Janeane Garofalo in Seattle

Janeane Garofalo Stares Into the Gaping Maw

Q. What about gender bias. Do you experience it?

A. In the acting business people have tarred me with this brush of being a very difficult person. I am not difficult if you’re not a hack. Honest to God. If you’re not a hack, I am the easiest fucking person to work with in the world. If you are a hack, whether it be from the production end, the writing end, the directorial end, or the network end, if you’re a hack, yes, I am difficult.

Q: Is that because you’ve got standards or because you’re a woman?

A: Both. If I was a guy and asserted myself in the way that I have in my career, there’d be no problem at all. If you’re a female and you assert yourself the way that I have in certain situations, you are in big trouble. And it will stick to you like glue.

Q: It’s extraordinary to me that we’re still in this.

A: It will never change because it’s primal. And because people keep feeding into it.

Q: So you believe that there’s a biological imperative for the way women are treated.

A: Seems to be. Because I can’t explain it otherwise. I have just had to assume it’s primal because you see it all the time, and it hasn’t changed. There is a double standard. Looks-wise, age-wise, writing-wise. Males get better parts. They get to work longer. They can look many, many ways and still be the lead. Females do not have that option. On the set you see it all time and I’m sure it’s any work place, it’s just that I don’t know about a lot of other work places, I can only speak about my own. When I watch females, including myself, assert themselves, the response is very different than when men do it. Very, very different. So, it’s got to be primal. Or just habit, a bad habit.

Q: What’s your attitude going into the future? What do you imagine the next 10, 20 years are going to be like?

A: I’m frightened. I’m terrified. I don’t know. I don’t know. Work-wise, I don’t know. I think about it a lot, and I thought about it before I knew we were going to talk. Half of me is terrified and half of me is, like, just take it with a grain of salt. And it depends on the day, the hour of the day you catch me, which side of that I fall on. There’s some times where my mood is like eh, whatever. Whatever will be will be. And then there’s times where I’m almost immobilized with fear.

Q: Fear of what?

A: Of bankruptcy, loneliness, grave unpopularity, irrelevancy. Being irrelevant. All of those things I think people grapple with all the time, but maybe when you have a less public job it’s not as much of an issue. I bet you everybody feels this way.

Q: I think everybody feels this way but you require a public to do what you do.

A: Yes, you’re right.

Q: You’re not a songwriter who can continue to sit in her garret and make music, despite your value in the marketplace. You require an entrance. Somebody needs to give you permission to do what you do.

A. Or they don’t, but then there’s no commerce. I mean, you can, of course, create anywhere you want at any time if you are willing to do without payment. So yes, I could create, I could perform any time I wanted to for free.

Q: How does your value in the marketplace color your identity?

A: Well, gravely, because I don’t have any value in the marketplace at the moment. And my identity unfortunately is frequently tied up in that. So, I guess it’s made me feel sometimes–  A lot of times, is desperate the word? Desperate to be well-liked. I think, ooh, I’m embarrassed to say it but I’m actually going to cry. Sorry.

Q: That’s okay.

A: I feel so embarrassed.

Q: Don’t feel embarrassed, Janeane.

A: Sorry, but I’m so embarrassed. I don’t know if everybody is as desperate to be well-liked at this age all the time. Maybe people in this line of work.

Q: I think we’re all scared and I think we all want to be tended to and appreciated and valued for our contributions. You’re one of the people that cop to it.

A: Oh, well thank you. I’m assuming others must cop to it, but–

Q: A lot of people don’t. A lot of people strike a very, very different pose and it’s a survival strategy.

A: I think I feel nervous and frightened about what happens if I don’t ever achieve, I guess, a feeling of place? I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Like I said, luckily I still have standup. But I need to be accepted again in the world of acting. Or the feeling that somebody that believes I can do it. I guess that’s what it is. Like, somebody that actually goes, “Yeah, I think she could do this.” Because it feels like right now like somebody’s saying, “She can’t do this.”  And in my case I have the unfortunate added layer of people not thinking of me for things because, and again, this is a gender double-standard, if you get involved in politics or advocacy of any kind as a female, you can definitely be harmed by it. If you are a male, you can be as vocal as you want. Whether it be Sean Penn or Alec Baldwin or Viggo Mortensen, et cetera.

Q: Do you think that your politics have harmed your career?

