The everlasting importance of Janeane Garofalo

This week, a new crowdfunding project launched on Indiegogo that shot an arrow through our hearts: A new Janeane Garofalo movie. The Happys is, according to the funding page, “a dramedy about sexual awakenings, Hollywood stardom, sushi burritos and spider bites”, which stars Garofalo in the lead role. Yes, we’ll watch that, and just about anything else she appears in. Garofalo is one of the coolest comic legends—yes legends—out there and she’s been making us laugh for longer than we can remember With that in mind, one of our readers broke down just what makes Garofalo such a kickass role model for all of us ’90s kids who grew up with her biting wit and endless wisdom. 

I recently decided to take a journey down memory lane and re-watch all the significant films and television shows from my young adult life. In doing this, I discovered one constant: Janeane Garofalo’s fingerprint was on almost every iconic movie or television show that had helped shape my young feminist mind.

Miss Garofalo is far more than a smart female comic: she is a symbol of a time when truth and social change were craved by young people. Her intelligent humor and cynical approach fell in line with what we, as a generation of kids in the ’90s, represented and desired. Our optimism was cautious, but our attitude was still hopeful that society could move forward and change — and Garofalo’s characters were perfectly in tune to that.

In 1994, when Reality Bites came out, Janeane became the best friend everyone needed in their lives. More than any other character in the movie, she was the most supportive and the most relatable. (She also delivered some of the best lines. See above.). Her character, Vicki, struggled with real issues from a serious AIDS scare to dissatisfaction with her job. at the Gap, Mostly, she said what we were all thinking, all throughout the movie—from calling out Lelaina on her drama to bashing the hex of student loans. (“My favorite part about graduating now will be dodging my student loan officer for the rest of my life,” she said flatly, of course.)  Only Janeane could portray a character who was deeply direct and endearing at the same time. She made us not afraid to speak out, to be funny, and to say what we think, no matter what.

Then, in Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion she again inspired us to be bold, brassy, unconventional and independent. Janeane’s Heather Mooney was the goth genius all grown up. She owned her own business, and although she had a hard exterior, she totally got Romy and Michele’s bestiehood like nobody else at the reunion. What’s more, she wasn’t afraid to spill a little on her dress. Hey, that’s what black dresses are for.

You could argue that Janeane set the tone for the younger generation of strong female leads in the ’90s. She was the metaphorical big sister of everyone from Christina Ricci to Thora Birch—with their reactionary grunge style and their equally dry delivery. These actors followed Janeane in inspiring young feminists who dared to break out of the cookie cutter mold.

You could also argue that Janeane set the tone for more female roles that challenge stereotypes today. Think Abbi and Ilana’s Broad City—in which she appeared as a hilarious veterinarian/dog wedding officiant.

Garofalo is master and mistress of alternative comedy, from her two seasons on SNL to her flawless performance in the cult comedyWet Hot American Summer (who else could so perfectly put Paul Rudd in his place in that glorious cafeteria scene?). She always kicks ass and maybe that’s because she’s often using her talent to challenge the status quo.

“I always beg my agents or even friends that are working on projects, ‘Are there any good male parts? Let me audition for that,’” she said in a recent interview, on the the subject of gender bias in Hollywood. “‘There’s no reason why there has to be a specific gender for that part.’ And it seems to blow peoples’ minds when you say that.”

She also said in that same interview with the site MiddleMojo: “There are a lot of people in entertainment who will never be honest about their opinions of things and that’s a very sad way to live to me. I don’t buy into that, because being in the entertainment business doesn’t define me. I’m first and foremost a citizen, a global citizen. So, it’s important to me when I see social injustice to speak out about it.”

Whether it’s her ’90s movies or her work today, Garofolo continues to inspire us to be bold in our choices, to speak out when we need to, to challenge the perceptions of women in media, and to do it all with a perfectly dry sense of humor.

(Images via, via, via, via)