Garofalo is an outspoken progressive activist. From March 2004 to July 2006, she hosted Air America Radio's The Majority Report with Sam Seder.
Garofalo was born in Newton, New Jersey, the daughter of Joan and Carmine Garofalo. Her mother, a secretary in the petrochemical industry, died of cancer when Janeane was 24. Her father is a former executive at Exxon. Garofalo was raised in a conservative Catholic family and is of Italian and Irish descent.
She grew up in various places, including Ontario, California; Madison, New Jersey; and Katy, Texas. She was quoted as having disliked life in Texas because of the heat, humidity, and the emphasis on prettiness and sports in high school. While studying history at Providence College, Garofalo entered a comedy talent search sponsored by the Showtime cable network, winning the title of "Funniest Person in Rhode Island". Her original gimmick was to read off her hand, which was not successful in subsequent performances. Dreaming of earning a slot on the writing staff of the TV show Late Night with David Letterman, she became a professional standup comedian upon graduating from college with degrees in History and American Studies.
She struggled for a number of years, working briefly as a bike messenger in Boston. She has described herself thus: "I guess I just prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth."
Garofalo was initially known as a stand-up comedian, making numerous stand-up appearances on television and in live clubs and larger venues beginning in the 1990s and continuing today. She said she does not tell jokes as much as make observations designed to get laughs. She was part of the alternative comedy scene in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, appearing at Un-Cabaret and other venues, and she co-created the Eating It weekly stand-up comedy series, which ran at the Luna Lounge on the Lower East Side of New York City between 1995 and 2005, frequently hosting the show and appearing as a performer.
She did an HBO Comedy Half-Hour special in 1995, among similar subsequent appearances, including a one-hour stand-up special in June 2010 entitled "If You Will," performed at Seattle's Moore Theatre, that aired on Epix in June 2010 and was released on DVD in September 2010.
During her filmed stand-up show in Seattle, she proclaimed herself asexual, and brought up her ten-year sexless relationship with her boyfriend. Garofolo is touring during Winter, 2016; her schedule includes a gig January 14 at the popular 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia;
Garofalo has performed a variety of leading, supporting and cameo roles in more than 50 feature films, playing leading or large roles in Reality Bites, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, I Shot a Man in Vegas, The Matchmaker, Clay Pigeons, Steal This Movie!, Sweethearts, Mystery Men, The Independent, Wet Hot American Summer, Manhood, Ash Tuesday, and Bad Parents, among others, and supporting roles in The Cable Guy, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Cop Land, Half Baked, Permanent Midnight, Dogma, 200 Cigarettes, and The Wild.
Garofalo's first movie role, filmed the year before she appeared on national television, was a brief comical appearance as a counter worker in a burger joint in Late for Dinner in 1991, but her real breakthrough into film came in Reality Bites (1994) as Winona Ryder's character's Gap-managing best friend Vickie. The role helped solidify Garofalo's status as a Generation X icon.
She remained visible from television work and supporting roles in feature films such as Bye Bye Love and Now and Then, and a leading role in I Shot a Man in Vegas, until 1996 when she was cast in the starring role in the critically acclaimed romantic comedy The Truth About Cats & Dogs, a variation on Cyrano de Bergerac which featured top-billed Uma Thurman as a beautiful but dim-witted model, while Garofalo played the much larger role of Abby, a highly intelligent radio host. Initially an independent film, it became a studio movie when Thurman was signed. The film was a modest hit, but Garofalo disparaged it back in 2003, saying:
"I think it's soft and corny, and the soundtrack makes you want to puke, and everybody's dressed in Banana Republic clothing. The original script and the original intent was very different than what it wound up being when it became a studio commercial film. It was originally supposed to be a small-budget independent film where there would be much more complexity to all the characters, and Abby and the guy don't wind up together at the end."
Based on the success of this film, a producer then offered her the leading lady role in Jerry Maguire with Tom Cruise if she could lose weight; after trimming down, however, she learned that Renée Zellweger had won the part instead.
She turned down the role of television reporter Gale Weathers in Wes Craven's Scream because she thought the film would be too violent: "I said I didn't want to be in a movie where a teen girl was disemboweled. I didn't know it turned out so good, and it was a funny movie."
Garofalo had been David Fincher's first choice for the role of Marla Singer in the film Fight Club, but she turned it down, uncomfortable with the film's unusual sexual content (Fincher later noted that she was "uncomfortable with the idea of all this sex”), and Helena Bonham Carter eventually accepted the part.
Following up the successful The Truth About Cats and Dogs in 1996, Garofalo played the leading role in The Matchmaker, a 1997 romantic comedy film about the misadventures of a cynical American woman who reluctantly visits Ireland. That same year, she played a supporting role as a deputy sheriff in the drama Cop Land, a police gangster film. In 1998, she performed her first voice-acting job playing "Ursula the Artist" in Disney's English dub of Studio Ghibli's Kiki's Delivery Service and briefly appeared in Permanent Midnight. In 1999, she starred as "The Bowler" in the film Mystery Men, about an underdog group of super heroes.
