Inside Late Night With Mark Malkoff Ep 6: Janeane Garofalo

Despite a career that’s spanned three decades now, Janeane Garofalo may be the most humble and self-effacing actor, comedian and best-selling author you’ll ever meet.

She first burst on the national comedy scene in 1992 when she was selected to appear alongside Judd Apatow, Bill Bellamy, Nick DiPaolo, Andy Kindler and Ray Romano on HBO’s 15th Annual Young Comedian’s Special. From there she quickly nabbed roles on FOX iteration of The Ben Stiller Show and The Larry Sanders Show (for which she was Emmy-nominated, twice).

Perhaps most pertinent to this podcast, she was also briefly a cast member on Saturday Night Live, an experience she’s candidly called the lowest point in her career.

In this episode of Inside Late Night with Mark Malkoff, Garofalo reflects back on her SNL days, shares the note David Letterman wrote her in a commercial break during her first appearance on his show, and describes what it was like to fill in for Letterman one night in 2000. (Note that this conversation was recorded in front of a live audience before the pandemic.)

Click the embed below to listen now, or find Inside Late Night on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Show Transcript

Mark Malkoff: Janeane! 

Janeane Garofalo: Hi! [Addressing audience] Thank you for coming. I can’t think of anything I would not go to–a conversation with Janeane Garofalo. That shocks me that “Oh, I’m going to that.” Now having said that, I’m very chatty. I can’t guarantee it’s interesting, but I’m like an incredibly chatty introvert. 

I was watching stand-up clips from when you started out. You were doing stand-up when you were 19 years old. 

I started when I was 19, just doing open mics and stuff. And that’s, there’s no nobility to it. It’s just, I just happened to have been in college at a time when there was another kind of mini comedy boomlet that, it was 1985 when I started, there was this kind of boom that went from like ‘83 to ‘93. So there was a lot of clubs opening up, open mics, stage time to be had. So it was an easier transition than I think younger people have today just starting. Well, around here it’s a lot. Anyway, I’m sorry. See what I mean? I’m over-answering questions. 

Who was the first person that you told that you wanted to go into comedy? Was it a family member? Was it a friend? Who was the first person that you told them? Were you nervous to tell them? 

Oh, no, no, I don’t recall who I told first. It was an interest in comedy in general that I had, starting in the early 70s because also at that time comedy albums were very normal for people to have.. my older brother had all George Carlin’s albums and Cheech and Chong, and my parents had Nichols and May and Bob and Ray and Bob Newhart albums, and I would listen to them a great deal. So I knew I was interested in comedy somehow and then HBO came on the scene in the early 70s and they would do a lot of stand-up specials. And it just was something that captured my interest. And it’s actually, I just don’t have any other marketable skills. I don’t have, I honestly don’t. I either wanted to be a secretary ’cause my mom was. And that was back in the old days of shorthand. She actually won awards for her short. This is, we’re going way back. 

She has a trophy or a plaque? 

She… She was a secretary named Joan, who worked at one of the ad agencies Mad Men is based on. And she happened to be a redhead. Not that Joan is based on my mom at all, but she just happened to be a secretary for an ad agency in New York during that time. And also, for most of my young life, she was a secretary, so I thought, “I’m gonna be a secretary or I would like to be a comic or a writer.” and then Letterman came on when I was in high school, and I thought I would like to write for him. I don’t even know why I thought I could or would but that was not something that is easy to do, and then I just went to college and then decided to start doing stand-up. But I it wasn’t like I was nervous to tell anyone or anything like that, and it’s not like anybody would go oh that makes sense it’s not like I was the class clown or anyone you would think that’d be like Oh, that, that seems to make sense. You know, in fact, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find people to remember me from class, especially in college. Really, I made no impression whatsoever on anyone. 

Backstage when we were hanging out, you brought up SCTV, that was a huge influence of yours. 

That was enormous. I actually, yeah, I can’t overstate the effect of SCTV, which came on the same year SNL did, in ’75. And we got it, I grew up in New Jersey, there’s an affiliate that would broadcast SCTV from Canada. And I remember loving both Saturday Night Live and SCTV but really loving SCTV through the years and I feel it never quite got its due alongside the behemoth that is SNL, but but it has a huge cult following I would think ..or maybe not even cult I don’t know I don’t know what I’m saying. 

When in Boston at what point are you doing stand-up and you’re a bike messenger? 

Well, that’s not that odd.

I just can’t imagine you as a bike messenger. 

I was doing open mics when I could. 

So you’re doing open mics and then you’re– 

And then I was, as was David Cross, who I met in college and I started as a bike messenger, was a very bad one, was demoted to walking. This is, honestly, this is in downtown Boston before the days of people using emails and personal computers. There was a lot of papers to be carried between buildings. I’m not kidding, and a lot of law firms, and David worked for Palmer and Dodge law firm. I worked at ASAP, which I think means as soon as possible, I don’t know. And then, so I was demoted to walking, and then even that, I was fired from every single day job. Really, I was, and I don’t take any pride in saying that. 

What was the worst one that you had, day job-wise?

Okay, here one that’s going to sound like I’m trying to be funny, but I’m not. I mean, clearly I’m not a strong joke writer, but I worked out on what was called a chat line at the time. And it was where people literally, on their landlines, phoned in to chat lines, and it was your job as a moderator to pretend you were one of the callers, but keep people on the line. And it was supposed to be a teen chat line, but it was abundantly clear that it was a lot of perverted older gentlemen who were on the phone who wanted to hear, I guess, what they thought teen girls and almost always the conversation would turn to “What are you wearing”. I don’t even know why it would it would and then you were expected to keep talking as much as you could within the limits of of decorum to keep because they paid by the minute so that would say that was the worst and that was just boring and… and alarming. 

