Whatever might be said of the golden age for actresses, at least the studios knew when to typecast the perfect character. Janeane Garofalo would have been the wise-cracking best friend with the cocked hat, brittle with wit, snarling with the best throwaway lines in the script and contentiously falling for the second-tier supporting male lead.
In modern parlance, as Garofalo calls a former incarnation of herself, she would have been “alt.rock girl.” Too bad her type is still too smart for Hollywood. That might explain why the petite brunette has restarted a stand-up career.
When I last saw her on a San Francisco stage, it was during the ’80s comic circuit peak; the teetering-on-the-edge-of-fame girl appeared as an unbilled special guest with an also unbilled, teetering-on-the-age-of-fame Adam Sandler, a comic onslaught on a Punchline show whose true headliner I can’t even recall.
She was brilliant, incisive, understated with just a touch of self-deprecation. Little wonder, especially judging from last Friday’s sold-out show at the Warfield in San Francisco, Garofalo commands an ardent fan base even if she plays roles like a zookeeper in an elephant movie.
Sadly though, Garofalo in 90 minutes wasn’t in quite the same form she was during what she refers to as her golden era the late ’80s and early ’90s. It wasn’t because she consulted an 8 1/2-by-11 inch paper that she had pulled from her pants pocket, neatly folded more times than an origami crane that even shamelessly and charmingly became a part of her act (“What else does it say here my handwriting is so bad.”). It wasn’t the 19 pounds she said she gained in two weeks after quitting her two-pack-a-day smoking habit (she says she resumed the smoking, but decided to keep the pounds), the “matronly upper arms” or “melting candle figure” which she attributes to a regimen of Jack Daniels, a few bowls of cereal and then a trip “straight to bed.”
Part of the fault did lie in a meandering, disjointed pacing, although by all means, she had genuinely, hysterically funny moments and her usual cut-the-hypocrisy incisiveness. She met nays and hissing after asking the audience if a Hooters, the bar/restaurant with waitresses in plunging necklines and hot pants, had made it here (the hissing was a bit self-mocking, as Garofalo had poked fun of Bay Areans’ tendency to hiss at movie trailers).
“Let the world know you will not be marginalized by Hooters,” she declared, before recounting Hooters’ New York invasion and the advertising posters depicting a drink on a tray positioned next to a woman’s cleavage.
“You will never find a gender reversal of this,” she said. “Balls. Baaaalls. B-A-L-L-Z. The guy would be wearing Richard Simmonesque shorts.”
She also extended her disdain to the Applebee’s and Olive Garden chains: “If you ever took your Italian family to the Olive Garden, you’d get whacked so fast.”
Her funniest comments might have been reserved for her disdain for modern music (although she did say that Steve Tyler and Mick Jagger looked like apple dolls). The best stories, though, came from honest recounts of her foibles, why she quit drinking, the two-week weight gain that took place while she was doing a movie whose story unfolds in a course of two days, and how she lost the tip of her pointer finger while heckling a line of customers at the House of Blues from her hotel window.
What weighed her down or perhaps got rusty is what makes her endearing at the same time: that sense of self-deprecation. That self-mockery sounded more acute, as though Garofalo swallowed some of those ridiculous Hollywood standards of women.
At times she almost treaded “Cathy” comic strip territory, but her alt.rock sensibilities and her acknowledged path of puzzling self-destruction kept her leashed.
Garofalo is feeling her 36 years, confessing that a trip to the Haight Street hairstylist was for a dye job to cover the gray.
Garofalo, however, is still young, still good-looking (if that matters to her, which it reluctantly seems to do) and still capable of more lacerating insight than the top echelon of celebrities, including her old stand-up peer Sandler.
Injustice and pop psychology pronouncements aside, when she goes back to realizing what her fans already do, Garofalo can polish up that golden age again.
VERA H-C CHAN IS THE tIMES EVENT EDITOR. SHE CAN BE REACHED AT 925-977-8428.