Political activist, actor, stand up comedienne are only some of the descriptions of the often brazen and ferociously outspoken Janeane Garofolo. In Ratatouille, the actress voices a French chef in the rat-infested comedy set in Paris, and she does so with French accent in toe.
In addition, her landmark series The Larry Sanders Show has been released on DVD, and Ms Garofalo is about to hit the road again telling live audiences about her life and the political arena. Funny, honest and passionate, she talks animation, politics and her life to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: So what is the attraction for somebody to do an animated film? I mean it’s clearly not for your children.
Garofalo: For me personally? Oh well I’m flattered when anybody offers me any job. That in itself is enough for me, because usually I have to audition for things and then I don’t get them. So to be offered something outright I’m flattered beyond belief. But I’d seen The Incredibles and I liked it very much so I wanted to work with Brad and Brad. I had done other series and books on tape. I like to show up at the studio and you can wear your pyjamas if you want to. You don’t have to wash your hair, you know, you don’t even have to take a shower – nothin’. And it’s easy just to exist in that world for me. It’s less comfortable for me to go through the machinations of hair, makeup, wardrobe, direction – I have an authority problem that I’m not proud of, but I hate to be directed. And I don’t like to say other people’s dialogue all the time. But I don’t mind it as much if I’m in my little cubicle.
Question: Yeah, you don’t strike me as being the subservient type.
Garofalo: Well it’s like I said, I’m not bragging that I have an authority problem.
Question: Where does that come from?
Garofalo: I think because my dad, maybe growing up was a very authoritarian type of conservative religious guy. And there was a lot of ‘Why’? ‘Because I said so’. That’s very common in parents but especially if they’re conservative religious types. I don’t like that. I don’t like the ‘Because I said so’ and I don’t like the ‘Why ask why?’
Question: Were you a rebel?
Garofalo: No. I was the most boring garden variety suburban kid in the world. But there was a part of me that really was upset by not being given an answer to ‘Why?’ So when I got older and I could react to that more, I just always do, but again I’m not bragging about that and it doesn’t serve me well.
Question: Does it get you into trouble on film sets?
Garofalo: It used to more than now because I used to get very upset over rules that I though were arbitrary. Like ‘Why are we here fifteen hours a day? I’m not working’. You know what I mean? It’s like ‘Why did you me in? It’s 6.00 a.m. I don’t work ’til noon’. ‘We just want everybody here just in case’. ‘Why? Why can’t you phone me. Phone me and I will come right over’. ‘Just because. That’s the way we do it’. That bugs me. If I feel time isn’t being used productively or, you know, ‘we have to re-shoot that because we could see your ankle bracelet in that scene?’ ‘What?!’ ‘We don’t feel the character would wear an ankle bracelet’. ‘Why? First of all it’s a fictional character and no one in the world is going to notice that ankle bracelet except somebody whose job it is to notice these types of things. You know what I mean? I just feel like it’s those types of things, I would not complain about so much as ask why ‘Why, why, why, why, why’. And because I was not in a position of power and I was not a money maker for any studio or anything, it’s just a nuisance. You’re just an ingrate. And so I’m sure there’s a lot of directors who think ‘I would never work with that girl again’. Even though I don’t behave that way any more. Because I’m old now and I just don’t behave that way.
Question: And wiser.
Garofalo: And wiser. And I realise that there should be much more gratitude for the work than at the time. So to me the acting part was a thing I did for fun and the money was good but I consider myself – you know my ‘job’ job is comedy. I’m just doing this so ‘I don’t need this aggravation man.’ ‘I don’t need to come in at six for a twelve o’clock shoot’. But now that I don’t get much work anymore.
Question: I find that really hard to believe that you don’t get much work any more. Why is that?
Garofalo: You know, I’d done so many movies in such rapid succession from 1992 to 1999 and I kept getting cast in the same parts and the accused of being a one trip pony even though I was only asked to do a similar type of character. I also made a lot of choices of film that went nowhere. You know what I mean? If you make enough movies that make no money and you yourself are not like an iconic type of person, there’s no reason for the studio to keep using you and then of course as females get older and they don’t go the gym, it’s less likely that you’re willing to work. So that happens. But like I said I was not as much of a professional as I should have been at the time, so maybe that’s my comeuppance for it. But It’s OK. A lot of people get a lot worse.
Question: With something like this, how much control do you end up having over creating a character?
Garofalo: It depends on the director and the producers. Some directors and producers give you a lot of support and a lot of leeway and encourage that kind of activity.
Question: So did they tell you you were going to be French or did you ….
Garofalo: Oh in this context, you are a bit married to the text because as you are laying down tracks there are people animating it. As you do it, it would be rude to change it. Also the character was French. There was nothing I added to it. It was on the page and it had to stay that way because there was people making animation around it so the way it is. So if you were to improve and change it – and then they were sent as tapes and they’d already animated, it would be very costly and time consuming.
Question: And you don’t want to be a pain in the ass too.
Garofalo: Not any more I don’t.
Question: What about political aspirations? Do you hold any? You have been in the past very politically – you were also involved in that radio station.
Garofalo: Yeah Air America. I worked with Air America for two years. I have no political aspirations of my own but I am a political junkie. I do love following – as much as it annoys me – politics and political talk shows, political novels….
Question: You’re obviously a George W Bush fan from way back.
Garofalo: Oh sure. Ever since he was Governor of Texas. Oh yeah, he’s been consistent. I’ll give him that.
Question: Are you cautiously optimistic about the future?