So you get out of that you moved to LA? 

No, then I moved to Houston briefly. Because my my father had by that point been transferred to Houston. There was a lot of stage time to be had, there wasn’t I mean there was a great scene in Boston but a ton of comics and in Houston there was a great scene and not a ton of comics. 

Is that where you met Bill Hicks? 

I did. He actually, we grew up, oddly. in the same neighborhood. Now I should, let me backtrack. My dad worked for an oil company and starting in 1973, he would work in Houston. And every once in a while we would go there, but for the most part we lived where Exxon’s other headquarter was in New Jersey. But in the neighborhood, Nottingham Forest, Bill Hicks lived, which I didn’t know till his memorial service, that we actually grew up in the same neighborhood, which is, I find interesting. 

I do too, I got to see him once, October 27th, ’92, when he was dead like a year later. 

Yeah, that’s what killed him– 

I was a teen. Yeah, I think so. 


Thanks, Janeane. Goodnight everyone! 

That’s, how dare you, how dare you? 

I was a kid. So you moved to L.A., and how do you meet Ben Stiller? 

In Canter’s Deli. I was at Canter’s. I recognized him from his MTV show that he had at the time, The Ben Stiller Show on MTV, which I was a fan of. I had kind of a crush on him. And I was just kind of staring at him. And then luckily for me, he had seen me, I don’t mean this and that, luckily for me, he’d seen me. What I’m saying, it wasn’t as bizarre that I was staring at him. He had seen me do stand up. So, He was able to return the stare and say as I went up to him and said “I’m a fan of your show,” he was able to say I saw you do stand-up. So that’s how that started, but it was mostly just, I found him attractive, and so I just tried to always from that second on, I was always around him. I like, I tried to assert myself into his life. 

Did you bond over your love for SCTV?

SCTV had a huge, SCTV, I can’t overstate how important that was to our relationship, discussing and deconstructing SCTV sketches. And also Dana Gould, The Planet of the Apes, the two of them would talk about Dr. Zaius and The Planet of the Apes, just for hours and hours and they would look for little models of Dr. Zaius and other Planet of the Apes things like that. And because he can be a difficult guy to negotiate socially. But if you bring up something like that, he’ll talk and talk and talk. But he can be, or when he was younger, he was 24, 25 when I met him. He was very, very shy. Unless you mentioned some comedy thing that he liked. 

So when he got his show, The Ben Stiller Show on FOX, he asks you to be in the ensemble. Did you have to audition for FOX?

No, thank God. ‘Cause I was 27 then, both that year, Garry Shandling and Ben, who I had become friends with by that time, asked me to be on their shows, thank goodness, ’cause if I had to go through the audition process, I didn’t start acting ’til I was 27. And it wasn’t like any network was eager to have me. So luckily, Ben and Garry were able to put who they wanted in there or I would have never gotten either job. 

Did you ever had an acting class up until that point? 

I had not. And if you look at some of the work, I think it’s pretty clear that I… 

Not true. You were nominated for two Emmys for Larry Sanders

All that shows is anyone can be… Really, it demystifies it, because there’s no reason in the world. And I’m not being self-deprecating. I’m a pragmatist, if nothing else. But to nominate me for Emmys is absurd. Absurd. 

Two of them. 

Yeah. That just shows, like, a lack of something in the category. I have no idea what that, what that was about and, and uh… 

I want to talk about Sanders, but before that I want to talk, I don’t think the public knows how hardworking and disciplined Ben Stiller is, he’s a machine. 

I think some people do, I mean, obviously you don’t, you don’t have that kind of sustained career success without being a very, very hard worker. He, not only is he a hard worker that way, but he in the gym… and and I can remember at one point when I was asked to lose weight, yet again, when I did a movie called Reality Bites with him, some of the producers… Why, I have no idea, ’cause also I’m not, thank you. I’m not playing the ingenue. Why did what was my character have to do? It was one of those things. So a trainer was given to me that also Ben was using. And I remember she said to me, “He has what it takes to be a triathlete.” He has that mind over matter, iron of will that even if he’s not a natural athlete, he has that he will not not you know what I mean like I’m gonna be on there for eight months whatever task was set for him even though he would work all day, you know, directing whatever it is, she said “There’s certain people that have a thing.” Now, I was the opposite. The reason she brought it up is because I was she could not get me to do any anything, and in fact, I gained 12 pounds under her tutelage. I’m not even joking. I gained 12 pounds under her tutelage.

Getting back to The Ben Stiller Show, what were  one or two of your favorite sketches to film?

They were all very fun to film.  Gosh. Anything Bob Odenkirk, I was a particular, I love his particular sense of humor. Any of the Odenkirk stuff was always my favorite. Just because he, I personally find him very very funny. 

So, Reality Bites, is it true that Ben Stiller tried to fire you?

Yes, apparently, I again was not doing what I was told.

