I Dream of Janeane
Interview by Amy Sedaris
After months of trying, our intrepid editorial staff finally convinced our favorite funny lady to grace these pages with her wisdom, wit and anecdotes. One of the best comedians in showbiz, Janeane Garofalo has been a perennial favorite from before the day she walked onscreen in Reality Bites to her recent cameo on The Sopranos. Janeane's friend, Amy Sedaris (an A&F alum and damn funny lady herself), caught up with Janeane and let us in on one of their conversations.
The first thing I wanna ask you is about your work ethic. You never turn work down. It seems like you're always working. It would seem like I'm always working, although I haven't made a movie in a very long time -- since Mystery Men wrapped. I'm actually in a holding pattern of movies. I really don't have a good work ethic; I'm flattered that you think that. I come from a working-class background. I always say yes to work and I always wish I'm working when I'm not. But I must admit to you that on the day that I have to go to work, I hate it. And I would give anything not to have the alarm go off at 5:30, you know what I mean? And all I do, really, is sit in the trailer and wait fro a meal break. The first question I ask is, "What time do you think we're wrapping tonight?" And then I immediately start getting on the phone and making plans for where we're gonna go out that night. That's really what's on my mind. So it's not really a good work ethic. I will show up on the set and I will do as good a job as I can, but I can't honestly say that I'm emotionally invested in it. A lot of the projects I do -- they're not the greatest movies in the world. You can't really get excited about certain films. Like, there was a script I was reading. It's so fuckin' bad. It's so bad I couldn't read it last night. It's every bad Ally McBeal or thirtysomething sketch you've ever seen stretched out for two hours with every cliché and everybody in the movie is attractive and lives in a loft in New York.
OK, but you're so organized. And you return people's telephone calls. I get terrified when the phone rings or I come home and there's a message. I freeze. Yeah, that's why I do it. It's because I feel nothing but anxiety when it says I have seven messages. I get a pit in my stomach. It's just weird. And I'm like, OK, and I have my pen and my pad and I number it one to seven, even before the messages start. And then I call back immediately so that I don't have to grapple with that feeling. I feel it's oppressive to have messages. But the thing is, I have way more time on my hands than you do. You are very busy, I am not busy.
No, it's not even a time thing. I get afraid. I always think, Oh, I don't wanna bother, or, they don't wanna hear from me, or I get intimidated. Or sometimes I'll wait, like a lot of people do, till you know they're at lunch or whatever. So I'll just get their machine.
Sham-o-gram, my little brother calls it. I know. It's 3am. Sham-o-gram! I know you're not working. I mean, I'm honest about it. I don't feel good until all seven are crossed off. I can't get through the day.
It's better than if someone calls you and then you realize three weeks have gone by and then you run into them or something. I know. But you can alleviate that by returning the call immediately. And then you don't think about it. Because every day you're gonna have seven more and seven more and seven more. But most people don't return phone calls. I find it deeply offensive. This is gonna sound terrible, but I think people have an internal barometer of who you return phone calls to and who you don't. It seems like there's some people you don't really have to call back. And I feel like there's something karmic about that. At Christmas -- 'cause I'm too lazy to send cards -- I will go through my phone book and wish people a happy holiday. And there's a certain amount that come back. But I have it in my mind's eye who didn't even return the phone call.
I'll write a letter before I'll return phone calls. You know? 'Cause I can do that. I love making cards and doing that at night. You expend a lot of time and energy. You always have food products in Tupperware or you will make cupcakes for somebody.
Yeah, I'll do that. Because it's labor. But don't ever ask me to call you back. One time I read an interview where you said, "Don't ever get drunk and call your ex-boyfriend" or something. Oh, God yeah. Which is a very common thing to do. What I mean by that is, because you will behave commonly. You will say things that are very trite -- something very maudlin, because your intellectual capacity is limited by the alcohol. Unless you're gonna say something amazingly insightful or clever, which is doubtful at 2am. But unfortunately in my case, there've been times where I have made the call and I have no recollection. When people say alcohol is the truth, that's absolutely not true. If it was the truth or something, it would've stayed with me. I pick up the phone just for lack of anything better to do, not because of this heartfelt need to reconnect. But then I'll get a call on my machine that'll say, "I didn't appreciate what you said last night." Or sometimes, "I thought about what you said and maybe there's..." And I'm like, I don't have any idea what you're talking about.
Is there anyone you're intimidated by? Oh my God, yes. I pretend that I'm not. It's not celebrity people that I'm intimidated by. I must admit that I was incredibly intimidated by the entire Exit 57 crew for probably a good year. Scared to death because it seemed like you guys are so funny and intelligent. And people used to say that about myself and Ben [Stiller] and Andy [Dick] and Bob [Odenkirk] when we were together.
