Janeane Garofalo is of Italian/Irish descent, the child of
Carmine Garofalo, a former oil executive, and her mother Joan
(who died of cancer when Janeane was 24), who worked as a
secretary. While studying history at Providence College,
Garofalo entered a comedy talent search sponsored by the
Showtime cable network, winning the title of "Funniest Person in
Rhode Island." Her original gimmick was to read off her hand,
which was not successful in subsequent performances. Dreaming of
earning a slot on the writing staff of the Late Night With David
Letterman program, she became a professional standup upon
graduating college with degrees in History and American Studies
but struggled for a number of years, working briefly as a bike
messenger in Boston.
The winner of numerous comedy awards and recognitions, Janeane Garofalo officially began her career in stand-up comedy in the late 1980s during the pre-grunge era. Her appearance was often in line with very late 1980s style: disheveled with thick black glasses and unkempt hair. Her comedy is often self-deprecating; she made fun of popular culture and the pressures put on women to live up to media-created body image ideals.
When in San Francisco, Garofalo was a frequent guest at the San Francisco Comedy Condo.
Janeane is a self-described pessimist: "I guess I just prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth."
Garofalo's comedy shows involve her and her notebook, which is filled with years' worth of article clippings and random observations that she uses for reference during her act for direct quotes, as with new articles, and to enhance the unprepared, fully conversational nature of her standup. Garofalo feels she does not tell jokes but makes observations and hopefully gets laughs.
Janeane Garofalo and comedian Marc Maron helped organize the weekly alternative "Eating It" standup comedy show, with different line-ups each week, which played for years at the Luna Lounge in New York's Lower East Side before the bar was finally razed. Later Garofalo and Maron would work together again to create a liberal radio network.
In April 2004 Janeane Garofalo was selected as #99 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time.
Her television series debut was on the short-lived The Ben Stiller Show on Fox in 1992, on which Janeane was a cast member alongside longtime friends Ben Stiller, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Dick, and David Cross (who was a bit player). A chance meeting on the set of the show led her to be offered the role of Paula on The Larry Sanders Show on HBO, earning her two Emmy Award nominations in 1996 and 1997.
Following The Ben Stiller Show's cancellation, Garofalo joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in its ill-fated 1994-95 season. As detailed in Tom Shales' book Live from Saturday Night and mentioned in Jay Mohr's Gasping for Airtime : Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live Upon arrival at the show, she gave an interview in which she called fellow cast member Adam Sandler's comedy "childish." Writers on the show expressed dismay at what they perceived as Garofalo's negative attitude towards the show. According to them, Garofalo was insecure, tearing everyone else down to bring herself up, and she rarely assisted in writing sketches, never doing an "all-nighter" for a skit as many crewmembers did. The bitter atmosphere caused extreme discomfort and unhappiness for Janeane Garofalo and the show itself. Janeane left in January 1995, mid-season, after only being on the show 6 months. She claimed that the reason for leaving was weak material and a s--ist attitude on the show, when others claimed it was the bitter atmosphere she created. The material on SNL at this time was mediocre, and other writers, such as Bruce Vilanch, have stated in interviews that many male members of the show frown upon women and homos--uals.
Janeane Garofalo has been offered many television series roles but has accepted few; for instance, she turned down the role of Monica, a role written with her or her type in mind and for which she was the first actress offered, on the hit NBC sitcom Friends. Two Garofalo-starring television pilots, an ABC show called Slice O'Life, in 2003, about a reporter sentenced to sappy human interest stories that appear at the end of news broadcast, and an NBC program called All In, in 2005, based on the family life and professional successes of poker star Annie Duke, were not picked up by their respective networks. Her persona, via her Larry Sanders character, was also the basis for the lead role on Steven Levitan's Just Shoot Me!, though the part was taken by Laura San Giacomo.
Throughout the 2005-2006 television season Janeane Garofalo appeared on The West Wing as Louise Thornton, a controversial campaign adviser to the fictional Democratic presidential nominee. Garofalo notably participated in the series' first live episode, most of which was a debate televised live on the East Coast and then reshot live for the West. Garofalo's character can be seen walking backstage with her advisee before the start of each debate.
Garofalo's first critically-acclaimed starring role in film was in 1996 in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, a variation on Cyrano de Bergerac which featured Uma Thurman in the top-billed but smaller role as a beautiful but vapid model, while Garofalo played a highly intelligent radio host. Initially an independent film, it became a studio movie when Uma Thurman was signed to play the shallow model. The film was a modest hit, but she detests it to this day, calling it anti-feminist (and admitting discomfort at being cast in the "ugly duckling" role). Based on the success of this film, director Cameron Crowe then offered her the leading lady role in Jerry Maguire with Tom Cruise if she could lose weight, but after trimming down, she learned that Renee Zellweger had won the part instead in what was to become a career-launching smash hit.
The mid-1990s were what Janeane Garofalo has termed the height of her popularity. Before The Truth About Cats and Dogs, she was visible from television work and memorable supporting roles in films such as Reality Bites, Bye Bye Love and Now and Then and a leading role in I Shot a Man in Vegas. Garofalo has had a variety of leading, supporting, and cameo roles in films as diverse as Cop Land, Wet Hot American Summer, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, Dogma, The Cable Guy, Mystery Men, The Wild, among others. A puppet version of Garofalo appeared (and was rather graphically killed off) in the movie Team America: World Police, although it is stated in the credits that she did not authorize or endorse this screen appearance at the time, and apparently she was rather upset at how she was depicted.
Janeane has been open and outspoken regarding her liberal political views, appearing in the past with figures such as Ralph Nader (whom she supported in 2000, but opposed in 2004) and Jello Biafra at various events. She has expressed feminist views in interviews throughout her career, and more recently, advocated pacifism.
Janeane Garofalo became more prominent as an activist when she voiced opposition to what became the 2003 Iraq War, appearing on CNN and Fox News to discuss it. Janeane said that she was approached by groups such as MoveOn.org and Win Without War to go on TV, because these organizations claim that the networks weren't allowing antiwar voices to be heard. Garofalo and the other celebrities who appeared at the time said they thought their fame could lend attention to a side they believed was being ignored by the corporate media. Her appearances on cable news prior to the war garnered her praise from the left and spots on the cover of Ms. and Venus magazines. Garofalo has had frequent on-air political disputes with Bill O'Reilly, Brian Kilmeade and Jonah Goldberg.
In March 2003, she took part in the Code Pink antiwar march in Washington, D.C. That fall, she served as mc at several stops on the "Tell Us the Truth" tour, a political-themed concert series featuring Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, and others. Throughout the year, Garofalo also actively campaigned for Howard Dean.
In late March 2004 she became a co-host for Air America Radio's new show The Majority Report alongside Sam Seder. Garofalo once said getting on the radio was an early career goal of hers. A program advertisement: "The battle to reclaim America from the forces of darkness continues with hosts Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder." The early days of Air America Radio are chronicled in the documentary Left of the Dial, which includes a debate between Janeane and her conservative father Carmine, who was initially a regular guest on The Majority Report.
Garofalo came under fire from her listeners for her comments on her April 28, 2006 show supporting Scientology-linked "New York Rescue Worker's Detoxification Program,"a questioned treatment for workers now suffering ailments from 9/11 clean-up efforts in New York City.
On July 11, 2006, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly reported that Garofalo had left Air America, implying that she may have been fired. The website for The Majority Report confirms O'Reilly's original report. Also, on NPR's show Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me Garofalo confirmed O'Reilly's original report when the host of the show introduced Garofalo as the former host of The Majority Report.
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