Because you’re friends with him…

Yes, I know, and he, I, actually in his defense, it was the first time he was directing a studio film and he needed people to listen to him. Now I I was playing a 21 year old, but I was 29 at the time. I’m not Gen X, people make that mistake. I’m actually tailing Baby Boom, but everybody else was 21. And Winona was like one of the biggest stars in the world, and Ben needed her to see him as the director. But whenever he would say, “Let’s do some rehearsal exercise,” I’d be like, “F*ck off. I don’t want to, that’s stupid. I don’t want to do that.” And so he didn’t want me acting that way in front of Ethan. Do you know what I mean? And Winona, because he quite rightly felt, “What if they start doing that?” So, I didn’t know I was fired, but he said, after one thing, he said, “Let’s do some exercises to get the character.” And I was like, “I don’t wanna do that, that’s corny.” And he said, “Well, you can go home for the day.” And I was like, “Oh yeah!” I didn’t know that he meant you’re fired. You know, he said, “You can go home for the day.” And so I was like, “That’s odd, but okay.” And by the time I got home, my voicemail machine was full of messages from my agent. “What did you do? What happened?” ‘Cause people never wanna say anything to you directly. They call your people. So there was like 18 messages in a row of increasingly alarmed manager and agent saying, “What did you do? And then I realized, oh, I think I was fired.” I put it together in that moment. 

And then Winona Ryder– 

And Winona Ryder went to bat for me, but it wasn’t like Ben would have, I think, pulled me back in, because we are friends still to this day, and he did want me to do that part. I think he needed to show, and I agree with him, you can’t say “No” to the director, “No, that’s corny.” 

In front of everyone.

In front of everyone. 

Tell me what your thought process is. It’s the night before the first day of shoot, it’s midnight, and without telling anybody, You take scissors

And I cut my bags. Yeah, I got, Sure I shouldn’t have done it, too. So stupid. The character of Vicki had… What I wanted was like Betty page bangs. Oh. Not only do I have a cow lick here here, so it was very labor-intensive. I was a, I’m an apple body type as it is, an apple. There’s a fullness up top. But also at that, at that, at the time because I enjoyed a cocktail so much and all that I was an apple on top of an apple. My head, I was an apple face. There was a lot of meat on my face. I was a fat head. And the last thing you want is Betty Page bangs on that. And so I did it myself. This is what I’m talking about. You know what it is? I shoot myself in the foot all the time. It’s very self-defeating, my behavior, saying “That’s corny,” cutting your own bangs, knowing you are not supposed to, when you’re going in for hair, up wardrobe tests the very next day. It’s not the first day of filming. It was the first day they will decide what your hair. I knew that. And my inner something, I’m cutting it. There’s a reason I’m not famous anymore. I mean, there’s many reasons, some of them in my control, some not, but a lot of it has to do with my bullet-riddled feet. There’s just nothing but bullet holes in my feet if you take my meaning, not literally. 

Was the filming fun? Did you have a good time with everyone? 

Yes, I did. I had a very good time. But I started off with a) getting fired. I was also fired from Truth About Cats and Dogs and then brought back only ’cause Uma didn’t want to start again. Reshooting after three weeks. 

What did you do on that to get fired? Or was it nothing? 

I guess according to them, a sh*tty actor. It was really that simple. It was just that we don’t like your dailies. They also weren’t thrilled with the way I looked, which also was like, are you kidding me? This is a retelling of Cyrano. I’m supposed to be so hideous as it is that I hide my identity from Ben Chaplin’s character. And you’re on top of that, not pleased with my cinder block type body and head, or whatever they didn’t like. But anyway, so then I was fired from that. And then Uma was like, “No way, Jose.” Not that she liked me that much. And actually friend, she has actually sense over the years. She’s very nice. She was 24 at the time and she had a lot of pressure on her and she didn’t appreciate my approach to the profession, which I guess was no approach whatsoever. You know, I mean, like that not wanting to rehearse not not really knowing what I was doing. I didn’t even really understand things fully about marks or crossing the line or when you shoot a master then you have to redo what you’ve done in the coverage. I don’t know why but I would just like do something different, which, people don’t like that and she didn’t like that and I understand she also doesn’t like to improvise or at least she didn’t with with me. She was the one who was nominated for an Oscar from Pulp Fiction, it was her thing, so it’s not that she was thrilled to have me back but she would have had to redo three weeks of a film and she was due to start another film. So, yeah, I’m sure I was fired from more films than that. But, and again, I don’t take any pride in telling you this. I’m not saying it like, aren’t I something, aren’t I bad ass. Just answering your question. 

Yeah, I wanted to talk about Larry Sanders. So, Garry Shandling tells you, “I want you to play this character, Paula, a booker.” 

Well, it’s based on a real person who worked at Letterman. The show was written mostly by Maya Forbes and Paul Simms who had worked at Letterman. Larry Sanders Show was loosely based on a lot of people who worked at the David Letterman show. My character Paula is based on a real person who worked at the show, and I guess she was a real cranky, a real pill, let’s say. And so I was just tasked with behaving that way. Now I was thrilled to do that. What I didn’t understand is, I guess I did it pretty well, because I was asked to do it many other times in many other vehicles, and cut to: you are now typecast. You do this one thing, you know what I mean. You’re the a**hole in Romy and Michelle, you’re the a**hole in this, this and that… which actually is really not my nature. Really, to tell you the truth, I felt terrible in Romy and Michelle saying “F*ck off Toby.” I don’t like that kind of vulgarity. I truly don’t. I don’t speak to people that way.  I’m very polite. I’m a door holder, people. I’m a holder of doors. I am very chatty. I’ve not ever been like that person who I was asked to play, but then I was kept being asked to play it. Plus, in show business and mainstream show business, they make a decision for you. You look like this, this is what you do. Does that make sense? And that’s the nature, I’m not complaining about it. That’s the nature of mainstream entertainment. And it’s an elective profession, nobody makes you do it. So to complain about it is stupid, but. 

When you were doing Sanders, could you tell that the writing, were you aware? The quality holds up. I mean, I watched it a year or two ago, the whole thing. Again. The quality is amazing. Could you tell the writing was there? 

