Janeane Garofalo doesn’t know when she’ll watch all of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, the eight-episode prequel to the 2001 cult film she starred in, which begins streaming on Netflix this Friday. That’s because she doesn’t use the Internet anymore, so she can’t just fire up the series on a laptop. She doesn’t have an email address or an iPhone either. In fact, to schedule our interview, she gives me a call to ask what my schedule looks like so she can be available on her preferred landline—a far cry from the typical, celebrity interviews that come together over days of emailing with publicists haggling over time slots.
Streaming services and smartphone technology aren’t the only things that have changed since Wet Hot American Summer premiered 14 years ago, but the former Air America host and one-time Saturday Night Live cast member is unfazed by all of it. The film’s intense cult following? Garofalo already predicted that back when she was making the movie. The A-list rise of her co-stars Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler? Well deserved, she says, but hardly surprising. And what about the political correctness debate happening in comedy right now? Nothing she hasn’t heard before as a veteran stand-up comedian.
Garofalo spoke with TIME about capturing the magic of the original Wet Hot American Summer, her views on Donald Trump and why Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion has a big gay following.
TIME: Will you binge-watch the entire series when it comes out on Netflix?
Janeane Garofalo: We don’t have it yet! I’ll be in Jackson, Mississippi, working on something. Unless the hotel has Netflix.
Do you have a laptop?
I don’t use a computer, nor do I have a smartphone. I know you don’t believe that. Many people can’t believe it. People will believe in a deity, extraterrestrial ghosts, but this one thing they can’t believe. I’m a bit of a neo-luddite.
Isn’t that the cool thing to do now? You’re ahead of the game.
It’s not noble. The downside is it definitely affects ticket sales for stand-up comedy because social media platforms are vital to a lot of comics on the road. But I’m absolutely willing to sacrifice seats because there are so many negative things. What happened with Air America with so many right-wing trolls and death threats, it emotionally affected me. That stuff doesn’t roll right off me the way it does for some people, and there’s such a culture of cruelty with it that I just couldn’t handle it. Now there are so many upsides to it—I understand that it’s the great democratic medium. But I also like to get books and magazines and the paper, and I like to watch MSNBC and BBC News. I like it the old-fashioned way. My boyfriend uses a computer, and if I absolutely need to he can pass along information to me.
That’s good! You’re probably better off this way.
I don’t miss much. I never know what people are talking about with viral videos. When somebody asks, “Did you see so-and-so’s face, have they had work done?” I don’t know what they’re referring to, and I’m happy to not be a part of pop culture nonsense. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way—I just don’t have an interest in knowing “Did they have work done?” or “Did you see that slutty video of the cat doing the thing?”
I was just talking with Hannibal Buress about animated GIFS and how people discover new comedy through platforms like Tumblr.
It’s really important! There are so many comics whose work is built upon the new technology. They can sell out good-sized spaces purely through that, and I understand that. But then you could go down a rabbit hole and waste so much time look at stuff, which I think lots of people do at work. They pretend to look busy. Also, people just never get off the phone. You will never be invited anywhere again if people can’t email you, which can be an upside if you never wanted to go to brunch in the first place.
Yeah, that sounds like it has its perks.
Sometimes I’ll hear about stuff if I run into somebody, but it’s as if people no longer can pick up a phone. I can text, but also I’m really happy not to attend your kid’s fifth birthday party in Park Slope—no offense to anyone and their kid’s birthday parties. But enough about that nonsense.
So when did you realize Wet Hot American Summer had become a cult classic?
Here’s the thing: I predicted it was going be a cult classic when we were making it, and I couldn’t believe it when no one saw it at the time. I was just like, Wow, we had such a great time making it! At Sundance there was a bidding war over a movie called Super Troopers by [comedy group] Broken Lizard, which eclipsed us. People thought, “Oh, this is the same type of thing. The State [an MTV sketch show that featured many Wet Hot actors] people have put out a movie, and here’s Broken Lizard—let’s go with Broken Lizard.” Then years went by, and I started noticing that much younger people at the street level and at stand-up shows would come up to me quoting lines from it. It just built and built and built from there. I started noticing that around seven years ago.