A tight-knit group is intimidating. Yeah, but no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. I say that all the time. I can name 15 women who kick my ass comically who, for whatever reason, haven't had the good fortune to bump into Ben Stiller in a deli. That's really the difference between us. And what shocks me is in interviews when other artists -- and I hate to call myself an artist -- won't admit that. Like, How does it feel to be funny? When did you know you were funny? What? I can't answer those questions. It's like answering, "When did you stop beating your wife?" It's like you totally incriminate yourself.
I would never call myself an actress. Yeah, I feel really funny about that too. People say actress. I say, "No, I'm a comic." I never wanted to be an actress. I can do a couple of things fairly well. First of all, I will turn down anything that I feel is out of my sense of what is corny. I've been offered parts in period films. Like a drama that takes place in the 1800s.
I would love to see you in that, though. Wouldn't you just have the best time? Mary Todd Lincoln. I wouldn't do it. I know myself. My inner voice would be like, "You fraud! You idiot with your wig on, your powdered wig," or something. And then you know your friends would be sitting there going, "Oh, please!" But there was another part that I turned down recently. I don't think it's my story. I'm not Jewish, and I believe that if you're gonna do a Holocaust story, it's important to cast Jewish actors who have some sort of connection to something. There've been a couple of Holocaust movies that I've been offered parts of a resistance fighter or the person who says things in the Warsaw ghetto like, "Put the note in your shoe, quickly!" You know what I mean? Like with an accent. I'm like, Are you high? Like I'm gonna stand there in a babushka or whatever and go, "Run, quickly hide the apples that you've stolen Isaac, Saul, Ira!" You know what I mean? It's hokey for me to do it. For me -- not for people who do that. And it just reads equally as hokey as when actors try to do comedy.
I love it when I get a line reading. I love it. Oh God, I hate it. I hate it. Like especially when it's Joe Blow assigned to direct something. You know what I mean? And there's no evidence that they know what they're talking about. You know what I mean? Oh, you directed a commercial? That's great.
Right, and they're not at risk when you look like a fool. Chances are most people don't get comedy. That's a fact. Eight out of ten people are not funny. I'm not saying I'm one of those people that is, but you can tell by the way the director banters with you in between takes if he's funny or not. Most of the time, no. And they're gonna sit across from you and say, "OK, do it like this." Internally, I'm seething.
Yeah, I've had to talk to them before. But that's their job, too. And what a job. It would suck. All right. If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what would you be doing? That is absolutely impossible. I have no idea. I have no marketable skills, I have no interest in anything. No, I'm serious. I'm not well educated, I can't read. I would probably just have fallen into some kind of business selling some kind of product in an office somewhere that meant nothing and would have nothing to do with anything. I cannot imagine. When I was little I wanted to be a secretary, 'cause my mom was, and I thought it would be neat to have a desk.
Really? 'Cause she was incredibly organized. And she also won typing awards and shorthand-speed awards. She was in a bowling league with all the gals in her secretarial pool.
Was your mom funny? She would've told you that she was. She was silly-funny, and would retell jokes wrong all the time and say "No wait, no..." And she'd go back to the beginning. She would laugh at things like "What did the priest say to the something?" That type of joke would make her laugh and laugh. And no offense to my sister or brother, but I would count them among the least likely to say something funny of anyone in the world.
And your mom never saw you perform, did she? Yes, she did. She actually saw me do standup, and she enjoyed it because my brother and sister are so painfully shy and my mom was too as a young person and my father pretty much too. She couldn't believe that out of that family somebody wasn't painfully shy.
Do you have a computer? No, I don't have one. I don't know how to type or anything... even on a keyboard. I have a printing press in my home.
Next to your loom and your quill pen. I have a slanted desk. I'm like Bartleby the Scrivener.
What do you admire most in people? I would have to say if they're funny. That's a terrible thing, but I'll extend so much credit to somebody who's an asshole who still cracks me up. I have friends in my peer group who are really undependable. They're almost like junkies. But they're so funny and smart that I will totally take the scraps of when I can hang out with them. Even if somebody's an angel, if they're rather a dullard intellectually, I am much less likely to go the distance with them friendship-wise, which is a horrible thing to say. But conversation to me is so important that I look for that first. And maturity. You know, drinking is important to me -- let's be honest here. Like, I can't stand those people who become almost childlike or embarrassing at night in a bar.
Or girls that say, "I'm gonna get laid." That's so embarrassing. Or when guys do that, too. Like the guys who high-five each other after a comment. It's a bizarre show of solidarity after saying nothing. They'll make a statement that is as generalized as "What's up with that?" and then they'll high-five. Like after work, the guys will get a beer and then they loosen the tie and they're kind of puffy from drinking but they still look like the frat boys that they are. And their bizarre comradely rituals drive me nuts.
Whenever someone comes up to me and they want a high five, I get so embarrassed. Uh huh... Unless they're kidding.