I could only because, you know, having grown up watching television, you can tell the difference between bad television and good television. Also, once you’re in Los Angeles for a while and you are sent scripts to audition for other things. And that started happening right away with Larry Sanders. You know what I mean? Anybody who was involved with the show, it became a critics darling. So everybody who was in the cast started getting like, read this script to do that, you know, for other things. And you realize, “Oh my God, there’s such a difference between this writing and this writing.” Like anybody could tell, I guess if you have taste, the difference between good writing and bad writing. But also, Garry Shandling is to be credited 100%, and a wonderful human being, and I’m very, very sorry, he’s not here anymore. A great guy, but also a guy who really wanted it to be a certain way. You know what I mean?

He wanted it real… 

He wanted it to seem very real. Now, a lot of younger people watch it now and think that that show is ripping off The Office and stuff, that verite style. But it was actually very unusual at the time in 1991, ’92, to have a show that looked like that and the cameraman Peter Smokler was on rollerblades a lot, and he was being pulled around the office set shooting that way you know and sometimes people were in frame sometimes they’re not, you know, it had a style and a look. And also, Garry’s way of acting is my favorite way. He wants you to say something different every time. He wants you to do whatever you want to surprise him, to make him listen. Things like that. Which I find to be very exciting, and he also was a very supportive person. He welcomed all ideas. You know, I mean, I’ve noticed over the years that the worse, the bigger the hack writer, producer, director, the less likely they are to let others be involved. They are real precious about their words. And then the better the writer or whatever seemed to be much more open to it being a collaboration, knowing that an idea can come from anywhere. If it’s no good, they won’t use it, but they also know that if you support your cast, and they feel like they’re a part of it, It raises all boats if that makes sense. 

Rip Torn seemed so intimidating. In real life was he?

Yes very very very very a very nice guy a very good actor a very. Quick quick tempered gentlemen. Um.

He had some, he had some issues as well. 

Yes. Yeah, he liked a cocktail as well. He would start a bit earlier in the day than I did, but yeah, he he yeah. But a great a great actor. 

Incredible on that show 

You know, just wonderful. 

I would say Hank Kingsley is one of the greatest TV characters of all time… 

So so funny and so many people now just say “Hey now” without really, you know, “Hey now” it’s just something that has become. You know, I was thinking the other day that Richard Lewis doesn’t get any credit for “from hell” and “on steroids.” Do you know that he actually coined both those phrases on Letterman in the ’80s that have now become part of normal everyday life, unfortunately, still, people on the cooking channel say it way too much. I mean, it really is past its prime, but “on steroids” and “from hell,” Guy Fieri, why are you saying? But Richard Lewis coined those and made them part of, not just domestically, but internationally. And I feel like nobody ever mentions, Richard Lewis said that first in his stand-up, and it became, I don’t know how many people you could say that about, that they just drop things into panel conversation with David Letterman, and then it becomes– 

It becomes something. 

Something that is now, you don’t even know where it comes from, probably. 

Richard Lewis. 

Richard Lewis, that’s right. 

You were commanding, at the time, from the industry, they were offering you to do films, a million dollars, and your representation explained to you, you have this small, the average person that is worth that much money at the time, has about two years, a narrow window, and you said no to the money. You’re the only person I can think of that was being offered million dollar films that was saying no. 

Well, actually, again, let’s unpack this. There are a number of actors, money was flying around in the ’90s, I’m telling you, Money was flying around in the 90s. I’m not the only person, I only was offered a million dollars a couple of times. And that’s a huge… but what I’m saying is, believe me, there was other actors getting that and more. When you say turn it down, there’s certain things that it’s just a, “No, I’m not gonna be the lesbian gym teacher who just needs to get laid in Porky’s 2.” You know what I mean? That’s just silly. That’s just silly. You know what I mean? And again, when you don’t have children and you don’t buy stuff, you can say no. You know what I mean? Like if I had kids, you know, things would be very different. But believe me, there’s lots of people who were offered that kind of money back then. And also, I don’t know, where are you getting that information? 

I talked to one of your representatives who worked with you, probably 10 years ago.


I’ll tell you afterwards, can I not say publicly? 

There were things where money was on offer, but not just to me. It was going around at that time. 

You were one of the only ones that were saying no to the millions. 

That you know of. 

Yeah, that’s true. 

I’m sure there’s plenty of people that… 

I’m saying it’s rare… 

It may not be rare, I have no idea.

Do you still consider your time on Saturday Night Live to be the lowest point of your career, and maybe your life? 

I would… 

I’ve heard you say that. The only reason I’m saying that is ’cause I heard you say that. 

When I say that, I’m talking about lowest point for a couple of reasons. It.. personally, was a low point in that I was so deep into drinking, it really got out of control. That’s my fault. My drinking was out of control. Now professionally, also, at the time, you know, that show has been on for 40 years. It ebbs and flows. There’s ups, there’s downs, there’s times when it’s better than other times where it’s really working out. The particular amount of time I happened to be there, there was some chaos going on. There was changes happening and the type of comedy that was happening at that particular moment was not my particular taste. They didn’t need me to be there. The cast was over-large as it is. So it was just, I couldn’t break through there because at the time, they weren’t really doing stuff that maybe, it wasn’t a good fit. But it was my fault mostly for giving up. Whereas there’s other people like Molly Shannon and other people who sometimes went, ’cause she came on board when times were still tough. But she’s got that will of iron. She doesn’t, you know what, she’s gonna keep working. I am a real quitter. I’m a real quitter. You know what I mean, like I only have stuck with two things, which, three, standup comedy. I like to make jewelry. I just enjoy bead stores. That’s never ebbed. And smoking. And I have no wish to quit smoking. 