Is that the role people approach you about the most? I personally associate you most with Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
That actually is a biggie. And that happened late—much later, with younger people and especially in the LGBT community. I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization, but it seems that the number of people who are gay who have mentioned it far outnumbers the hetero community. Does that sound okay to say that?
Totally. That movie was always on TV when I was growing up, but I see it: the fantasy of wowing everybody at your reunion after feeling like an outsider for so long probably resonates with a lot of young queer people.
Right, and there’s a camp quality to the comedy of it. That was another one I thought was going to be much bigger when it was released and then has grown. You could say that with a lot of movies, now that people can see things multiple times. When I was growing up, you saw the movie the one time when it was in the theater. Now you can see things 850 million times anytime you want, and new generations are seeing them. That’s really nice. I’m always happy when people like certain things that I like.
Would this prequel series not have been made if it weren’t for the opportunities of streaming outlets like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon?
Presumably! I’m assuming that’s the case because with new avenues there needs to be content on these avenues. More importantly, it wouldn’t have happened if the popularity of the movie itself hadn’t grown. I don’t think Netflix would be like, “Let’s show this thing that was not seen by that many people!” But they had the unbelievable good fortune of Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd becoming enormously successful.
What’s that like for you, watching Bradley Cooper become the Bradley Cooper we know today? Or seeing Paul Rudd become a Marvel superhero?
Well, I thought Paul Rudd was really famous, to tell you the truth, because I was familiar with Paul Rudd in lots of stuff prior to that. We had done a movie called 200 Cigarettes before, but also from Clueless, so I was under the impression that Paul Rudd was already a huge star. Then he became even huger! But the careers that Elizabeth and Bradley and Amy have, like, .55 percent of the SAG-AFTRA union gets to enjoy. And to have that many in one movie! I think it’s thrilling. It couldn’t have happened to nicer and more deserving people. Bradley is a fantastic guy and an extremely talented guy and works really hard, as does Amy. Their work ethics are ridiculous.
Streaming outlets have gotten praise for showing the kinds of characters and stories viewers wouldn’t otherwise see on TV. As someone who’s talked about the limited opportunities available for an actress at your age, are you starting to feel the impact of that?
I hope. With new avenues of course there are going to come new roles. The thing is, though, you’ve got to be lucky enough to have access to even those. There’s still this insatiable hunger for using “names.” There’s still a little bit of the double standard, female-versus-male: “We would prefer the women were younger and better looking.” Men have more latitude. I would say it’s still harder for people of color and people in the LGBTQ community. I think that’s a real tough one to break.
Have you seen Amy Schumer’s “Last F-ckable Day” sketch with Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and—
Yes, yes, and Patty Arquette? You know what’s so funny about that? I feel the same way idol-wise. When I saw them sitting at the table, I was like, “Oh my God!” Patricia Arquette has been one of my idols for years. She’s younger than me. Not only is she adorable, she’s such an interesting, emotional, intuitive actor. When Amy walked through the woods and saw those three there I was like, “Oh, I feel the same way!” To come upon that in the woods, I would have the same wonder and delight that Amy Schumer did. But to me the Amy Schumer thing that I think was amazing was the Twelve Angry Men remake. It’s so good, so well done and so funny.
You’ve said that you were drunk 90 percent of the time while filming the first movie and that there was a lot of bed-hopping among the cast. What was the vibe like this time around? I know you quit drinking a while ago.
It was the opposite of that! First of all, everybody’s much older. Almost everybody else—I don’t—had children. They lived in L.A. while we were shooting, whereas last time we were in Pennsylvania and stayed at the site in the camp the entire time. So you had a bunch of younger people who were not with child and still drinking heavily and having the time of their lives. This time, even though it was very fun, you had people who were sober, commuting to work, with families and not bed-hopping. Now, whatever the younger cast was doing I have no idea. They are a bit too young to probably be partaking in anything, and their parents were there. This was very professional. Very enjoyable, but completely different.
How did you capture the spirit of making the original then?
