say, “Hey, everybody’s so happy, doing great and are financially secure.” That would be one of the more off-putting ways to do a show (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve got to tell you that I’m such a fan and feel that you steal the scenes no matter what you’re doing.
Janeane Garofalo: Oh, no! You stop it. You’re flattering me. I’m blushing. You can’t see me. I’m blushing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you realize early on that you had a gift for comedy or acting?
Janeane Garofalo: Oh, no. I would not say at all that I have a gift, particularly for anything. But since I was a very young person, I’ve been interested in standup comedy. I grew up in the early 70s. I was born in ’64. I don’t know how old you are, but you may recall that comedy albums were bigger than they are now. My older brother had all of George Carlin’s albums and Cheech and Chong’s albums, and my parents had Nichols and May, Bob Newhart and Bob and Ray albums. I used to listen to them just all the time and really enjoyed them. Also HBO came on the scene in the early to mid-70s, and they would do a lot of standup specials. I just really liked them.
In 1975, SCTV and Saturday Night Live came on, and I also saw Take the Money and Run by Woody Allen around that time. There was The Carol Burnett Show, of course. It just really seemed interesting to me, and I’m not a person that really sticks with things. I’m what you call a real quitter (laughs). But that’s the only thing that consistently held my attention. So then I started doing standup when I was in college my junior year, and I was 19. I didn’t start acting until I was 27. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but the only reason I started acting was because I was lucky enough to have two friends from standup, Garry Shandling and Ben Stiller, who happened to have shows going on the air, and they invited me very kindly to participate in those shows.
I got very, very lucky when I was 27. Oddly because those two shows were critics’ darlings, it opened the door for a lot of other work in the 90s for me, so I just sort of rolled into acting, not that I have a particular gift for it. Sometimes I think I’m better than others. Sometimes I think I’m terrible. But my main passion is still standup. I enjoy that the most. I have control over that. I have no control over acting. I have to wait until somebody wants to use me, if they want to. There’s not a lot of parts for middle-aged women. There’s just not. But I would never say a gift, no. I would just say I got lucky in the 90s (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever encountered sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual behavior from someone you worked with?
Janeane Garofalo: I have not, and I know a great deal of the people brought up. I don’t know whether it’s a comment on that I don’t have an appeal to them in that area, but I was never a person who has encountered that. I have certainly encountered biases against me because I was not considered classically attractive. I was not considered thin enough. That’s not harassment. That’s the nature of mainstream show business. But I’ve not had any experienced with inappropriate sexual attention within the workplace. It’s just one of those things.
I guess I was never a person who caught the attention of some of these predator types. Of course, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. This happens in any vocation. That’s just part of culture. I’ve just only experienced the garden variety, “Oh, you’re not attractive.” That’s bad enough, isn’t it?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, it is.
Janeane Garofalo: But that’s just life. You don’t even have to be involved in show business for that to happen.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were raised in a conservative home.
Janeane Garofalo: (laughs)
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What the hell happened? (laughs)
Janeane Garofalo: Well, as you said, I was raised in a very conservative, religious household, which many people are. My father just happened to be particularly conservative and religious, although a very loving father. Growing up, I just thought he was right about everything. I just did. I just assumed what he said was correct. As I got into my teenage years, I had my doubts, but I didn’t really act on them, and I even chose to go to a religious university. It was Providence College. By the time I was a senior, I was agnostic and then a full-blown atheist, you know what I mean? It was just very eye opening.
I met people who opened my mind and enlightened me mostly on other campuses when I would visit friends that went to other colleges that were more open minded. Somebody turned me on to Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and reading about them was a turning point, as was just being exposed to different ideas and different people. It actually fell more in line with what I kept inside but didn’t challenge. So it was just actually a very natural progression. Maybe had I not gone to that religious university, I wouldn’t have had such an enlightened experience.
It was a university that was full-blown into the Reagan revolution because I was there from 1982 until 1986, and Providence College, to this day, is still very religious. It’s like four years of Catholic high school basically, which was a disappointment because that’s just not what I thought college was going to be like, but it is my own fault. I chose to go there. Then I moved to Boston upon graduating, and things really opened up, just living there, doing standup comedy and meeting new and different people.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Okay. We all know you’re unplugged, but if you could tweet to Donald Trump, what would you say to him?
Janeane Garofalo: I don’t have a Twitter account. There’s a fake me tweeting, but yes, let’s pretend I have a Twitter. Oh, my God. There’s nothing to even say to a person like that. There’s no getting through to him. There’s nothing really anyone could say to penetrate not just Trump but the Republican Party. And it has been moving that way for the last 30 years. It’s not just Trump. The problem is the “conservative” movement of the Republican Party and the evangelicals. It’s just so much bigger than that asshole. It has to do with the rolling back of the Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering and stolen elections. It’s so many things that it couldn’t possibly be encompassed in one tweet. He wouldn’t even listen. I wouldn’t even know what to tweet. He truly is a person that struggles with huge narcissism paired with profound self loathing, so his problems become our problems.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have other projects to discuss?
Janeane Garofalo: There’s this other film coming out called Submission. It’s starring Stanley Tucci and Kyra Sedgwick. I think it’s opening in early March. I have nothing to plug. I’m just doing standup. There may be more Wet Hot American Summer on Netflix. I think there will be, so that’s good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is your career-defining moment?
Janeane Garofalo: It’s a two-fold answer. I’d say looking back, I feel like one of the important things I’ve done was working at Air America Radio during the Bush era. That’s where Rachel Maddow worked. It was trying to bring unfettered news and information during a time of uber-patriotism and just all the Bush nonsense. I feel like one of the only important things I’ve ever done is work there on a show called The Majority Report. My co-host, Sam Seder, has kept it running every since. So I would look back on that because it meant something. I’d like to think that meant something.
When you think about entertainment in general, does it mean something? I guess it just depends. There are a number of things I look back on very fondly, and one of them is the late Garry Shandling, who was not only a wonderful human and great friend, but was instrumental in helping me along the way, supporting me and giving me confidence in my career. I can’t emphasize enough what a great guy he was, how missed he is and how important he was to my everything that came after.
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