Janeane Garofalo is not slick. She is not smooth. She is not polished. She uses whatever manic, stream-of-consciousness energy she can muster to get lots of laughs. She is, however, likable – and, most importantly, she is hilarious.
On July 13, the full Garofalo show was on display at City Winery. In contrast to the funny, likable and deadpan opening comic, Todd Barry, Garofalo prowled the stage, and relied on an outgoing style.
Diligent reporter that I am, I started jotting down notes during the one-hour performance so I could remember and then relate what she discussed. Finally, I relaxed and enjoyed the show, along with the audience at the very agreeable environment of City Winery, featuring the perfect hip audience for her loose, free-flowing show.
But I quickly and sensibly stopped trying to keep up about halfway through. That’s because her subjects encompassed George W. Bush, Trader Joe’s, Target, Joe Biden, the Covid pandemic, Whole Foods, Tom Cruise, the virtues of Bounty towels, narcissists, Seattle, the benefits of walking, Law and Order, Top Gun, Maverick, her steady boyfriend of twenty-six years (not a misprint), her family members. And, as Nick Lowe once sang, “So it goes” (and added: “But where it’s going, no one knows”).
Not a Pat Stage Show
Janeane, thankfully, doesn’t rely on a pat stage show to keep the audience interested. I have to admit that I expected – and secretly hoped – that she would dip into her rich acting past and tell nostalgic, touching, funny stories about getting her big break while starring in a movie with Uma Thurman (The Truth About Cats & Dogs), when Uma was coming off Pulp Fiction and was white hot.
Or, she could have discussed Reality Bites, which also starred Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller and Steve Zahn. That movie is a touchstone for post-baby boomers.
Mostly, I had been looking forward to listening to Janeane wax fondly about her part as Paula, the sour booker, in The Larry Sanders Show, my favorite comedy TV show of the past 30 years. Garofalo, still in her 20s when she started on the show, held her own brilliantly with the likes of such terrific actors as Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor.
Janeane had so many hilarious moments on Larry Sanders, whether she was playing the part deadpan or lashing out at some horrendous, shabby treatment.
On that show, which depicted the real life of people on an imaginary late-night talk show, she had a capacity to steal a scene with a single word, as she did on the episode when Tambor’s cloddish, insecure (every character on the show was insecure!) sidekick Hank Kingsley argues for airtime so he can pay tribute to his freshly deceased father.
Trying to diminish the charisma of the guests slated to appear that evening on the mythical late-night talk show – Rob Lowe, Vendela, David Duchovny and Jeff Cesario -- Hank declares defiantly, “Who’s more important than my Dad?!”
Hank produced a respectful hush until Janeane’s Paula broke the mood by muttering, “Rob Lowe...Vendela...David Duchovny...Jeff Cesario.”).
It didn’t matter than Garofalo had no interest in gliding down memory lane. She didn’t need to. It was a sign of how strong her confidence and material was that she didn’t have to live in the past. (For the record, I think she did her finest film work in a 1995 movie that nobody has seen called Bye Bye Love, when she hilariously plays a free-spirited divorcee who goes on an awkward blind date with a very uptight Randy Quaid. In that one scene, Garofalo stole the movie from a strong cast consisting of, among others, Amy Brenneman, Matthew Modine, Lindsay Crouse, Paul Reiser, and Rob Reiner).
Janeane had many terrific one-liners during her performance, one I think especially captured the life and values of a stand-up comic.
She summed up the feelings of entertainers everywhere when she shrugged and said, “I’m a narcissist–but I have the decency to hate myself.”
“I’m a narcissist –but I have the decency to hate myself.” Janeane Garofalo