With quirky roles like an apathetic hairstylist in The Broken Hearts Club, a ditzy manicurist in Legally Blonde, and the ultimate cougar in American Pie, it’s no wonder Jennifer Coolidge has amassed a mighty gay following. Now, having honed her improv skills in Christopher Guest films like Best in Show and For Your Consideration, she's added "stand-up comic" to her résumé. So what's next on her bucket list? Preparing to headline Girl Bar’s HRC fundraiser during the 20th anniversary of The Dinah, the annual lesbian party weekend in Palm Springs, Calif., the 48-year-old funny lady explains why she’d probably date a woman before doing Dancing with the Stars.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: Why did you decide to start doing stand-up comedy?
Jennifer Coolidge: It started out as a little experiment. I know this guy who has a club in Provincetown, and last year he said, “I’d love for you to come and put on a show.” I said, “Yeah, let’s try it out in July.” Then July came faster than I thought. I had something written, but it wasn’t really fleshed out with a beginning, middle, or end. All those boys in P-town should’ve gotten their money back. I just didn’t know what I was doing. Not that I’m an old salty sea captain now, but it feels like I am compared to what I was.
What about stand-up appeals to you?
I do have my New Orleans home to escape to, but when you live in L.A., where there aren’t a lot of seasons, it’s kind of like Groundhog Day, where you live the same day over and over again. And an actress in the Hollywood Hills lives a pretty isolated existence. When you do stand-up and go around the country, you get a really good idea of what’s going on in the world.
Is your act built on storytelling in the vein of Kathy Griffin and Sandra Bernhard, or do you do classic PMS and airplane food jokes?
No, I never have the line and then the joke. It’s maybe seven or eight stories where I talk about relationships, sex, and living in Hollywood.
A few years ago I caught your appearance at Barracuda, a Manhattan gay bar, where you told a great story about working with Toni Basil on Legally Blonde.
I told that story in P-town too. Toni Basil is very famous choreographer who’s done a lot of movies, but she never had to deal with anyone like me who just couldn’t get it. Reese Witherspoon learned the “bend and snap” in about five minutes, and I was in Toni’s garage for ages trying to learn that thing, so she was incredibly frustrated. I pitched to her that my character was so uncoordinated that I shouldn’t bother to learn her choreography. I was like, “My character’s kind of retarded, so I don’t really have to learn this stuff, right? It’ll be really true to character if I just pretend to know the moves.” Toni said, “I’ll tell you what, Jennifer. Learn all the dance steps and do your best, because even your best will still look retarded.” And you know what? She was kind of right.
I guess we shouldn’t expect to see you on Dancing with the Stars.
No. My agent called me about a year ago and said that Dancing with the Stars had approached me, but I passed. I want to be asked to be on a show that I’d be good on. I want to do a show where I just have to run really fast. If there was a show where celebrities just had to run fast, play capture the flag, and not be clever like you have to be on Amazing Race, I’d do that show.
When doing stand-up, do you notice any difference between straight crowds and gay crowds?
I’ve been doing a lot of comedy clubs, and that’s a very hetero audience. They don’t say mean stuff, but they’ll yell out my movies that they love over and over again, or all through the act they’ll ask me to go out with them after the show. The gay audience is just a much better match for me. I don’t know if it’s because gays can handle their liquor better, but you never have a heckler in a gay crowd. They’re so well mannered and polite because they go to the show like it’s theater.
Are you specially crafting your act for the lesbian crowd at The Dinah?
I’m trying some stuff out now because do want to have some good stuff for the girls. What can I talk about?
Well, the DJ headliner for the weekend is Samantha Ronson, who’s proven to be a pretty easy target for comics.
I like Samantha Ronson, though. I did some awards show last year and she was there in the green room, and I actually thought she was quite cool. Who else can I go after?
You could discuss the phenomenon of women coming out late in life like Meredith Baxter.
Oh, yeah, I could. I like that she seemed so surprised in interviews. I feel bad for women sometimes because there’s so much pressure on us to be a certain way. I was clueless as to anything I really wanted to do with my life because so much energy went into being attractive to guys. I spent most of my life worrying about trying to snag a guy. Women are so busy taking care of all this other shit, how do they know what they really want? It’s like the comedy thing — I had no idea I wanted to do that. So I can understand when these women are like, “I was 55 when I realized I was a lesbian.”
Have you ever been intimate with a woman?
Well, I was in New York in the ’80s, when there was a lot of ecstasy and stuff going on, so there were a lot of wild nights. Have I ever had a relationship with a woman? No. Then again, I’m always trying to figure out who I’d be with if I was with a woman. There are two different ways to go, and I feel like I could go both ways. I could be with a very sensual-looking woman like Angelina Jolie — a lipstick lesbian-type. But when I was in this rehab in my ’20s, there was a very butch girl in there who was like a really cute guy to me, and I remember thinking that I could’ve gone that way too.
