Five Minutes With: Janeane Garofalo

[Editor's Note: This is a brief interview with the actress and radio host from late October. It was originally published on Campus Progress.]

A favorite in underground comedy for over a decade, Janeane Garofalo has appeared in numerous movies (including Campus Progress favorite "Wet Hot American Summer"), and was twice-nominated for an Emmy as a cast member of HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show". Garofalo was ranked by Comedy Central among the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.

Unwilling to be depicted as a "know-nothing liberal celebrity," Garofalo has studied up and plays in the big time with right and left pundits as she defends her progressive politics on cable news, including sitting in as a guest host on CNN's "Crossfire." Today, she's the co-host of the popular "Majority Report" show broadcasting nationwide on Air America Radio. Not bad for the child of conservative parents (who she occasionally invited on the show to debate with).

Garofalo most recently appeared as a campaign adviser on NBC's "The West Wing." She sat down with Campus Progress to discuss Hollywood, Washington, and the media machine.

Have you learned anything about politics from working on "The West Wing"?

Um, no. Not things that I didn't already know. Actually, "The West Wing," the writers have far more integrity and soul than your average Washington politician. What I mean by that is mostly right-wing politicians tend to be amoral and nihilistic. The writers give the politicians far more credit than they really should, because the politicos, if you will, on "The West Wing" have great epiphanies, and moments of clarity, and struggles with their conscience, whereas I haven't seen any evidence of that in the Bush administration or lobbyists in general.

Having experienced both the world of Hollywood comedy folks and politicians and political media in Washington, which do you prefer? Does one feel like more of a boys' club than the other?

It's not a boys' club in a bad way, it's just dominated by males -- most things are. There are good people and bad people involved in all of those areas. It doesn't matter what your job is, you're either an asshole or you're not. There's just so little difference between what both industries are doing -- they're both selling a product whether it's Hollywood Boulevard, Madison Avenue or K Street. There aren't more assholes in show business or more assholes in politics than any other business in the world, I guess, except social work. I'm sure there are less assholes in Doctors Without Borders, that's probably true.

As an outspoken entertainer, how do you respond to Laura Ingraham's favorite phase: "shut up and sing."

She doesn't mean for Nashville right-wingers. And, um, she doesn't mean that for anyone in the NASCAR world who supports the President, and she doesn't mean that for any of the right-leaning actors like Chuck Norris and Angie Harmon and her husband, the football player, or Ron Silver who spoke at the RNC. She just means "shut up and sing if I don't agree with you."

Ron Silver and Ann Coulter, very disturbing couple.

They are a very disturbing couple, but they're been in love for years. They were high school sweethearts.

Is that true?

No, but I'd like it to be. Actually, I like Ron Silver a hell of a lot better than Ann Coulter -- Ron Silver is personable and funny. She's a performance artist and comedian in the spirit of Andy Kaufman. I don't know if she believes what she's saying. But it clearly works for her, because we're talking about her now.

Right-wing media can do angry and shrill really well. Are there lessons for the left to learn from what the right does with the media?

It's just bullying. The right wing machine, for the last 40 years, has successfully cowed the media into thinking there's a liberal bias, which there isn't, and then WAY overcompensating the other way. There's a reason they have to spend so much money and time pushing these narratives into the marketplace and manipulating the masses. It's because right-wing ideas and right-wing cruelty is not the norm -- it isn't. That's why they have to steal elections, that's why they have to use the threat of terror, that's why they have to gay bash, and manipulate your emotions. And what right wing radio hosts do -- they capture the people's lesser nature. It's very easy. The Bush campaign also brought out the worst in people. People's lesser nature is easily tapped into. You make people loyal when they're sitting in fear, in a heightened state of anxiety or anger. That's what the right does because it's easy.

So most media is more conservative than most Americans?

I saw an interview with Leslie Stahl of "60 Minutes" on "The Colbert Report" and she said that the country has moved far to the right since Reagan -- but that's not true. The corporate media has moved farther to the right. The people themselves have not, but the myth is that we as a country, as individuals, have. That's not true -- evidenced by how we live, that's not true. The multiculturalism, the acceptance of gays into the workplace. Twenty years ago there was more of a stigma on being gay. The Republican Party has to use these divisive wedges, have to pretend that it's a big deal, have to pretend the sky is going to fall if gays get married, whereas the average person is not concerned about that.

Last week there were a number of conservative bloggers having a field day with a Washington Post piece about the low local ratings for Air America. How do you respond to all of that?

Well, I actually don't care at all about that. In the summer, typically, talk radio ratings go down for everybody across the board. Ratings for Air America are quite good. No other network has risen so far and so fast in the history of talk radio. The reason the right wing must concentrate on these kinds of things is that the administration they've supported is a failure, so they have to. They try not to talk about the issues. Like Rush Limbaugh talking about how good Tom DeLay looked in his mug shot.

So it's like bread and circuses, just without the bread this time around.

Look, I have no idea how politics was covered at the turn of the last century because I really wasn't there, but I'm sure it was pretty shallow. If you look closely at the way political races are covered, the way candidates have been covered in the last 40 years -- it's nonsense. It's ridiculous. They waste your time. A lot of the members of the press are cowed by their own editorial policy and also, for some, their own personality gets in the way of doing proper coverage of the debate and the candidates.

What made you want to get involved in politics?

I never really wanted to. It's not that I'm involved in politics really, at all -- I'm a person who started doing stand up comedy in 1985, and a lot of times comedians wind up being social critics, in a way -- for good or for ill. Then I just had an interest in political talk shows over the years, sort of following it -- and then in 2000, I was so outraged by the election fraud that I just got really focused. Then, when 9/11 happened, I became more focused as the Bush administration failed again and again and again, and I just got more focused on it.

What are you reading now?

Right now, actually, I have a couple. Two right in front of me that I'm going to talk about today on my show -- The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need it More than Ever by Cass R. Sunstein and Veering Right: How the Bush Administration Diverts the Law for Conservative Causes by Charles Tiefer, and American Monsters: 44 Rats, Black Hats, and Plutocrats by Jack Newfield and Mark Jacobsen.

Will there be a ten-year reunion of "Wet Hot American Summer"?

I wish! I LOVED doing that movie. That's one of the best times I ever had doing anything. I think we would all love to do another one, but it was just so hard to get it made in the first place. No one wanted to put money into it. It was made for well under a million dollars and then it tanked at the box office. But if everyone gave us a dollar...

What are you going to be for Halloween?

Either a ghost, a hobo, or a witch, since nobody else has ever thought of doing that. Right. And when I say hobo, I don't mean to say anything pejorative, I mean a person who rides the rails, a "Boxcar Willie," if you will.

With indictments in the Plame leak looming, anything left to say about the impending Fitzmas?

I want to go on record again saying that I think it's time for Karl Rove and Jeff Gannon, the military stud in the press corps, to admit to their relationship and their affair -- I think it is part of the cover-up regarding Valerie Plame. Gannon was in and out of the White House after business hours, according to Secret Service, for no good reason, and he also had Valerie Plame's name early, before other people were talking about it. Perhaps Valerie Plame was part of their pillow talk.

The only interesting thing about Karl Rove, in my opinion, is that he is, I believe, gay or bi. I find that to be the only likeable thing about him. I think that Karl Rove should be outed as gay only because if their fundamentalist evangelical right-wing backers (I know that a lot of progressives are evangelical, I'm just talking about the conservative fundamentalists) knew that one of their masters, Karl Rove, is in fact gay -- and there's absolutely no crime in that -- I think that might shake their fundamentalist evangelical base. That might be helpful in stopping people from voting against their best interests.
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