The thing I find interesting is all your, a lot of your friends that had been over there, I’m guessing Ben Stiller and Bob Odenkirk told you. 

Both of them told me not to do it. I was actually dating Bob Odenkirk by that point. We were boyfriend and girlfriend briefly and he said, “Don’t go, it’s not the right time for you.” I understood immediately what he meant when I got there. Now I did have some good times there, and it does afford you a lifestyle that’s really exciting. You get to meet so many people and the bands and the guests that come on. So that can be very exciting. And also if you are a person who has a drinking issue, well, that’s a perfect show. You know, I mean, like there is no end to the ability to be drunk 90% of the time, which I was. Now, I’m not proud of that. And a lot of other people were completely clean and they worked very hard. I did not, that’s my fault. I gave up early, when it became clear that this doesn’t seem to be a good fit. It wasn’t all, you know, there was, I’m sure there’s some good stuff there too, but it was just, it just wasn’t the right time for me. Maybe if I’d been there earlier or later, it might’ve worked out.  

The Andy Breckman sketch that Andy Breckman wrote, that sketch was Alec Baldwin hosting, the Japanese game show with Chris Farley. 

Oh yeah. 

Oh my gosh, that was funny. 

That was, Alec Baldwin, is unbelievably funny. 

He was meant to do that show. 

Really, really funny, and he, he was, he was good. I was, again, I was thrilled to meet him there but there’s also so many bands that you’re like I can’t believe I’m, and also you get to float from floor, like Conan was shooting there, and then there’s other shows, and you just get to wander around that building, Rockefeller Center, and go watch other bands that are on Conan and stuff like that it just was really very good and I’m I actually accept a lot of the blame for what went wrong there. I was immature and drank too much. 

Saturday Night Live pays way less than regular shows. So you’re essentially taking a pay cut to go to SNL, correct? 

Right, but it’s still great money. And it’s still more than 90% of the world’s population that lives on less than $2 a day. That’s a fact. So any money is better than that. It was very good money for a weekly paycheck. And you know, a lot of great talent has come through there and done very well there. And a lot of great work is done on on that show. Very, very solid stuff over the years. So I have no wish to criticize that show at all. 

Tina Fey said that Norm Macdonald the last time Saturday Night Live was dangerous is when Norm MacDonald was on. Tina Fey said that. Did you ever witness anything with Norm? 

I do know that it was times where loan sharks were threatening to break his legs in real life. I guess he had debt problems. 

He was a gambler for sure. 

Yeah, he was a gambler. He’s actually a very funny nice guy. But I guess dangerous in that he’ll do whatever he wants to do, live or what have you. I guess Michael O’Donohue would take issue with that. He would probably feel that he was the most dangerous thing back in the day on that show. 

You were really smart to, usually that back then it was a five year contract. You did a one year contract. 

I actually, yeah, I did. Okay, now Catherine O ‘Hara had been asked to do SNL and she went and the first day she realized it wasn’t a good fit and she left. And I’m not saying that, like Isn’t that cool? I’m saying she understood intuitively. Now I felt the same way, and of course my agent, I called and said, and my agent made it sound like your career will die, you’ll be dead. You know, if that happens, if you leave, you can’t. And I’m not saying “I want to leave, like this sucks.” I’m just saying there’s like 18 cast members, you don’t need me. I don’t think this is going to be a good fit. I would like to go. So when it came time to sign those contracts, I didn’t want to sign a five year contract. Now they, they still reserve the right to fire you. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna be there five years. You can be let go at any time, but you are up. Do you know I’m saying but if they want to, so the very first night I was on, as Don Pardo, the late Don Pardo, was saying the names I’m under the bleachers with a lawyer from NBC who’s saying you sign you don’t go on ,and I was like “that’s fine.” You know, I mean and again, I’m not saying like I’m a bad… I was just saying I have still not unpacked my stuff at the Paramount Hotel. I’m quite happy to go. So they’re literally going down the names and I am not signing it. And so finally he just said “Fine.” And then, it now, is not unusual. There are others now who don’t sign the five-year contract. You never had to. It was an artificial thing that you have to do. It’s like many things in life. You know, like when tow trucks say “We are not responsible for any damage.” They sort of are. But you believe that sign, you know what I mean? They are. They total your car if it’s destroyed. They really are. But the sign– or don’t walk under a ladder. It’s bad luck. And many of you, even though I’m not– I don’t walk under a ladder. You have to sign a five -year contract. You actually don’t. There’s nothing more powerful than being like, oh, that’s fine. I don’t have to– I think I’d like to go back to Los Angeles and go back to The Larry Sanders Show. Garry said I could come back to Larry Sanders Show. So for me, it was fine, but as Don Pardo’s going down, there was this panic of, it’s like, Chris Elliott, you know what I mean, like, then my name comes and the guy said, “Fine, now the thing is that’s fine ’cause you know, it’s just showing a picture of you in the opening credits,” but I was in the first sketch after the monologue, I guess that’s the way to do it. And then when I left the show, the agreement was that everybody was to understand I was fired. I wasn’t, I just left. I got a call from two other cast members saying how did you do that? How did you do that? It’s like you can just do it. You can. You can. 

You did 14 episodes and contractually they had you for the whole season. How nerve-wracking was that to go into Lorne Michaels office and sit down with him and tell him you’re leaving? 

I think he was thrilled to have me gone. Honestly, I don’t think he was very fond of me. In fact, the nicest he ever was to me was the day I asked to leave. He was very fine with that.  And so it was easy. 

Your final show, George Clooney, The Cranberries, did the cast say good-bye?