In 2000, she portrayed Abbie Hoffman's wife Anita Hoffman opposite Vincent D'Onofrio as Hoffman in Steal This Movie!, involving the couple's political activism during the Vietnam War era. Later that same year, she received second billing under Jerry Stiller in a comedic film about a low-budget movie producer entitled The Independent. The following year, Garofalo was top-billed in Wet Hot American Summer, the 2001 cult comedy about a Jewish summer camp, and starred in The Search for John Gissing.
In 2002, she played Catherine Connolly in The Laramie Project and in 2003, she starred in Manhood and Ash Tuesday, and appeared in the crime film Wonderland. She played a supporting role in Jiminy Glick in Lalawood in 2004.
A puppet version of Garofalo appeared (and was graphically killed off) in the 2004 movie Team America: World Police; while Garofalo was irritated by the parody, she was more upset by the filmmaker's lack of correspondence. "I ran into them in the street, Trey and the other guy, and I said to them, 'The least you could do is send me a puppet.' And they said OK, took my address down ... and never sent me a puppet! So while Team America bothered me, the fact they didn't send me my puppet, that bothered me even more."
In 2005, she played the ex-wife of a man coping with the reverberations of a divorce in Duane Hopwood. In 2006, she performed Bridget the giraffe's voice in the computer-animated Disney feature film The Wild. In 2007, she provided the voice of Colette, a chef in the Pixar/Disney feature film Ratatouille, in which Garofalo affected a pronounced French accent for the role, appropriate for a character based on a French cook described as the world's best female chef. She made cameo appearances in The Guitar in 2008 and Labor Pains in 2009, and starred in Bad Parents in 2012, a comedy about New Jersey soccer moms obsessing over their children's experiences playing the sport. She starred in the 2015 film 3rd Street Blackout.
Janeane Garofalo appears as herself in the documentary film Sticky: A (Self) Love Story, released on Amazon in 2016, in which she claims that she had to get drunk on tequila to do her masturbation scene in the Truth About Cats and Dogs.
Garofalo's big break came in 1990 after meeting Ben Stiller at Canter's Deli in Los Angeles, where they were hanging out with stand-up friends. They bonded over their "love of SCTV, early Saturday Night Live, and Albert Brooks."
Her first exposure on national television came soon thereafter by way of her appearance as a stand-up comic on MTV's Half Hour Comedy Hour. Subsequently, her first television series debut was on the short-lived Ben Stiller Show on Fox in 1992, on which she was a cast member alongside longtime friends Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick.
A chance meeting on the set of that show led her to being offered the role of Paula on The Larry Sanders Show on HBO, earning her two Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series nominations in 1996 and 1997. For a time, she was actually working on both series during the same period.
After The Ben Stiller Show was cancelled, Garofalo joined the cast of Saturday Night Live (SNL) for its 1994–95 season. She left SNL in March 1995 (mid-season) after only six months, saying that the experience left her "anxious and depressed" and that a sexist attitude pervaded the show and she called many of the sketches "juvenile and homophobic". According to New York Magazine, Garofalo was "largely stuck in dull, secondary wife and girlfriend roles" and her friends said that she considered the stint "the most miserable experience of [her] life."
Following SNL, Garofalo appeared in a plethora of guest star roles: the grown-up daughter of the Buchmans on the final episode of Mad About You; Jerry Seinfeld's female counterpart (and, briefly, fiancée) Jeannie Steinman on Seinfeld; a recurring correspondent on Michael Moore's TV Nation, and a former girlfriend of Dave Foley's character on Newsradio. She provided the voice for the weekly telephone conversations between the series lead and an older friend (Garofalo) in Felicity. Two television pilots starring Garofalo, the 2003 ABC show Slice O'Life about a reporter consigned to sappy human interest stories appearing at the end of news broadcasts, and the 2005 NBC program All In, based on the life of poker star Annie Duke, were not picked up by their respective networks.
Throughout the 2005–06 television season, Garofalo appeared on The West Wing as Louise Thornton, a controversial campaign adviser to the fictional Democratic presidential nominee. Garofalo participated in the series' first live episode, most of which was a debate televised live on the East Coast and then reshot live for the West. Garofalo's character can be seen walking backstage advising before the start of each debate. In 2006, she provided the voice for the animated character "Bearded Clam" on Comedy Central's Freak Show. In 2007, she wrote a dedication for the mini-book included in the six-DVD box-set of the 1994 cult series My So-Called Life.
Garofalo had segments entitled "the disquisition" in several episodes of the 2007 season of The Henry Rollins Show which took place in her apartment, much in the same way Rollins' segments take place at his house. In 2009, Garofalo joined the cast of 24, where she starred as Janis Gold. In 2010, Garofalo joined the cast of Ideal as Tilly. She was a cast member of the Criminal Minds short-lived spinoff TV series Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior in 2011.
