Comedian, actor, writer, and political activist Janeane Garofalo called from a Los Angeles hotel, where she was staying while filming the CBS police drama “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.”
Q: Do you remember what your earliest professional dream was?
A: To be George Carlin. Just to be George Carlin. And also to meet and marry Bill Murray. That was an early one.
Q: Well, I would say you’ve failed.
A: Yeah, I never did marry Bill Murray. I did get to meet him, which was a delight, and he’s a very nice man. But you know what it was? I thought it was a safeguard against an unhappy life. To tell you the truth, I didn’t understand that, fully, that people that were in comedy are just like anyone else. And it’s not like I had a miserable childhood, I didn’t. It was just very garden-variety. I guess the main thing is nothing happened. A whole lot of nothing happened. And I also was, and still am in a lot of ways, frightened of life.
Q: That answers my follow-up question, which is what happened when you found out that it wasn’t the safeguard you had fantasized it would be?
A: Well, nothing, because there is no plan B. So that’s that. But it has safeguarded me. I always knew I never wanted to be married, have children, live in the suburbs, own a home, because I also thought not doing those things would be a safeguard against some of the pitfalls of family life. And again, I did not have a terrible childhood, I am not saying poor me, but there were definitely elements to it I would not want to repeat. So, in my child’s mind I thought, “Here’s what you do so you don’t have to do that. Don’t ever be married, don’t ever own a home. Don’t have a yard.” All these things I thought would be a safeguard against a repetition of certain aspects of my past, which were not very happy. And then I thought, “And you surround yourself with comedy people.” That’s the answer. I know that seems terribly ridiculous.
Q: I can see how to a young mind that it might make certain sense.
A: It just seemed like that’s the only way to break a pattern. And in some ways that’s got to be true. I don’t own a home, I’m not married, I don’t have children, so that has allowed me to avoid certain things I was afraid of repeating. But then that brings it to a whole other thing where you go, “What if? What should I have?” All that kind of stuff. But I think I’m fairly certain that was absolutely the right decision for me not to ever marry and have children. I mean, I live with my boyfriend of 12 years, so I guess we’re common-law married. But both of us have never wanted to have children or be married.
Q: Do you second-guess the choices that you’ve made?
A: That one feels absolutely right. As much as I enjoy other people’s children, my dogs have always been for me and my boyfriend our babies. I mean, we’re those types of people that people probably loathe if they overheard us the way we are with our dogs. You know what I mean? We refer to the dogs as the baby. “Did you feed the baby?” And, “Look at the baby.” Because they’re just our little baby nuggets. You know what I mean? And so in that sense, we are very maternal and paternal to our pups. But we both are very certain that not having married when we were younger and having children when we were younger was the right thing to do. Although, he’s male and he’s younger than me. If he changes his mind, good for him. You know, he certainly has time as a man to go down another road with marriage and family. I, myself, am past that age of childbearing and I don’t think I’ve ever really doubted that decision.
Q: Good for you. I think a lot of people feel a lot of pressure to live a certain way or to achieve somebody else’s dream of what a fulfilled life should look like.
A: That’s exactly right. I have discussed that with friends. Because, seemingly, they don’t seem to be enjoying marriage and children. Not that they don’t love their children, but there’s a great many people I’ve met over the years who I think have come to the realization it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And whenever you ask, “Well, why did you get married in the first place?” it’s, “Well, her parents or his parents.” You know, and it’s always about somebody else’s….You’re right, it’s the expectations. Peer pressure.
Q: Yeah, and cultural pressure.
A: Yes, I’m not susceptible to that.
Q: Okay, you told me a bit about your youthful incentives, marrying Bill Murray and becoming George Carlin. What about now? How has your drive to do the work changed over the years?
A: It’s shifted a great deal in a lot of ways. Some I have no control over, and some just because as you grow and change, obviously your perspectives will grow and change. The first one being, which I have no control over is, you know, the ’90s were very good for me. I got a lot of opportunities to thrive and to do a lot of work. Then, as I’ve gotten older and, being female, that has just been removed. You know many, many opportunities are just taken right off the table. And there’s nothing you can do about it. There are very few roles, as anyone knows, for women, very few good roles for middle-aged women. It’s just one of those things. I cannot tell you why. It’s just this myth that people aren’t interested in them. Also, there’s a lot of writers who tell you they don’t know how to write for women. It’s just bullshit. Just straight up bullshit. And I always beg my agents or even friends that are working on projects, “Are there any good male parts? Let me audition for that.” There’s no reason why there has to be a specific gender for that part. And it seems to blow peoples’ minds when you say that. And I say, “You don’t have to change anything. Just change the name of the character. If his name’s Paul, now it’s Paula. Don’t change another word.” But that seems to blow peoples’ minds, or they seem unwilling to do it unless you are an A, A, A-lister. The reality is I’m just kind of a moderately-known commodity that nobody’s going to change any scripts for. And that’s just the fact. So I have had to change, in that I have had to do a lot of, like, “Can I please? Will you see me?” You know, can I do that? Or, “Okay, I’ve written this idea.” Or, “I found this script that was for a man originally, I’d like to play that part.” It’s just shifted into, “can you open your mind enough to see me doing this? Would you open your mind?” as opposed to in the 90s when it was just very easy to work a lot.
Q: Have you had any success with that?
A: A couple of times. One of the writers I’m working with now, actually, named Barry Schindel, really responded to the idea once. He had this pilot script and he offered me one role which was just your kind of classic middle age lady ball-buster, just a one-note thing that is not interesting to play nor watch in my opinion. And I said, “This part here, this male, that is interesting. Can I play that?” And he was like, “Okay.” That’s the first time and I think the last time that’s ever happened. And then oddly, this is so funny, a friend of mine, when I was saying that, said, “If you want to do an impersonation of a man…“ I was like, “Are you out of your mind? No, I’m asking to play this part as a female.” But that’s how odd it is to some people to even think of that.