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Actress Runs on Her Own Laugh Track

Although she's appeared in 22 movies, Janeane Garofalo maintains her stand-up career. Film work can be 'stifling,' she's found.

February 26, 2001|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since playing her first movie role in a 1992 straight-to-video independent film whose title she either can't remember or refuses to divulge, comedian Janeane Garofalo has had a busy movie career: some 22 films over the past decade, including "The Truth About Cats & Dogs," "Steal This Movie" and "The Cable Guy."

But making movies is one thing, she said. Doing stand-up is another.

"I actually used to want to make movies all the time," said Garofalo, 36, "but I find as I'm getting older, I really don't enjoy sitting in a trailer all day, every day, waiting around to work for 2 1/2 minutes. Making movies is tedious. I feel foolish complaining, but I just prefer the immediacy and the creative fulfillment of doing stand-up."

Garofalo, who lives in Manhattan, is in Los Angeles to do both: some re-shoots on director Barry Sonnenfeld's comedy "Big Trouble, in which she plays a Miami cop, and some stand-up. She performed at the Improv in Hollywood over the weekend and will be at the Irvine Improv tonight and Tuesday.

Garofalo, whose television credits include "Saturday Night Live," "The Ben Stiller Show" and "The Larry Sanders Show," has been doing stand-up since 1985.

Growing up in Madison, N.J., about an hour outside New York City, she was turned on to comedy in high school in the early '80s when "Late Night With David Letterman" debuted on NBC. A fan of Letterman's off-the-wall humor, Garofalo "decided I wanted to write for the Letterman show." She never did, but in her junior year at Providence College in Rhode Island, where she majored in history, she "decided to write for myself and do stand-up."

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Garofalo said her act is constantly evolving. "I'm always trying to add new things or combine things in a different way or do different things. There is no way I could do the same thing without dying of boredom."

Asked to describe her stand-up style, she balked. "There is no way of doing that without sounding pretentious. I guess my style is no style." Her on-stage persona "is completely me. The only thing different would be that I'm just obviously chattier than I'd be [offstage]. I'm not the most talkative person in the world, so I guess the illusion would be I'm actually more animated."

Garofalo described her act as being "all over the place." When asked if she'd provide an example, she cut the question short. "Are you going to ask me for a sample joke?" She declined, good-naturedly saying that material from a stand-up's act--or at least hers--"is never funny in print. It doesn't translate."

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Her topics? She offered this: "It's a hodgepodge, basically: pop cultural references, political stuff, personal stuff. It's hard to say. It's just like anybody's conversational topics."

Garofalo said she has always kept her hand in stand-up, even during the busy years when her movie career was taking precedence. But she said she's been receiving a dwindling number of movie scripts that interest her, so since September she's been focusing more on her stand-up comedy.

After 16 years, does she still find performing in front of an audience a thrill?

"It's not even so much that I have this narcissistic thrill to get a laugh," she said. "It's more enjoyable to me to write my own material, express myself that way, have a live audience and hopefully they enjoy it--as opposed to working on a movie set saying someone else's dialogue and having a director say how to say it."

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Not that making movies isn't sometimes "incredibly fulfilling," she said. "But more often than not it's stifling."

Garofalo said she's developing a half-hour series for HBO but "We don't quite know what it's going to be yet." And, she said with a laugh, she'll "eagerly await" a good movie script "and hope the people involved in these good scripts would want to hire me."

Meanwhile, she will continue focusing on her comedy.

"I feel glad I stuck with stand-up all the way through," she said. "Sometimes it's nice to know you are the architect of your own career rather than wait for somebody to cast you."

SHOW TIMES

Janeane Garofalo, Irvine Improv, 71 Fortune Drive. Tonight, 8:30; Tuesday, 7 and 9 p.m. $20. (949) 854-5455.

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