In 2014, she portrayed Lyla, an entertainment lawyer, in seven episodes of the TV series Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce. In 2015, she starred alongside most of the original cast in the Netflix eight-episode prequel to the 2001 comedy film Wet Hot American Summer. In 2017, Garofalo starred in E4's comedy-drama series Gap Year.
Garofalo co-wrote a comedic New York Times bestseller with Ben Stiller in 1999, entitled Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction, a spoof of the self-help books so prevalent at the time. She wrote her HBO Comedy Half-Hour along with similar appearances and programs, co-wrote some sketches on The Ben Stiller Show, wrote an episode of the television series Head Case, and wrote and directed a 2001 comedy short entitled Housekeeping.
Garofalo has been open and outspoken regarding her progressive political views. She is a staunch feminist. In an interview for Geek Monthly magazine, she stated that she was raised in a conservative family.
She has appeared with political figures such as Ralph Nader (whom she supported in the 2000 election, but opposed in 2004) and Jello Biafra at various events. In 2007, Garofalo described herself as an atheist, and participated in a radio interview by Freethought Radio, a show by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
She became more prominent as a progressive when she voiced opposition to what became the 2003 Iraq War, appearing on CNN and Fox News to discuss it. She said that she was approached by groups such as MoveOn.org and Win Without War to go on TV, because these organizations say that the networks were not allowing antiwar voices to be heard. Garofalo and the other celebrities who appeared at the time said they thought their fame could lend attention to that side of the debate. Her appearances on cable news prior to the war garnered her praise from the left and spots on the cover of Ms. and Venus Zine. Garofalo has had frequent on-air political disputes with Bill O'Reilly, Brian Kilmeade, and Jonah Goldberg.
Prior to the 2003 Iraq War, she took a position on the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein. For example, in an interview with Tony Snow on a February 23, 2003 episode of Fox News Sunday, Garofalo said of the Iraqi dictator:
Yes, I think lots of people are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. But there's no evidence that he (Hussein) has weapons of mass destruction. There's been no evidence of him testing nuclear weapons. We have people that are in our face with nuclear weapons. We've got Iran and North Korea. We've got a problem with Pakistan. You know, I don't know what to say about that. There's a whole lot of people that are going nuclear. And I think that Saddam Hussein is actually, with the evidence, the least able to use nuclear weapons and the least obvious offender in that area at this moment.
In March 2003, she took part in the Code Pink anti-war march in Washington, D.C. That autumn, she served as emcee at several stops on the Tell Us the Truth tour, a political-themed concert series featuring Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, and others. Throughout the year, Garofalo also actively campaigned for Howard Dean. While on Fox News' program The Pulse, O'Reilly asked Garofalo what she would do if her predictions that the Iraq war would be a disaster were to turn out wrong. Garofalo stated:
I would be so willing to say, 'I'm sorry'. I hope to God that I can be made a buffoon of, that people will say, 'You were wrong. You were a fatalist.' And I will go to the White House on my knees on cut glass and say, 'Hey, you and Thomas Friedman were right ... I shouldn't have doubted you ...'
Garofalo said she had misgivings in 2007 about the depiction of torture in the television series 24 but joined the cast because "being unemployed and being flattered that someone wanted to work with me outweighed my stance".
In April 2009, Garofalo drew criticism from The Washington Times when she denounced Tea Party protests, which she referred to as racist. She has continued to criticize Tea Party protesters.
In late March 2004, Garofalo became a co-host for Air America Radio's new show The Majority Report, alongside Sam Seder. The early days of Air America Radio are chronicled in the documentary Left of the Dial, which includes a debate between Garofalo and her conservative father Carmine, who was initially a regular guest on The Majority Report.
Garofalo commented on her show of April 28, 2006 supporting the Scientology-linked New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, a controversial treatment for workers suffering ailments from 9/11 clean-up efforts in New York City.
Garofalo married Robert Cohen, who was then a writer for The Ben Stiller Show, in Las Vegas in 1991. She later explained it was intended to be a joke, foolishly thinking the marriage was not binding unless it had been filed at a local courthouse. It was discovered later, when Cohen tried to actually marry someone else, that the marriage was indeed legal. The union was dissolved in 2012.
In Garofalo's 2010 stand-up show, If You Will, she says "I don't have a fear of intimacy, I have sort of a genuine lack of interest", adding jokingly, "which is not good for my boyfriend of ten years".Angel Mine (1996 music video) Copland (1997)
New York: A Documentary Film (1999)
Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks (2003)
Dangerous Living: Coming Out In The Developing World (2003)
Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) (2003)
Left of the Dial (2005), HBO
I Am Comic (2010)
Misery Loves Comedy (2015)
Sticky: A (Self) Love Story (2016)
Janeane Garofalo's Expedition to Mount Everest Ft. Arin Hanson and NOT Dan Avidan (2016)
Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction ISBN 0-694-52146-9 (with Ben Stiller)