Dear Janeane Garofalo,
I’m sure you’ve gotten this kind of thing before: a letter that walks the line between being a love letter and a sort of missive of encouragement. But now it’s Artsweek’s turn.
You’re performing at the Arlington in downtown Santa Barbara on Sept. 27. There is an off chance Artsweek will take that opportunity to tell you how much you’ve meant to us. Odds are, however, that we will wuss out. So be it.
Nonetheless, let the record show that you are the new Winona Ryder. By which I don’t mean you are the next woman to have your boob poked at by Adam Sandler. I mean you are the “geek goddess,” the woman who balances a mean edginess with a natural beauty that is appealing to an outsider set.
“I just never heard myself compared to Winona Ryder before,” you said. “I mean, I’m pleased if people see me that way – I mean, not as Winona Ryder, but … I should just say, ‘thanks.'”
But that’s just the thing – it’s not like you are what “Heathers”-era Winona was. You’ve raised your own banner, established your own claim to that niche. You are America’s reigning media badass.
“I don’t consider [myself] badass,” you said. “That’s what’s weird about our culture, we’re so used to bland that it appears as if I’m being a badass when I’m just answering a question. So when people accuse me of having an attitude – ‘God you come off as such a hard-ass,’ ‘Why are you so surly?’ and all these kind of things – and really I feel I’m none of those things.”
Well, what are you then? Are you the woman who did the “back-fat” routine? Are you the woman who espoused her allegiance to independent media at the finale of “Mystery Men”? Are you the woman who wrote the plug in the cover of “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” the survey of ’80s alternative music?
“It’s not that it necessarily reflects back in specific ways,” you said, “I think it’s who [I am]. If you’re the type of person that supports Ralph Nader, is interested in ‘zines and comic book culture and reads The Nation … and supports the burgeoning true indie DVD film world, that’s who you are. Just like if I was the kind of person who supports George W. Bush unconditionally, was purchasing Toby Keith’s dorky new country album and was shopping at QVC, then I would be that person.”
But still, could your … edge, if you’ll excuse my calling it that, enable your career as a comic?
“Could I still be a standup if I was a blind, Republican, Toby Keith-buying dork?” you said. “Of course. There’s a million of them out there.”
But everyone needs something to fill a certain aesthetic whole, be it Toby Keith or …
“I support very whole-heartedly independent media outlets such as The Nation, Punk Planet, and Salon.com, and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR] and things of that nature because it’s one of the only ways to get unbiased, unabridged views.”
I maintain, be it from a blind puppy-dog crush (no, Artsweek is not above such trivialities) or from an earnest hope for the future, that your work can actually change things.
“I’m always preaching to the converted,” you said. “I’m always preaching to the choir. I’m not liked by who I’m not liked by, and I’m well received by the people that … well, as my father says, ‘You will never change anyone’s mind.’ You can talk to people ’til you’re blue in the face about religion and politics, and at the end of the day they’re gonna walk away feeling the same way they felt before you started talking about it.”
Some of us spit in the wind, Janeane. Is that what you are doing? Are you a vain educator, or are you merely an entertainer?
“It is comedy, I, of course, want it to be funny,” you said, “and I want people leaving the show thinking that they really enjoyed it and it was funny. But I also feel a responsibility to say some things that are socially relevant. But it doesn’t define the act. It doesn’t define the whole show. There are silly things, and there are powerful things in there.”
So you lend your words to album jackets and your reputation to underground mouthpieces. What is it about your own work that makes it worthwhile?
“Standup comedy … is different for me in that I am in control; I write all the material, I produce it, I am basically in control of the whole show. And as it pertains to acting in television and film, I’m not in control of the whole show. It’s a great many people who are in control of it, and usually the actor is the last person who has input into that.”
But that’s still not the power to change the world. It seems as if Janeane Garofalo, dark-haired icon, isn’t even reaching for that power.
“Not particularly,” you said, “other than how I choose to live my life. It’s not like I’m in Seattle at the World Trade Organization protests dressed like a carrot. But I feel that, insomuch as the personal is political, the choices I make in my life I suppose you can consider somewhat activist. But I am ashamed to admit I keep my politics more to how I live than actually getting on the front lines and getting tear-gassed.”
And yet … “Reality Bites?” “Mystery Men?” “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion?” There must be some reconciliation made between your personal politics and your appearance in such high-profile pieces.
“One of the ways you get to do independent work,” you said, “is, unfortunately, by getting known in mainstream work. So a lot of time people who do mainstream stuff, it’s a way, actually, to get to indie stuff. … Even in the indie world, they like to cast people they’ve seen before, which is kind of a dirty little secret.”
But such an opinionated (though, apparently, not badass) figure as thee, Janeane Garofalo, must have some criteria by which to choose roles.
“I find it preferable to work on anything with a good script. In the indie world, there’s just as many bad scripts as in the mainstream world. That’s another thing people don’t tell you about.”
Choosiness must have had its rewards.
“I can’t say that people have been hoisting me on their shoulders and marching me around town, and the mayor has yet to give me the key to the city, but [the standup tour] has been fine. It’s been really good in some places and merely good in others.”
Artsweek can’t help but assume it takes strength to get to this point; surely not every gig you’ve ever done could’ve been a success.
“I’m just so used to bombing,” you said. “I mean, it’s nothing to me, either to do very well or to bomb. I’ve had experience with both those things.”
“I’ve done many films,” you added, “that will continue to sit in cans for the rest of the film’s life. It’s sometimes really difficult to be up at 5 a.m. stealing locations on a guerilla film that you know no one will ever see.”
Speaking of which, much as Artsweek wishes this missive could get to you, we know it won’t.
“I don’t ever read my own stuff,” you said, “because I always feel I sound like an asshole.”
You could never sound like an asshole to Artsweek, Janeane. In fact, your loud mouth says some of the best things we’ve heard in a long time. And that’s why we’re writing this letter to you.
Show info: Friday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m., Arlington Theatre, 963-4408