The Truth About Janeane Garafolo

Eastville Comedy Club Janeane Garofalo

She whirled and twirled to My Sherona in the 7-11 and folded the f**k out of shirts at the GAP in Reality Bites. She also poignantly and incredibly captured the angst of a young woman afraid she would be delivered a life sentence after taking an AIDS test in the diner scene in that movie—a moment anyone who lived through the 1980’s in their twenties can relate to. She gave Gen X a face, and an awesome performance.

In addition to Reality Bites, Janeane has had many memorable and critically acclaimed roles in films such as The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Wet Hot American Summer, Ratatouille, Steal This Movie, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Mystery Men, The Ten and The Cable Guy. Some of Janeane’s television work includes The Ben Stiller Show, the Jim Gaffigan Show, Broad City, the Simpsons, Felicity, Inside Amy Schumer, Criminal Minds, two specials for HBO, FOX’s 24 and Mad About You, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and the final season of NBC’s The West Wing, where she played Democratic campaign strategist Louise Thornton. Garofalo was nominated for two consecutive Emmys for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on The Larry Sanders Show. Janeane also co-authored the best seller Feel This Book with Ben Stiller.

There is nothing cookie cutter about Janeane’s acting roles. She does not generally get cast as the sweet girl next door, or the wife in the background with three lines. She is always memorable, and usually hilarious. Perhaps the reason her humor resonates and her characters are so relatable is that Janeane is a self-proclaimed cynic.  She’s like that negative, hilarious friend who you love hanging out with because you dig the way her twisted mind works. “I guess I just prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half-empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth.”

In Larry Sanders, Garafolo’s Paula, the snarky talent booker held her own in the behind-the-scenes late night show mayhem. She was acerbic and strong, smart with a major attitude. It was hilarious to see the machinations of wheeling and dealing she went through to book talent on the show, all the while dealing with the “personalities” of Hank, Larry and the writers. Janeane had to be written out when she left the show to go to SNL, which she later would regret, as she was underappreciated and underutilized in the very competitive and male-dominated atmosphere of SNL.

Janeane’s early show biz roots were in stand up, and it has always been her first love. She memorably stood in as a guest host for Dave Letterman in 2000, delivering a hilarious monologue. Because she wasn’t supposed to use Dave’s stuff, she sat at a little schoolhouse desk with her awesome guests, and good friends (also sitting at schoolhouse desks) Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.

Janeane grew up in a conservative, religious household. She would attend Providence College, a Catholic university, where she was agnostic, and then by her senior year a full-blown atheist. She has no regrets about her college choice. Along the way she discovered the writings of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Reading them was a turning point for Janeane, 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.”

In 2004 Janeane took two years off acting to be a part of the noble Air America, where she did her own radio show called the Majority Report. Launched with great fanfare, Air America was meant to be the liberal answer to right-wing talk radio, to counter its message and emulate its political impact and financial success. But despite abundant publicity and an impressive roster of on-air talent, Air America’s ratings never came anywhere near those of right-wing titans such as Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, or even those of heartland progressive Ed Schultz.

While the company’s shaky finances certainly didn’t help matters, Garafolo has an additional explanation for the difficulty in challenging the Limbaughs of the world. “Conservative or regressive radio has an easier time of it, because what it does is tap into your lesser nature,” she says. “It’s really easy to do that. That’s why it has the success it has: because it allows assholes to think they’re doing good things, to think they’re patriots.…Working for radio that speaks truth to power, that asks people to be better, to be good citizens, to participate in democracy, is not as easy as what regressive radio does, which is ask people to do nothing.”

With a reputation for being outspoken, Janeane has been an advocate for social justice and feminism, and she has been outspoken on body shaming, racism and ignorance. She speaks her mind no mater the political climate, never concerned about popularity. Recently she came to the defense of a long-time friend Louis C.K. While not dismissing his wrongdoings, she stressed the importance of forgiveness, and asked that people give Louis a chance at redemption, rather than condemning him and writing him off.

When asked about her career highlights, Garafolo talks about the incredible inspiration and encouragement she got from Garry Shandling. “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.”

Though she has pointed out that she is slightly old to technically be a gen-X-er, many still think of her as the poster girl for the generation that came of age in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Her observation on [whatever Gen the Instagram generation is] is typical, and priceless:

“Listen young people, I understand narcissism—clearly. But at least I have the decency to hate myself. And that’s what’s missing from the young people. They don’t have the debilitating self-loathing and the second-guessing.”

Image: Janeane Garofalo performs on stage during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2018. (Photo: Roberto Ricciuti, Getty Images)

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