Photo by Kent LanierJaneane Garofalo didn't make one joke during our 20-minute phone conversation last week, and I think that's kinda funny.
OC Weekly: When I looked you up on the Internet to prepare for this interview, I saw that so many of them consist of—Janeane Garofalo: The same questions, yeah. Usually, it starts with "Why did you start doing standup again?" Which is odd because I've never stopped since 1985. So I have to explain that I never stopped. But I don't mind because how would you know if I was at the Funnybone or the Laff Stop or somewhere? Then they ask what I prefer, standup or acting? And then, "What can we expect to hear?" It goes on from there. Another common thing is the body-image stuff, which I guess comes out of your act.
It does not come out of my act. That's the weirdest thing. People think I bring it up and that it defines me. But it's people who bring it up—and they do it because I don't look like they expect women entertainers to look—and then I'm accused of talking about it all the time.
With war brewing, are you venturing into foreign policy?
I can't think of how to say something funny about how I feel about a preemptive strike in Iraq. But I am on top of all the news, and I am endlessly disappointed in the news. I am extremely angry.
I saw you on Conan, and I got a kick out of the way you were going off on—
The video music awards? Thanks. I think I'm like that all the time. I waste everybody's time with pop culture.
Well, now that you've been at this—I mean, successfully, in the public eye—for 10 years, you're pop culture, too.
Absolutely. I am extremely aware of that. And when I examine pop culture, everything is examined—myself included. I would never deign to think I am above the law somehow.
So then, where do your opinions end, and where does your shtick begin?
It's always my opinion, with a dollop of shtick for entertainment value. Obviously, I'm trying to make people laugh. Otherwise, I'm just straight-up complaining for two hours.
I once heard Steve Martin say he gave up standup because of the audiences. He said their aggressiveness has killed comedic timing—that Jack Benny couldn't make it today because, during one of his long pauses for effect, somebody in the audience would yell, "Yeeeow!"
When you do the Joe Blow Comedy Club, you can't do Jack Benny. It is unbelievable how sophomoric the average comedy club denizen is—in the audience and onstage. The type of morning-DJ humor that passes for comedy is quite pathetic. I won't go to a show where there isn't proper removal of people who yell stuff at the stage. But if you're lucky enough to do a theater tour, it gets better. You just have to hang there for 18 years. If you have 18 years to spare, you can do it.
Has your success made you more confident onstage?
No. I am increasingly less secure and more neurotic as I age. The more you get reviewed and critiqued, the more you start to doubt yourself. I only believe the bad reviews, never the good ones. And over time, I have processed all the bad reviews, and they are in me, always with me. But I have enough confidence. I enjoy it enough—so much—that I don't know what else I would ever do for a living.
As someone who doles out so much criticism, it's kind of surprising that a bad review would bother you.
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It becomes hard to deal with when you feel you are misunderstood. I don't mind if the criticism is warranted and constructive. But I don't like criticism as it pertains to my personal appearance—it's not relevant to my standup show. And I don't like it if your problem with my act is that your take on politics is different than mine—reviewers who call me a liberal and a feminist, as though they are pejoratives.
At the end of it all, do you get any of that life-is-a-carnival pleasure from the passing parade? I mean, Will Rogers was a social commentator who had some very incisive observations and great influence over the issues of his time, but he also seemed to have a great joy. Or maybe it was the rope tricks.
I wish I could find pleasure in the rhythms of life. I find great pleasure in making my case onstage, and it's even better if it goes well. But it's the things that irritate me that get me to write. Not that I consider myself a negative person. That's a mistake we make in this culture—that critics are not patriotic. Cynicism is a good thing, curiosity is a good thing, and pragmatism is a good thing. But it's hard to enjoy the rhythms of life after you watch a documentary about the inner-city school system in Baltimore or life in Palestine. After you see something like that, it's hard to sit back and go, "Life is a gift!" It's hard to find the joy. But I think there is comedy.
Janeane Garofalo at Long Beach Terrace Theatre, 300 Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-3661. Sat., 8 p.m. $25-$38. All ages.