You’ll no doubt get hit on by girls at The Dinah. Will you welcome those advances?
Are you kidding? If anyone is attracted, I’m surprised and flattered. At this point in life, it’s a good thing if anyone asks me out.
I hear you recently went through a major breakup, so you’ve got to keep your options open.
Yeah, you do. I’m just glad I didn’t try to find another person to replace that person. When you’re younger, you get another person immediately. At least this time I took a break, which was incredibly helpful. I wish I’d done that my whole life.
You played a lesbian in Best in Show opposite Jane Lynch, who’s refreshingly been openly gay for ages, but have you had to work with many closeted actors?
Are you kidding? I’ve dated them. I feel like that three or four guys I’ve dated are really gay. Early in my career I had a love scene with a guy who was gay. He was a really handsome guy who wanted to be taken seriously as “the boyfriend,” so I understood why he didn’t want to come out. But I’m really excited that it’s getting to the point where people can come out and there isn’t lot of wrath anymore.
Your Jane Lynch connection aside, you worked with Ryan Murphy on Nip/Tuck. So when are you going to be on Glee?
I know that they may have something in mind. I’m not a singer, though, so I’m sure that could be a deterrent. Ryan’s gave me the best TV job I’ve ever had. My Hot Coco hip-hop video on Nip/Tuckwas one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to do.
After that video, “Yo Stank,” aired, the blogosphere blew up with accusations that you and the Nip/Tuck writers had ripped off New York-based comedian-singer Wendy Ho’s video “Bitch, I Stole Yo’ Purse.” Were you aware of that controversy?
Well, it was supposed to be a whole commentary on Wendy Ho. I know all about Wendy Ho. Wendy Ho’s album is called The Gospel According to Ho, and the album in the Hot Coco video was called The Gospel According to Coco, so they had every intention of acknowledging Wendy Ho. They showed me the Wendy Ho video before we did it and said, “Do a funny version of this.” I was like, “I’m not going to be cooler than Wendy Ho, that’s for sure.” Wendy Ho is about as cool as it gets. I’d never seen anything like her.
You star as out actress Heather Matarazzo’s character’s mother in out director Ash Christian’s next film, Mangus!
I like Ash and think he’s really talented, and I hope the movie comes out as good as I think it is. Heather and I did The Women together on Broadway, and I’ve always liked her. She has a good sense of humor, but she’s also this tough, rebellious young girl who always says what’s on her mind. She doesn’t have a phony bone in her body.
After appearing in his last feature, Testosterone, you reteamed with another gay director,Edge of Seventeen’s David Moreton, on his upcoming film A Good Funeral. What’s the scoop on that?
I play a tough mother who’s been through a lot of hell. It was a good experience, but I don’t know what’s happening with that. We shot that two summers ago, so I hope it comes out. I should get David’s number and see what’s going on.
People obviously know you best from — and interviewers have asked you ad nauseum about — American Pie, Legally Blonde, and the Christopher Guest films. Is there a more obscure role on your résumé that your gay fans should Netflix?
I was down in New Orleans and heard they were shooting this movie, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, with Nicolas Cage. I called up my agent and was like, “Can you get me in on this?” I was able to get the dramatic part of Nic Cage’s stepmother because the director, Werner Herzog, hadn’t seen my comedies. I don’t know how many people saw that, but I’d still think it was a great, riveting movie even if I wasn’t in it. It was cool to play a serious, tragic drug addict and alcoholic, because even the alcoholics I’ve played before are funny alcoholics. But I’m trying to think of something else I was really pleased with…
How about the 1993 Seinfeld episode “The Masseuse,” in which you played the titular masseuse?
That was my first TV job, so I didn’t know you could actually have input on your wardrobe if you didn’t want to wear something. I literally looked like a lumberjack in that episode. Lisa Edelstein was in that episode too, and one of the writers invited us to hang out with the cast afterward at Jerry’s Deli, but it was very clear when we got there that we shouldn’t have shown up. It was just Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Larry David, and then Lisa and I come sit at their table like we’re special. These guys didn’t want to hang out with the girls who had a few lines and were pleased with themselves, so it was really uncomfortable.
You also had a memorable cameo on an episode of Sex and the City as Victoria, the woman who has a post-breakup meltdown at her “purse party.”
That was a really fun part, but I just wish they would’ve let me go even more berserk and kill myself. I wish they had let me blow my brains out in front of the girls.
Advocate.com, March 2010.