No, no, no, no, there was a little, a little effort to do that. I was, I did not earn that. There’s no way. I have not only have made no impression here, and not done good work. Do you know one in the audience will ever know I was here? You know what I mean? So a couple of people tried to push me forward, but I remember thinking… George Clooney. Clooney. Oh my God. And that’s normally not my thing. You know, so great. Look, funny and nice. And George Clooney is, is, that was, that was, and I remember being sorry to leave, thinking, what if I don’t get to meet another? Oh my God, George Clooney. It was, it was like dreamy. 

You did that sketch with him with the water. 

Yes. Yes, I did. I mean, the sketch, the sketch was not particularly good, but getting to do a sketch with George Clooney it was really wonderful and like I said, it’s not just because he’s cute, he’s got a great personality and he goes to the UN and fights for the Syrian refugees he’s he’s like the whole package. 

You’ve acknowledged many times in interviews that drinking has been an issue. How did that affect you when you’d be on stage doing stand-up when you would be…

My stand-up did not progress nearly as much as it should have in in the early years, there’s a there’s a period of of something being thwarted because of drinking. It didn’t grow, didn’t evolve. So it affected that way. But I was there’s a lot of times nobody could tell I was drunk but me and then then it gets you then when people can start to tell I just had the ability to drink an enormous amount. That’s not a gift. But I mean, I could drink like a very tall person. I had the ability to drink a great deal. So I was drunk a lot. 

Now, tell me this: I could not tell watching this, but were you at all intoxicated when you guest-hosted for David Letterman? 

Yes. You couldn’t tell? 

That I could not tell.

I was actually, but I was, I was actually intoxicated to the degree that’s good. You know, you’re drinking like there’s times when I feel like I’m firing. You know what I mean? Like and then it’s like a few too many. So I felt like, I had just I was only a handful of shots and that’s nothing for me at that time. 

You were responsible for that show which was incredible—with Zach Galifianakis, who could not get booked on a late night show to save his life. You had complete power to book who you want to. And you put him on, and he has the piano, never had he been on a late night show and he absolutely destroyed.

Yeah, he was great. They allowed you to pick–because Letterman was on vacation, and Paul Shaffer goes with him, and everybody else goes, so you get to pick who do want on the show. And I was like  “Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis. “Who do you want for a band? “The Old 97s.” Done. They just did it. And because also a lot of acts don’t feel like it’s worth their time to go on when Letterman’s not there. So they want to accommodate whoever’s guest hosting. And then they also had a thing where you can’t sit at Dave’s desk and stuff like that, for real. And so I had them bring in little school desks, like children’s desks, and police, I had them put police tape all around David Letterman’s desk. It was very enjoyable. That was a really good night. 

Did Dave call you to say thank you or did he write you a note? 

Oh, he sent me a thank you note, and some jewelry, like a thing, but also he had, at one point, he loved my dogs. He had seen my dogs, I guess on an HBO special I didn’t. And he’s a real dog a real dog guy. And years ago. He had asked if I wanted to bring the dogs up to his place in Connecticut so that he could play with them. I was not to interact with him. This is true. And it’s actually fine. But he would, he would transport myself and the dogs to his home in Connecticut, where he would play with them on the beach and stuff, and I would I guess do whatever, which actually is fine. I can understand, ’cause he probably does, he had been so heartbroken when his dog Bob died, ’cause he had Bob and he had been together 20, you know, like almost 20 years. 

Bob was on the show. 

And Bob was on the show. And the heartbreak was so profound. I mean, never wanted to get another dog, but he wanted to be around dogs and play with them. And so he had asked, or his assistant had asked, would you be amenable to that? And I was like, you know, I’d feel kind of funny about that. Not that I mind him. And I actually was like, what if I just send the dog, you know, the dogs in the car and then you can send them back? I just, what would I do in the house? You know, I just didn’t know what I would do. So I declined that. And he meant it in the best of intent. I’m not saying he’s a weirdo. He just is a lover of dogs and didn’t, didn’t want to go through what he went through with Bob and also not interact with me, which is quite understandable. We don’t know each other. But I do know, the first time I was on the show at the commercial break. He passed me a note. That said “I hate myself and everyone else hates me too” during the commercial break. David Letterman did.

What do you say back to that? 

But he doesn’t want to talk. That’s it. He turns away. He turns away. Do you know I mean? Like he he wanted to communicate that to me. He probably was feeling that. But then he’s he doesn’t want to chat, you know, which I, is totally understandable. But because I remember leaning towards to say something again. He very much went like that and this is when he used to smoke and like the ashtray… 

With the cigars. Was the audience that night not a receptive audience with laughter? 

I don’t recall that with him. That was just him, his take on it, but no, he, I don’t recall the audience being anything other than completely with him, as they always are. 

You were quoted talking about Wet Hot American Summer, which is, I love that movie. You said that you knew when you were making it that it was going to be a cult classic. 

No, no, no. I felt like it was and it wasn’t for many years later. I guess I was cocky that way. I enjoyed doing that so much and loved it so much. I remember just touting it at Sundance where it did not get purchased and then proceeded to not sell tickets until Michael and David worked for years to build that up. I remember saying, oh, people are gonna be quoting it like Caddyshack, and of course it was panned and nobody saw it until those guys. 

You said at Sundance, instead of the industry going towards it, they went for Broken Lizard or Super Troopers

They went, yeah, for Super Troopers. Actually, I like that movie very much. I enjoyed Super Troopers there. There was talk we’re either gonna get Wet Hot or Super Troopers and I guess the bidders went with Super Troopers, which is fine. They’re, they’re very good and Michael and David over the years like built up a huge community of followers for that movie which led to the Netflix…

I love that everybody came back. I mean, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, all these people… 

Well, actually Bradley Cooper in Season Two, as you may know, was Adam Scott and they just said he had they just said he had a nose job. He did the first season and then he was not available for Season Two so they just have Adam Scott as Bradley Cooper and then when he comes on the scene he’s like, “Hey can you tell I had my nose fixed?” and then I think Amy Poehler’s like, “I can’t even tell,” it’s it’s it’s Adam Scott as Bradley Cooper. 

