Janeane Garofalo interview

Some people are like, “I don’t talk about politics and religion.” But I feel like, what could be more interesting? It’s part of your everyday life. There are decisions made on your behalf, without your knowledge, that affect you; these things bear discussion.

Janeane Garofalo & Tig Notaro | Englert Theatre | April 5

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Janeane Garofalo began her stand-up career in 1985. In just over a quarter century, Garofalo has been many things to many people. She was one of the faces of the “alternative comedy” boom of the late-’80s and ’90s. If Winona Ryder’s dark and complex manic-pixie-dream-girl in a left-of-center romantic comedy needed a best friend with a biting wit and common sense: Garofalo. Through nearly three-quarters of the George W. Bush administration, she was the co-host of one of the flagship shows on Air America, a left-wing counter to conservative talk radio. On Friday, April 5, Garofalo will join Tig Notaro on stage at The Englert Theatre as part of the Mission Creek Festival.

Note: There will be no discussion of Reality Bites or Wet Hot American Summer here, but there are Downton Abbey spoilers to watch out for.

Little Village: You’ve had a lengthy career, depending on the generation that encounters you, you could mean something very different as a signifier …

Janeane Garofalo: [chuckles] You’re giving me way too much credit.

LV: You have been a signifier for different groups of people over different periods of time. Do you take that into account when you take the stage?

JG: Well, no. I’ve been doing stand-up since I was 19 and I’m in my late 40s, so obviously my material and myself have changed quite a bit; as we are all works in progress. It would be very sad if I were still in my 19-year-old head. If I am a signifier to someone (and I actually don’t know if I am), it doesn’t affect how I do stand-up because I only know one way to do it, which is the way that I do it. It’s not like I try to tailor things for different crowds.

I don’t like bullies. I don’t like social injustice. I feel like these things must be discussed whenever you can discuss them.

Having said that, if I’m doing a benefit for children, I’m certainly not going to say things that would be immoderate. I take no pleasure in being a provocateur. I don’t work blue, particularly. I’m not the type of person who goes for shock value. I don’t believe that any press is good press; even if it’s bad. I don’t believe that at all. I would prefer to be well-liked by the highest number of people. Be that as it may, I can only do whatever I was going to do that night anyway … just making allowances for children and the elderly.

LV: You have a loose style. You wait till something strikes you as funny, and record it in a notebook, and you have brought that notebook up on stage with you, do you always bring—

JG: Oh, I bring it up every night. I have never gone up on stage without a piece of paper. Not always the notebook, per say, but notes of what I want to get to. Sometimes I don’t even look at it, it’s just a habit I’ve been in since 1985. Maybe it’s a sense of security that it’s there. I just did a show Saturday night at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, and I did about an hour and 15 minutes with copious notes. I don’t think I ever looked at it once except when it dropped and went everywhere when I was reliving my grief over Lady Sybil and Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey, whose characters are gone. I knocked it over, and all the papers flew everywhere, that’s the most I looked at it. I have terrible discipline problems with remembering what I want to get to. Also, sometimes it’ll be the first time I’m saying it, just working through it. It’s no different than a musician bringing up a set list.

LV: I was going to wait to ask you about Downton Abbey…

JG: Oh please, let’s get to it.


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LV: Since you brought it up, what did you think of the end of the third series?

JG: I love it. I’m an anglophile. I’ll take any Masterpiece Classic, any PBS thing, and that includes the modern detective drama on PBS. I love DCI Banks, Inspector Morse and Taggart and all that stuff … Wallander. I also love any and all corset dramas, as they call them. I love Downton Abbey. I actually did not see Lady Sybil’s demise coming, but I did see Matthew Crowley’s: anyone who’s that joyful, in a car—

LV: Going that fast—

JG: Yes, going that fast, after professing their love for their wife, and can’t live without each other; you know it’s not going to go well. It’s like Walking Dead. If anybody experiences joy for just one second, a herd will come. Never smile, don’t enjoy anything on Walking Dead or you’ve got to watch your back. It’s just a tell on those shows. Even though I know it’s coming, I’m always like, “oh, ouch.”

LV: You’ve said in a couple interviews that you don’t consider yourself a good political comedian—

JG: No. Some people say, “you’re a political comedian,” but I’m not. I am just a comic who discusses politics now and again. There are others, like Bill Maher, George Carlin and others, who really are, from start to finish almost, dealing with politics. Now I definitely deal with it, because I believe it’s no different than life. It’s politics, culture, all these things, it’s the human condition. I don’t segregate. Some people are like, “I don’t talk about politics and religion.” But I feel like, what could be more interesting? It’s part of your everyday life. There are decisions made on your behalf, without your knowledge, that affect you; these things bear discussion. But it’s not the entire [show], some nights it’s not there at all.

When people say “political comic,” I think, “well, that’s misleading.” Because what if somebody thinks that’s what I am? They’re going to feel woefully disappointed if they hear me talking about the latest issue of Allure magazine or some nonsense, or a commercial I saw that, for whatever reason, I thought was funny, or worthy of comment; they would find that to be the greatest fraud perpetrated. So no, I’m not a political comic. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I just don’t happen to be one.

LV: I seem to remember it even being that you don’t seem to think you’re even good at political jokes?

