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Janeane Garofalo: If You Will

(US DVD: 14 Sep 2010)

“No offense, but you look like Janeane Garofalo.  What ever happened to her?”
—Starbucks barista to Garofalo


Janeane Garolfalo’s new stand up comedy special, If You Will offers up her well-known cynicism and wit, but with a more adult slant.  Filmed at Seattle’s Moore Theatre, Garofalo keeps her audience engaged and laughing throughout the hour’s performance.  Those who remember her as the acerbic sidekick type from ‘90s movies Reality Bites and The Truth About Cats and Dogs will still find much of the same biting edge that is Garofalo’s trademark – all delivered in a self-deprecating manner.


One of the things that has always set Garofalo apart from traditional stand up comedians is her off-the-cuff, conversational style that isn’t so much a constant set-up for punch lines, but serves as more of an ongoing discussion about a myriad of topics, not the least of which is herself.  She meanders from subject to subject; from pop culture musings to her political views to her devotion to her dogs.  There seems to be little that is off limits in her routine, establishing right away that Garofalo is uninterested in how she comes off or what people think of her. 


Garofalo has always been able to tap into pop culture in a way that is more about pointing out the absurdities. She pointedly gets to the heart of much of what is popular, quick to offer up her own viewpoint, rather than just present a series of quips.  She is unquestionably an individual, a self-proclaimed asexual atheist, and clearly comfortable in her opinions. When bringing up her past drinking problem and her current sobriety, there is an understanding that despite the good that may have come from that sobriety, she has not magically transformed into a happy, positive person.  She is still the curmudgeon, the one to point out how messed up things are, the first to crack a joke about herself – as she states very early on, “I cringe myself to sleep every night” – and it’s her honesty that makes her as unexpectedly charming as she is.


Using herself as the subject of much of her material, Garofalo articulates her personal beliefs on sex, religion, and her struggles with body image issues. When discussing both sex and religion, Garofalo is particularly candid in relating a story from her childhood and memories of her devout grandmother. There are no real jokes being told, rather she offers up an honest account of why she turned away from religion and feels comforted by science. She says: “Life is too long to worry about the afterlife” and while a great sound bite, there’s no question that she means it.  On the subject of sex, she proclaims herself celibate, despite having a boyfriend of ten years, with a frankness that doesn’t need a punch line. Garofalo even states, more than once, that she’s not sure what the joke is – she says and reveals things in a manner that is more informal than the standard set-up for jokes and in turn, she gets to the heart of things with a seemingly spontaneous humor. 


Part of what makes Garofalo more than just a sarcastic joke machine is that her humor is smart and reflective, in addition to observational and ridiculous. While probably not what would come to mind for most people right away, Garofalo certainly exhibits a thoughtful approach to her comedy. Her self-awareness adds another layer to the cynicism when it’s balanced by her bringing out puppy collages and a particularly hilarious riff on all things wonderful about Natalie Portman.


Janeane Garofalo: If You Will is a performance that demonstrates the skill and the confidence of a comic who has been at it for a long time. Garofalo is as seasoned as they come, in spite of the fact that this her first comedy special in over a decade, and the ease with which she delivers her material makes it clear just how natural a comedian she is. This most recent show has her continuing to show her unique sense of humor – a mix of astute observations, self-deprecation, and running commentary – all while offering up real insights about herself.


The DVD includes a couple of bonus features, Pets and Representative Richard Martin (R), two short skits – they’re not essential, but are a nice bit of extra material.

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J.M. Suarez holds a BA and MA in History and works as an archivist by day.


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