It’s time to play true/not true: Were you supposed to be Princess Fiona in Shrek

I was fired. I was let go. It was supposed to be Chris Farley and myself, and then I was let go and then Chris Farley passed away, so then it it then went into a period of “Well now what are we gonna do,” but I was, yes, I was Princess Fiona, and then I was told not by the person who fired me but by an assistant of an assistant that my voice sounded too I guess too man too manly… not princessy. And I can remember, I remember thinking, “Well, I can do…” you know, I mean if you had anybody had directed me to speak in a certain way. I certainly would have tried, but luckily the Shrek films tanked, so I mean, so it’s no it’s no. I mean it’s no big deal. I mean did anybody ever even see Shrek? I mean did it come out Shrek? That one hurts. I gotta say that one hurts 

Is it true that you turned down a role in Fight Club

No. I didn’t turn it down I was I was hired for Fight Club and then Ed Norton dinged me because he felt I did not have the skill set and he wanted Courtney Love, who was dating at the time, to play the part and then Brad Pitt dinged her and the compromise and the great actress Helena Bonham Carter who was very very good in it and would have been much better than I would have been in it, but it was, yeah, I was set to play the part that Helena, and then I called David Fincher and I said “Are you allowed to do that?” and he goes “Apparently.” So maybe working with him wouldn’t have been that fun, but Ed Norton who had developed it with him was the first one cast, and he felt that he should have a say, understandably, in who should play that part. And David Fincher chose me. Ed Norton disagreed with that. So I guess Ed was like “No way,” and then I said “I understand that, can I screen test with Ed, can I do scenes with Ed?” and and Ed said “No,” and you know, I see him to this day. He lives very near me he never never looks at me, now either he doesn’t know who I am or doesn’t remember it, but Brad Pitt very nicely shortly thereafter apologized to me on his behalf, said he heard about what happened and he was sorry that that happened. But Helena Bonham Carter is a great actress and I think I would have been terribly uncomfortable doing some of those things. II am not comfortable with nudity, you know, I would have had to do scenes, do you know I mean, knowing that he didn’t want me in the film I would have had to have had intimate scenes, and then with a director who is as cavalier as David Fincher was at that time about that, like, he didn’t even tell me. I had to call him. And that was his take on it, it was, “Oh, yeah, you’re out”. That was a drag, ’cause that’s a great film. That’s a great film. But I do think Helena Bonham Carter is a much better choice than me. 

Is it true or not true that in Just Shoot Me, the role of Maya Gallo, was based on you? 

Yes. Sort of, semi, semi. One of the writers for the Larry Sanders show. It was based on me and some other people. But it’s mostly based on, I guess, the character of Paul, not really, but he had, had inquired if I would be interested in doing that initially, and I didn’t want to do a TV series. And it’s great. Laura San Giacomo. I have a Laura San Giacomo story that I find a funny story that happened in Wet Hot American Summer Season 1. I don’t know if any of you have seen that on Netflix, but there’s the courthouse scene, the scene where Michael Cera is the lawyer and there’s a judge, there’s a very nice actor who was the judge and for many days we shoot the scene over and over, and in between takes we’re just you know BS-ing and stuff and then so on the last day he calls me over and he goes “Miss San Giacomo, I just want to say, I have been such a fan ever since Sex, Lies and Videotape, and I was like “That’s not me but I understand why you would have been a fan of hers,”  but he–the whole time–thought that that I was Laura San Giacomo which is also mirrors there there’s some people that are between jobs and between homes that maybe are a person that is that you frequently see near your home and you talk to, or give becomes you’re a person that you have somewhat of a relationship with. Over the years there was a person who was between jobs in between homes, who I would see all the time and sometimes talk to, and I then one day, this is this went on for a couple of years, and then one day I scored it to rehab and and tried to get them to go into rehab and as they’re walking away from me, the person said I gotta tell you I love your music. And I said I said what what? And he goes, “Ms DiFranco.” This whole time, for the whole time, thought I was Ani DiFranco. For a couple years, this one, took them to rehab, sat with them for intake. And never once did we use each other, you know, I mean, I guess we did, do I recall being called Ani or anything? We did talk about music a lot, but I thought that, it just, it’s just the, because this but I remember thinking like “Gosh, I didn’t think that I really look like either of them that much, but isn’t that something?” Ms. DiFranco, I just have to say. But yeah, I’m neither. I’m neither Ani DiFranco nor Laura San Giacomo. I don’t know if that was worth telling you those stories.

I loved it.

Thank you. 

How was it that you were legally married for 20 years and not aware of it? 

I married in Las Vegas at a drive-thru as a joke. My then-boyfriend Rob Cohen and Dino Stamatopoulos married his then-girlfriend. We were in a cab. We went to a drive-thru.. I guess I was very drunk. We went to sign papers. I don’t recall any of this. But we we actually went and had papers filed. I don’t remember doing that, but twenty  years later, Rob gets married for real. His lawyer pulls up these papers of some kind. I get a phone call saying I have to go to a notary public and have my marriage of 20 years dissolved. Twenty years you guys, 20 years I was married. What’s the secret? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you what the secret is, because I mean that’s like Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward type stuff. The secret is don’t know that you’re married. Live on different coasts and date other people the entire time. That’s the key. That’s the key to a long-term marriage. Yeah, so yeah, I was married for 20 years and did not know it. 

