She may have gotten there the "easy" way, but it still wasn't easy. 

Discerning Comedy

Call it luck. Call it fate. Call it being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time-ness. Call it whatever you will, but without the residual recognition from scoring several high-profile acting gigs, stand-up comedian extraordinaire Janeane Garofalo probably wouldn't be headlining a 2,000-seat theater like the Carpenter Center on a Friday night.

"I always thought that headlining a show as stand-up on the road, and headlining at clubs where people actually came to see you, I thought that was the pinnacle of success, and that's what I wanted," says Garofalo by phone from her apartment in Manhattan.

"But I didn't really achieve that without the acting, unfortunately. I achieved a degree of success in acting before I achieved what I wanted in stand-up. So that always sort of disappointed me, because I wanted to be a stand-up, and I was never like, 'Wow, I want to be an actor.'"

Those who know Garofalo primarily as an actress — as a cast member of the short-lived "The Ben Stiller Show," HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show," or feature films like "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," "The Matchmaker" and the recent parody "Hot Wet American Summer" — may be surprised to learn what an iconic figure Garofalo is in the world of comedy. If Jerry Seinfeld represents a snapshot of the comedic ideal in the 1980s, with his laboriously crafted zingers, delivered with pitch-perfect cadence and always, always dressed in a suit, Garofalo would be a similar representation of the 1990s aesthetic: a comedy that embodies a no-frills, conversational, even cerebral approach, delivered by a person whose dress is better suited for your living room than for a job interview.

And when Garofalo started performing comedy in the mid-'80s, she was that: different. "I looked incredibly young," she recalls. "I was 19 or 20 at the time, but I looked a lot younger. I was just like a real chubby college girl with a big sweater. And that was a huge problem for people who paid full ticket price and a two-drink minimum, and were like, 'What? I paid to see a guy with his blazer sleeves pushed up to the elbow, and not this kid.'"

With time and dedication, Garofalo managed to clear those hurdles, even if at times she felt like she was shoving a square peg into a round comedy hole. "I'm sure I did that a few times before realizing I would be more successful bombing on my own terms. Bombing while trying to be someone else is even more pathetic."

Eventually respect came from comedy peers such as Ben Stiller and David Cross, and even audiences started coming around.

"There's always a handful of people in each audience that appreciate it, and you owe it to those people who are more discerning, and who care about what goes in their ear," Garofalo says. "There are people who have better tastes in comedy and in what they're hearing, and you can say that's just opinion, but it isn't when you have a comedian who just works blue and is offensive who is doing really, really well. That's not just opinion; that's taste, and people who have a more discerning taste are not going to respond to the blowhards."

Still, Garofalo laughs off the idea of being regarded as too hip for the room. "I don't think anyone [who doesn't enjoy my comedy] would say cerebral. They would say shitty. Cerebral? Believe me, that's giving me way too much credit. I have never, in a million years, ever thought of myself as a particularly great stand-up."

That's for Richmond audiences to decide Friday night.

Janeane Garofalo performs at the Carpenter Center Friday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available through TicketMaster and at the Carpenter Center box office at 225-9000.


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