Well, we all know each other, and we all enjoy working with each other. So that was totally fine. I was there the whole time because my part is sprinkled throughout and I don’t need to fly back and forth. I don’t have a family here [in New York], so I’m like, “Just put me at a hotel, and I’m fine!” Every once in a while some of the other New York people would be there, and we would go to Gelson’s. That was our big night: we’d go to Gelson’s, or sometimes people would sit outside and watch me smoke cigarettes in the parking lot, and that was great. I love that kind of stuff when you’re at the same hotel at night, but it was just as enjoyable during the day being at Calamigos Ranch.
And it was great meeting the new cast that came: Jon Hamm I had met before, but Weird Al Yankovic, Kristen Wiig, Josh Charles—all those people brought in a new fun thing. It was just constantly enjoyable. And Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman were great and funny, so I felt like it was different but no less enjoyable. I was also not drunk and hungover a lot of the time—actually, I was so happy, I didn’t get hungover that bad back then. When I got older, that’s when it got me.
Does making something for Netflix feel any different on set?
To me it felt like the same thing. It’s still shooting. The difference is [writers] Michael [Showalter] and David [Wain] have directed a million things since their first thing, the original movie. You had them trying to make a movie when they had not done that before, and now they’ve directed a whole bunch of things, so there was an ease to that this time. They also had a machine behind them and an infrastructure that did not exist for them last time, so it was probably much less stressful for them. And it didn’t rain every single day like it did last time.
Yeah, I think it rained 20 days out of the 22 day shoot of Wet Hot. It was just a mud bath. It wouldn’t rain all day every day but it would rain at some point every single day. As you know in California with the drought, that was not the case.
As someone who is known for her politics as well as her comedy, do you think that the 2016 election is going to supply comedians with good material?
I think [for] all comedians who discuss politics and culture in that way, there’s always something to discuss. The problem is when it becomes too tragic, when certain right-wing nonsense is actually culturally criminal: the anti-immigrant stuff, the Donald Trump nonsense. Yes, we can laugh at Donald Trump, but it is just absurd. First of all, you can’t parody it. You cannot parody Donald Trump. Or Michele Bachmann, or the nonsense a lot of the Tea Partiers say, or Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell. Or any of Fox News—their deliberate misinformation campaign and their pandering to the base by being racist, anti-immigrant, misogynistic. None of that stuff is funny to me. It hurts me, and it should be something everyone is concerned about. When prideful ignorance and homophobia and misogyny and xenophobia become accepted politic rhetoric, that’s not funny to me.
The Huffington Post recently announced that it’s putting Donald Trump coverage in the entertainment section instead of the politics section.
I can’t speak for everybody, but I find some of these things just tragic and painful to absorb and not helpful to us as a society. Those that are ignorant, racist, misogynistic, homophobic—it empowers them when they have figureheads to rally around, when the mainstream media treats it like it’s actually news. People like Donald Trump should be either ignored, or put purely in entertainment and satire coverage, as opposed to legitimate news coverage. That’s my opinion. Because it really does prevent us as a society from evolving and becoming more enlightened when these things are just put out there like it’s a side or an issue. It’s painful to me, and hard for me to laugh at it.
What do you think about the political correctness debate that’s been happening in comedy right now?
Oh, that’s always going on. That’s not new. Actually I call political correctness “manners.” If someone wishes to be referred to as African-American or Latina or transgender or whatever it is, that is respectful. That’s not the “P.C. Police” or “fascist.” That’s called manners. It’s called emotional intelligence. And also, if something is funny, it’s funny. And if a smart person, an enlightened person is doing comedy which has elements that point out racism, misogyny, all that stuff—that’s fine. If it’s a dumb-ass doing it, where you don’t see the ridiculousness of it or the irony of it, there’s no value to it. I don’t know if I’m articulating this correctly.
I get what you’re saying—punching up, doing it with a purpose.
Yeah, yeah. It’s not wrong to respect people’s wishes to not be marginalized, mocked, stereotyped as we move on and on into the new millennium. I feel that’s correct to respect these things.
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