No laughing matter

Janeane Garofalo means business.

BEING TERRIBLY EXCITED is not the way to go into a phone interview with Janeane Garofalo. Ever since her 1994 film debut in friend Ben Stiller's freshman directorial effort, Reality Bites, Garofalo has been the sharp-tongued arbiter of our obsessive, messy relationship with popular culture. Whether on HBO's now-defunct The Larry Sanders Show or enlivening an otherwise debatable film (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Minus Man, The Matchmaker), she so perfectly articulates a kind of familiarly fed-up worldview that everyone who found out I was doing a phone interview with her got terribly excited. And so was I—way too much, it turned out.

Janeane Garofalo

Out to Laugh Comedy Series Paramount Theater, Sunday, February 18

The problem: Garofalo, who'll be bringing her stand-up act to the Paramount this Sunday as part of Foolproof's Out to Laugh comedy festival, does not behave like a famous person, and she does not want you to behave like she's a famous person. (This is not, in case you're wondering, how most famous people behave.) Celebrity means nothing to her, which I picked up from seeing her on television, but which, unfortunately, I really learned only after drooling over her in conversation. (I believe I told her she was the Eve Arden of her generation. Somebody shoot me.)

"Making movies is not particularly fulfilling—it's not like you get a lot out of the hurry-up-and-wait moviemaking process," she says. "It's a lot of sitting around, and when you do act, it's in little drips and drabs, and it's out of sequence, and it's just not that great."

That about ended our film chat. Garofalo suffered this fool gladly but not without some mild sighing. I could picture her rolling her eyes at my People magazine-style attempt to discuss the time Joan Rivers savaged her casual appearance at an awards show: "Actually, you know, it was so long ago—that was actually about five years ago—it's not like I think about that a lot." A question about her brief stint on Saturday Night Live met with about the same level of pleasant frustration: "Jesus, again, that was a long time ago. And I was only there for like a minute and a half. It was fine."

Award shows have no place in Garofalo's world. "I don't like to participate in that kind of thing because it has a real let-them-eat-cake quality to it," she explains. "To wear a dress that costs more than somebody makes in a year, I find offensive. I just don't think it's cool. It's just not something I'm interested in."

I WAS BEGINNING to feel like a 13-year-old girl, giggling maniacally while asking the Backstreet Boys how they remembered all those lyrics. Out went the fluff questions about what's in her fridge, what David Letterman is like, and who her favorite Beatle is. Talk of the recent elections went better. This was the only thing she elaborated on without my prodding her too much.

"I am a Gore supporter. I'm a Democrat, and I actually did want a Gore presidency. I'm actually very angry about Ralph Nader. If I saw Ralph Nader, I would slap his face," she says with a laugh, then gets down to business. "I understand and respect where Ralph Nader is coming from. But what he did was he insured a George W. Bush presidency. He actually worked very, very hard to make sure that George W. Bush was the president, and I resent that. I resent it heartily and mightily. I think there's a lot of women and gay men and a lot of people that are really gonna suffer because Ralph Nader made sure that George W. Bush was president."

Her take on our current political climate is, she promises, a big part of her act. She's been doing stand-up since she was 19, and now that she's 36, she's aware of what makes comedy valuable. "Good stand-up—and I'm not saying I'm a good stand-up, but like the late Bill Hicks or George Carlin, Paula Poundstone, Ellen DeGeneres—if you're a good stand-up, it's like being an interesting social critic in a way," she says. "And hopefully if you're good at it, you make people look at things in maybe a way they didn't see before."

Though I didn't get any more out of Garofalo about the show ("Don't make me. Don't make me try and do bits for your article," she pleaded), based on the advance ticket sales for her Seattle appearance, audiences seem more than ready to see things her way. I'll be there too, hiding behind my program.

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