JG: No. I’m not a good joke writer. I don’t have that knack for little, succinct nuggets. It takes me a while to get to the point.

LV: But you have a knack for insightful, political comments.

JG: Maybe. Sometimes. And that’s always subjective. (And I thank you for the compliment, if you think that.) I definitely am interested in politics and motivated to discuss it.

I don’t like bullies. I don’t like social injustice. I feel like these things must be discussed whenever you can discuss them. Especially when you have assaults on reproductive justice, assaults on the LGBT community, gender issues or the straight up stupidity that comes out of people in power. Perpetuating ignorance. Very sub-par media coverage on things. I mention things, but I’m not good at writing a joke about it. But I always hope there’s something humorous in what I’m saying.

LV: Okay, I’m going to ask you one of the five questions you’re always asked: You don’t have an internet presence.

JG: Right. I don’t have a web presence. [chuckles]

LV: You don’t really do the internet or computers.

JG: No, I don’t use a computer. [chuckles]

LV: You’re a self-professed luddite.

JG: I’m a neo-luddite. I have a cell phone.

LV: Do you feel like that’s something that puts a barrier between you and the audience or does it give you a different perspective, sort of outside looking in?

JG: I’m old enough to have grown up mostly without this stuff. Now, I did try in the mid-aughts, around 2002, to use this stuff. I got a computer and I used it until about 2005 or six, but it’s too much. I realize there’s a lot of value in the great democratic medium, but there’s also a lot of data-mining, surveillance, hit-and-run cruelty, misinformation and then the email piles up, and that creates anxiety in me. I return every phone call with alacrity, and I felt the same way about email. But you can never get on top of it; it just keeps coming, and coming, and coming. Also, it’s just a way for you to not speak to people directly. I prefer to just speak to people directly.

Like I said, surveillance and data-mining is alarming to me. There’s no way to avoid it, even if I was completely unconnected, you’re never off the grid. They can do the same thing with your cell phone or any time you buy something with credit. Obviously, it’s unavoidable, but if I can maintain some distance from that grid, I want to do that. Also I never want to be tempted to Google myself. I wouldn’t like it. I don’t enjoy being berated in the public forum like that. I don’t have a thick skin whatsoever. It’s best to just avoid it.

LV: I want to ask about one more modern hassle that you take issue with: Lately, you’ve taken a stand on some of the new food allergies.

JG: [chuckles] It’s not a stand, it’s theories I have. I just cannot believe, I can’t, that there’s that many nut, yeast, wheat, gluten intolerances (and many of them are self-diagnosed). As I have said, I started kindergarten in 1968, graduated college in ‘96, I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone with a nut allergy. I had never heard that before.

Now, definitely environments change and there are more toxins in the environment than ever. And as people get older, they do acquire allergies, in middle age people do acquire allergies, it tends to be to like pollen or things like that. But you can’t bring nut foods anywhere near a school. Guns are fine on a school yard, not a Snicker’s bar. In your efforts to protect the children, you can’t have nut foods, or you can’t have food that have been manufactured on a machine that may or may not have had nut food on it; but you can bring a gun to school because of your second amendment rights. (Because you’re protecting the children.)

If you do go to a classroom, or if you’re tasked with bringing cupcakes or something, it is like an emergency, the questions you’ll get, “are there nuts in there?!?” Or yeast, gluten, I’m sure there’s more … wheat? That’s gotta be in there.

LV: [chuckles] Yeah, I’ve got issues with some of them.

JG: What are they and how old are you?

LV: I’m 27.

JG: Alright, there we go. So what are they, what’s your issue?

LV: Gluten.

JG: And you’ve had that since birth?

LV: Well … no. It’s sort of like how a lot of lactose issues work, apparently, it lies dormant for a while and doesn’t show itself for a while. I hit my mid-20s and suddenly the beer didn’t go down as well.

JG: So the hops, the malt, the yeast?

LV: The malted barley is what gets me in trouble with the beer. I don’t completely understand the science, but I just know that I basically have the stomach flu or food poisoning when I drink it.

JG: There’s just no way that every student can have nut allergies. Luckily I was in school when we could eat peanut butter with impunity. Or peanut butter cookies, peanut butter Girl Scout cookies. I know Girl Scout cookies were being sold last week, I have no idea how the sales were affected for the peanut butter cookies.

LV: I saw girl scouts toting them around everywhere.

JG: Yeah, but what about the peanut butter cookies?

LV: They came into this household and I couldn’t eat them.

JG: And what about the ingredients in the other cookies, how does that affect you?

LV: Well, basically, almost all cookies have wheat flour in them which has the gluten.

JG: Right, so you can’t have anything good in the dessert world?

LV: Ice Cream.

JG: Oh, yeah, that’s just dairy. You can build on that, good for you.

LV: Well, that pretty much covers everything. Now I’ll just have organize this in a way that makes sense to people.

JG: Or that’s what the article is. That’s just the way the conversation went. We hit Downton Abbey too soon but that’s okay. We buried the lede with Downton Abbey. [chuckles]

John Schlotfelt is a regular contributor to Little Village‘s “Local Album” reviews section. Find his review of Samuel Locke Ward’s Major Surgery at Discount Rates on page 30 of this issue.

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