I was watching your Young Comedians Special hosted by Dana Carvey. I think you were 27. It’s Apatow. It’s Judd Apatow, Ray Romano. Who else is in it? Kindler? 

Andy Kindler, Judd Apatow, Ray Romano, Bill Bellamy, Nick Di Paolo. 

This was huge back in the day. 

I mean, this was everybody back in the time when that meant something like The HBO Young Comedians Special, like used to, like the way being on Carson used to launch comedians into the, to mainstream knowledge. It’s not really like that anymore. There’s other mediums to do that. It’s just doesn’t have the impact. But at the time it was a big deal. And it was, I was very excited to do it. I’m so thankful that not lots of footage exists. I can’t stand old footage of myself, it’s so embarrassing to me to see not only what I’m talking about, but the way I’m doing it out of insecurity, ’cause I was nervous. And so what I did was overcompensate by, like, being very contained and talking like, too cool for school. So embarrassing, it’s not me at all, that behavior. Also, I’m wearing boxer shorts, black tights. A look stolen from Desperately Seeking Susan. So I’m copying from Desperately Seeking, one of my favorite films. I’m wearing what Madonna wore in some of the same boxer underwear with tights and Doc Martins. 

You do so great. You look– I’m guessing you were very nervous, but you looked very confident. 

And it was the first time I ever had my eyebrows plucked, and the person accidentally, because they were having conversations with someone, pulled out a chunk in the middle. And I’ll tell you, my eyebrows are my Waterloo. They really are my Waterloo. They have been a problem for me for years. They never come out right. And then in 1991, I shaved them off and penciled them in. ‘Cause I was copying Drew Barrymore, who had started penciling them in kind of Gene Harlow in like ’91, and they never grew back the same. I talk about this all the time. My eyebrows, you’ve got great eyebrows. You guys, they are, they are my waterloo! 

Questions from, from the audience? Yes, in the back?

Audience Member: If you were asked to do a guest spot on SNL now, would you do it? 

Of course, but I would never, they would never have me. I mean, I would never have, Lorne would never have me on that show. To have me on SNL would be unusual. I’d be like, “Why?”

Rachel Dratch played you on SNL. 

I know she, I know who she did, which I’m very flattered by that. You know who did such a great impression of me? I’m not saying, in the 90s, Alex Borstein. I can remember channel surfing once, and I was like, when did I do that? I swear to God, I was like– – 

Oh, on Mad TV

On Mad TV, and it was on a version of Politically Incorrect. I didn’t see it at first, I could hear her. And it was, I was like, “What is that?” And then Will Sasso was playing Clinton. And it was so hilarious, he kept referring to me. I agree with what that fella said to me. I remember thinking that is so funny. That Bill Clinton was under the impression I was a fella. And Alex Borstein was dressed, I mean, it was exact, like to the type of button-down at the time I was wearing from thrift shops–corduroy’s, the Spice Girls shoes I think that I was into at the time, glasses, we had the same hair, also we had a similar voice register. I swear to you, I thought, “What is this?” It was Alex’s voice, I’ve never, I was so impressed with that, that she did that. But Rachel Dratch is, our voices are so different, that was hard for her to do that. But I see her at many auditions now, Rachel and I, and as soon as we see each other, we say, “I’m not gonna get it, I’m not gonna get it”. In fact, we just had two weeks ago, the first thing we said, “Oh, I’m not gonna get it.” “Well, I’m not gonna get it, you too.” “Not gonna get it. “I’m not gonna get it.” 

And did somebody in the back have a question? 

Audience member: Do you have any stories from work with actual, like, guests on The Larry Sanders Show that you liked working with? 

I actually, I got to meet Catharine O ‘Hara, which was a thrill… Bruno Kirby. Elvis Costello, got to see him play. Oh, everything was really fun. I’m trying to think. There’s so many times Bruno Kirby and Stephen Wright made me laugh a lot. Tim Conway. Ohhh!! Not only am I a huge Tim Conway, Harvey Corman fan of The Carol Burnett Show, Carol Burnett. I mean just just it’s like. That that it’s like when you I can’t Bob Newhart. You’re just getting to meet Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, and then I got to meet Albert Brooks, which was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing.” We could stop here, and I’d be like, “I’ve done it. I never thought in a million years I’d meet Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Albert Brooks, all this, Catherine O ‘Hara, Andrea Martin, it’s just Dave Thomas,” like all of these things. So every day for me was just like, “This is amazing.” Plus, Garry is the best boss you could ever ask for, and his dressing room was near mine. Many’s a time just shaving cream would come under the come under the door piled a shame cream event times now. This may seem vulgar, but he would pretend he was using the restroom and his bathroom was here and I’d hear pretending that he was using the restroom, and that he was struggling in the bathroom, “I’ll be alright.” And I remember thinking, like, “This is heaven. This is heaven that I’m in.” Unfortunately, many jobs are not like that. You know, I was like baptism by the opposite of fire with The Ben Stiller Show and Larry Sanders Show because it was like the bes, best environment and then the jobs subsequently. It’s not like that where you’re friends with everybody and you get to improvise and stuff like that. So, yeah.

Janeane, thanks for being here. 

Thanks for having me! 

Janeane Garofalo everybody! 

1 Comment

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  1. Gary OBrien says:

    Mark is, without doubt, one of the most knowledgeable hosts on the late-night TV scene! All of his interviews are meticulously researched and his questions are carefully considered. You simply have to listen if you’re a fan of the past & contemporary comedy talk show/variety show worlds!