For reasons known only to the 1997 version of my Mother, I was forbidden from watching Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion when it came out. Which probably made it all the more delicious when I watched it at a friend’s house that same year.
And while it was (and still is) a hilarious movie–what female child of the 90s didn’t imitate the choreography of the final dance scene–the stand out for me was Heather. A witty chain-smoker with a brazen penchant for swearing, Heather, despite her gloomy exterior, had all the feelings.
So coming from this context, I was only familiar with a limited version of Janeane Garofalo. I knew her as the sardonic secondary character or—a year earlier as a leading lady in The Truth About Cats and Dogs—as someone we were supposed to believe was not beautiful enough to be herself and so had to pretend to be Uma Thurman.
But on stage as a stand-up comedian throughout the 90s, Garofalo was changing the face of comedy. With her self aware, insecure but aloof style, she was fast becoming a liberal activist and icon. By the time it was her turn to make a cameo on The Simpsons in 1998, she had become an archetype.
That archetype was very much alive and well at the Rio Theatre during Garofalo’s second JFL NorthWest show on February 24. Though perhaps par for the course in Vancouver, the theatre was packed with a cross section of liberal prototypes. From those who discovered her in the late 90s as an actress, to some who may have watched her live as a young alternative stand-up comic, the theatre slowly fills to the brim.
It’s clear there is something special about Garofalo; her strength on stage, and her connection with her fans, stems from her being exactly who she is. Infamous for referencing notes on stage, she turns an absurdly large pile of papers into a kind of gag. And despite a meandering, stream-of-consciousness style of speech, she is fast paced and glib. After a bumpy start with a joke about Vancouverites and LGBT bathrooms that doesn’t land, Garofalo finds her stride.
And why not? She is among her people. People who expect to sit back and be taken on a frenetic ride that starts with a light lob about TV finance expert and bonafide crazy person Suze Orman, but leads to Garofalo, not physically intimidating at just over five feet, getting into a millennial audience member’s face to lightly chastise them for their gluten allergy.
Her most successful running joke is about citizenship. A tongue-in-cheek concept, especially considering who’s doing the talking. To Garofalo, good citizenship is something to which we should all strive. Placed in the mundane situations that enrage us daily, like getting stuck behind someone at the train station whose ticket is obviously out of service, good citizenship starts to make a lot of sense. Its high ideals, time and again, turn out to be simple: don’t be an asshole.
Then, just as simply, Garofalo pulls us back into the big picture. Providing some much needed perspective, she reminds us of the truly insidious goings-on of the world: destructive forces like Trump and his tenuous practice of citizenship. Suddenly we’re all laughing at the comparison between Chris Christie and Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife’s physique, good citizens that we are.
Janeane Garofalo performed at JFL NorthWest, Vancouver's own comedy festival. For more information, visit jflnorthwest.com.