What I’ve Learned From Janeane Garofalo

The actress/comedian is in town for the First Person Arts Festival

Photo by Pete Caldes

Coming of age in the early 90s, despite the pimples, high school dramas and usual teenage pitfalls, was that much easier thanks to celebs like Janeane Garofalo. While she had been honing her smart stand-up for years, it would be her roles in classic flicks like Reality Bites that would cement her as a kind of Grunge-era icon, especially for brooding brunettes like me who were admittedly looking for someone – anyone – who had something inspiring to say about womenkind.

It was actually a great era for that – one that would usher in musicians like Liz Phair, launch all-female indie rock tours and would put, in Garofalo’s case, this insightful actress and spoken word performer on par with the men on the scene.

Garofalo’s trajectory has been just as telling. She’s spent the last few years digging into independent film and television projects (24 and The West Wing), continuing her comedy and becoming a political pundit for the left – she was among the most talked-about hosts on Air America – thanks to her show “Majority Report.” In some ways, she was a predecessor to the talking heads we see now on MSNBC and The Daily Show.

As this pint-size, tattoo aficionado gets ready to come to Philly this week (Nov. 16) for the First Person Arts Festival (it’s not her first time in PA – she lived in Orwigsburg for a few years as a kid and has been to the city often), we effortlessly pow-wowed about what she really fears about the GOP, why she won’t give up smoking and why people always seem to think she’s gay.

“I knew Obama would win legally,” says Garofalo during a phone call last week. But she admits that watching the results unfold was a nail biter considering how keenly the Republicans were working to get Romney into the Oval Office. A lifelong liberal (she describes herself as a former Catholic, now an atheist), she admits, “I was very pleased.”

And while a majority of LGBT voters seem to have agreed with her, there were a fair share who voted for Mitt. “Stockholm Syndrome,” she says. That’s what she blames it all on. “I also don’t understand females in the Republican Party,” she says, counting a laundry list of ideologies that seem would conflict with gay and women’s progress – everything from reproductive to human rights, and the environment. “It is really more for a psychoanalyst to sift through,” she says. “It speaks to a lack of empathy, a selfishness.”

Garofalo has been spending many years taking on the right, having even appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.

“I was on it five times,” she says. “It was a fool’s errand. You always think that maybe you can say something.” But she says she wised up and, in a sense, gave up fighting guys like O’Reilly and guys like Rush Limbaugh who she says are “off the rails.” She also shares this confession:”Dennis Miller was always a mean-spirited guy. He’s still lucid, but just nasty.”

Her own shtick has always had a fair share of angst involved. It’s what’s made Garofalo so endearing and thought-provoking. And today, she says she’s especially frustrated with anti-gay rhetoric. During a stand-up special filmed in Seattle, she talked openly about how the media often assumes she’s gay. But unlike a lot of celebs who go on the attack, vehemently denying the rumors – even suing for slander – she has a pretty enlightened view about the whole thing.

“I take it as a compliment,” Garofalo says. “It makes me far more interesting than an asexual atheiest. If you want to imbue me with that – it’s not an insult.”

For her Philly appearance, she’ll likely be discussing some of these same issues – as well as diving into her guiltiest pleasures. She has a few.

“Now that I’m sober, I watch a lot of TV,” says Garofalo, like “Walking Dead, Colbert Report and MSNBC stuff.” But it isn’t always so cerebral. “I watch just the shit,” she says, like – brace yourselves – Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And while she tends to approach the experience as more of an anthropological study – until, she says, their “grating” voices force her to change the channel – she’s created her own concepts about the family.

“I’m going to go with Democrat,” she says. “I doubt they’re voting, well, maybe Lamar Odom.”

She also watches Chopped and anything on the Food Network.

Honey Boo Boo’s also on Garofalo’s radar. “She’s full of charisma and is adorable – she cracks me up,” she says. “But I don’t like the pageant system. I cannot stand seeing children pushed in that direction.”

Another guilty pleasure? Smoking. She’s yet to give it up. “I smoke a lot,” she says.

But she has given up drinking (been sober for years now) and email – and the whole online experience many of us can’t seem to do without day in and day out. For most any public figure, that could be the kiss of death. But not for Garfalo. “I have an outlet with standup,” she says. She goes on stage rather than onto Facebook to spew her sentiments about headlines, personal foibles and whatever other farce strikes her fancy. And after one of the Bush twins moved in next door to her, she starting thinking more and more about Big Brother.

“There was the fakest homeless guy outside my apartment with short hair,” she says, “like an old-timey hobo with cork on his face.” Between that and the endless stories about data mining and surveillance, she says logging off was “freeing.” And fortunately for us, it’s provide plenty of new material for her act.

Risk at the First Person Arts Festival, Nov. 16, 8 p.m., Wolf Building, 1200 Callowhill Street.