Garofalo: I’m optimistic at the grass roots level. for the people, especially with Air America, and when we tour, you need the best, most politically active, politically aware people. It seems like they don’t exist because they’re not represented in mainstream media and conservative news that dominates the landscape. Or conservative talk radio. So it seems dire and it seems like a very embarrassing pathetic situation. But the average person is far more open minded, compassionate, liberal, humanist, feminist, and that global citizen than we would be led to believe. And there’s a reason that the republicans had to steal both elections. They can’t win. So that encourages me.
Question: I was going to say, why wasn’t the President elected then?
Garofalo: Oh because they stole both elections and Gerry Mander districts and they’ve been working on this since Watergate, these fellas. Their lesson from Watergate, when they say ‘Never again’ it was ‘Don’t get caught again’. So they’ve made sure that there is mechanisms in place over the years to make it much more difficult to bust the plumbers.
Question: Do you think the Democrats avoid keeping the Republicans in check by not criticising them the way opposition parties do in Australia or Britain?
Garofalo: Well the mainstream Democrats don’t. The liberal Democrats of the party, if you watch C-SPAN at four in the morning, they’re given time.
Question: Who are your favourite front running presidential candidate?
Garofalo: Well you know what? I will vote for either Obama or Hillary or John Edwards or Al Gore or whomever. Any democrat will do me. It will go a long way to putting a salve on some of the wounds globally. It would be great globally for us to see a man of colour of a woman. It would go a long way to changing our image.
Question: Do you think the trouble with Hillary Clinton is that she just polarises too many people?
Garofalo: She doesn’t. We’re just told she does. I have no idea if she really does. That’s just what people tell me.
Question: Do you think it’s part of her façade?
Garofalo: No it’s part of a media story you hear about her. I’m just told that she polarises people. I’m just told that people don’t like her. I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t like her. I’ve just heard talking heads on TV tell me that people don’t, you know what I mean.
Question: Would you do anything politically? I mean will you take an active role in the campaign?
Garofalo: No I don’t think it’s helpful. I worked very hard on the Dean campaign and it became an object of derision, myself and some of the other people who happened to be in entertainment – we’re tax paying citizens first and foremost. I love Howard Dean. And in any town we would do our little tours across the country, the critics couldn’t resist bashing myself and the other actors who happened to be there working on the campaign. And they lose focus from what is important and it just doesn’t help because there’s too many hacks writing about it that love to waste our time mocking people in the entertainment industry. You know what I mean? And it takes away space from important stuff about the candidate.
Question: Now they’ve released the Larry Sanders Show on DVD now. Did you play a role in doing any of the interviews for that.
Garofalo: Yeah I did some of the interviews.
Question: What was it like going back – because that was a trail blazing piece of television, wasn’t it
Garofalo: It’s even better than I remember it. It’s much better than I remember it and I actually was having Ricky Gervais of The Office – we interviewed him on my radio show – and he said that he based a lot of David Brent on Hank Kingsley.
Question: Oh that’s funny.
Garofalo: And when you go back, with him saying that and re-watch Larry Sanders you see it. It’s just like when Woody Allen says ‘I always adored Bob Hope’ and you re-watch early Woody Allen, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Sleeper. You’re like ‘Oh my god. That’s Bob Hope or Matthew Perry says ‘I love Michael Keaton’. And you watch Matt Perry and you watch Michael Keaton. You see where their love and appreciation for these other comics comes in.
Question: Was it hard for you to find anything as good as that kind of writing and do you feel ….
Garofalo: It’s not hard to find it. It’s hard to get it made. There’s plenty of great scripts and plenty of great writers and plenty of great comedy writing, especially that exists in entertainment. It doesn’t get made. It doesn’t make it through the filtering process.
Question: What are our aspirations at this stage of your life?
Garofalo: I would like to definitely continue working frequently as a comic and an actor. I want to get more into stand up even. I’ve been on tour a lot this year and it’s very fulfilling. I forgot how much I liked it.
Question: What do you comment on now in stand-up that you might not have commented on ten years ago.
Garofalo: Well it’s always contingent on where I am – when I was 32 I would have been talking about a lot of different things. I mean I’ve always had some element of politics, culture, religion. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more interested in looking at politics, culture and religion. I’m sober now too so that’s a big thing. I used to spend a lot of time drunk and/or hung-over and I’d talk about that a lot.
Question: I remember you used to complain about your love life or lack thereof.
Garofalo: Yeah that was more because of drunken decisions. Which I didn’t really realise at the time but I kept making stupid decisions. You know, I was like Amy Winehouse without the talent, you know what I mean, with her love live drama because she’s drunk or hung-over all the time. And when you’re drunk or hung-over all the time you make poor choices and you wind up cheating on people and you do silly, dramatic, immature things. I don’t do that any more, you know, I just don’t make bad decisions. I make very well, thought out, considered decisions.
Question: So you’re a grown up now?
Garofalo: Yes I’m much older and so I kind of reflect that. So there is more politics, there is more culture, there is more religion, there is more social critique maybe. But there’s still a healthy dose of ridiculous nonsense and insecurities. But Mark Marin and I, who are going to be touring in the fall, are thinking about trying something much more on the level of spoken word. I don’t know what else to call it, you know, a talking show where there’s really, really discussing very seriously middle aged stuff. Because you feel like there’s an audience of middle aged people who came of age when we did who aren’t being served well in the comedy clubs. It just seems to us and so we were sort of thinking about that.
Question: Is that next for you on your agenda then?
Garofalo: Well yeah, Mark and I did cross everything out in the fall. I’m on tour pattern until July. And I was doing shows with Henry Rollins and Mark Merin last month.
Question: Are you developing anything for yourself?
Garofalo: A TV series that hopefully is a collaboration between myself and a kid named Josh Cook. And I say ‘kid’ because he’s like 27. And Barry Schindel and Bob Odenkirk and Adam Bernstein for Paramount Studios. So hopefully that will work.