A: Absolutely. Because the reaction of certain people in the public, their gender bias makes them react badly to the female who is quote unquote outspoken.  And they write letters to networks. It’s crazy. I know it sounds like I’m making shit up and it’s the stupidest thing in the world. Especially during the Bush era I was quite vocal. From the time of the illegal installment of him in 2000, I mean, that got me going because it frightened me that the Supreme Court acted illegally and installed the President. It really got my attention. And I was familiar with George Bush because my family lives in Texas. And I knew something very bad was going on. So my discussions about this stuff sort of really kicked off in my standup or when I would do appearances or interviews.  But then after 9/11, you were not allowed to speak ill of politics or the President at all, of course unless he was a democrat. You know, there’s a double standard. There’s a complete double standard. You’re allowed to shit on a democrat any day of the week. It’s a bad habit in the same way that the gender bias is a bad habit that is enabled by the media and the general population. It’s devastating for us all societally.

Q: We’re entrenched.

A: We’re entrenched in these bad habits in the way that there’s double standards for conservatives and liberals, there’s double standards for men and women, and there’s a double standard for the advocacy of causes. Social justice issues. If you are a female that’s quite vocal about social justice issues and quite vocal against the right wing takeover, you will be, again, painted poorly. If you are a male, it’s fine. So I have that other thing to fight against when my options are limited career-wise. And that’s a very painful pill to swallow. There are a lot of people in entertainment who will never be honest about their opinions of things and that’s a very sad way to live to me. I don’t buy into that, because being in the entertainment business doesn’t define me. I’m first and foremost a citizen, a global citizen. So, it’s important to me when I see social injustice to speak out about it. And then when you do happen to have a microphone or a platform for an interview, to not use it responsibly, and speak about some of these issues, to me, is not a life well-lived. Or it’s like leading an unexamined life. Or leading a fearful life, if you’re not willing to be honest. And many of the people who work in the entertainment industry are hobbled by their fear of admitting their true feelings, about politics, social justice, or the actual work they’re working on. And so, when you do do it, when you are honest, it seems like the most aggressive thing in the world. People see you as aggressive.

Q: Because it’s an anomaly?

A: It’s an anomaly. It’s an anomaly. And again, I’m not bragging, because believe me, it’s not like it has served me well. Whether it be somebody writing hateful letters to me because I point out the racism in the Tea Party, or getting fired from something because I did that on Keith Olbermann, and then I got fired from a job I had. [Garofalo called Tea Partiers racist.]

Q: You got fired for those comments?

A: I actually got fired, yes, from a voice-over job. I’ll never understand that. But then you figure, well, you don’t want to work with that person anyway right? If they are upset that you pointed out the racism in the Tea Party movement, and they fired you for it, then probably best you don’t work with them. So, that sort of separates the chaff from the wheat on its own, but it still hurts your feelings. Again, I’m so sorry. Why am I crying? That’s so weird.

Q: Because this is really emotional stuff. It’s very personal, but it’s also universal, I think, the fear that you’re feeling.

A: Yes, definitely. I want to stress that I feel embarrassed pitying myself when I realize my life is so much better than the majority of the global population. So I am ashamed that I am pitying myself when the majority of the world’s population lives on less than a dollar a day. I am aware of how selfish it is for me to sort of wallow in my sorrow here, when there are people struggling to literally feed themselves and their kids when their house is being foreclosed or when they’re literally having their children walk on landmines. Or the children are born with uranium poisoning. So, I want to say that I am fully aware that I have no right to truly complain here. I do feel embarrassed that I was just feeling so sorry when actually I’m not struggling to survive here. And I’m not in a country that’s blighted by a lot of the problems that most of the globe deals with. And that I have, for a good many years, been financially stable. And here I am sitting here crying on the phone to you because I don’t feel well-liked. I mean, it’s really rather shameful.

Q: Well, we’re human. We’re flawed.

A: Yes, I am shit and pie.

Q: We are shit and pie and we’re struggling to make sense, right?

A: Yes. Yes.

Q: And it doesn’t make any sense. So don’t feel bad.

A: Well, thank you. You’re very kind to say that.


Filed under: Interviews Tagged: , , , , ,


  1. Basil Anderman
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    What came thru most clearly and impactfully was how the issue of survival drove her life and behavior.

  2. Robin Kremen
    Posted April 15, 2011 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    She was so honest, and the challenges she has faced regarding her craft and being both a strong, unconventional woman, and a political activist, was so moving. I admire her integrity greatly.

  3. yules
    Posted April 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    so refreshing to hear anyone talk sans bullshit, let alone janeane talk sans bullshit. thanks to you both. the world is not fair and it’s good to have perspective on relative unfairness, as jg obviously does.

One Trackback

  1. By Middle Mojo « HHD Blog on April 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    [...] and honesty in her interviews with the likes of Richard Thompson, Professor Howard Gardner and Janeane Garofalo. You can also track Joan’s earnest attempts to learn guitar and write some songs. Pretty [...]

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