Janeane Garofalo

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In “The Matchmaker,” Garofalo’s American political aide becomes a small Irish town’s most sought-after date.

On Hanson: “I just think that they’re utterly adorable. They seem really well-adjusted and sweet and they’re home-schooled hippie kids, and I like the whole thing. I just like the “MMMbop” song.”

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Garofalo’s movie debut in “Reality Bites” (left, with costar Winona Ryder) was a blessing and a curse: it brought new fans to her stand-up act but it also helped earn her the misnomer of Spokeswoman for Generation X.

On becoming a leading lady: “In smaller, European films it’s much easier to be cast in a principle role, because in Hollywood, as you know, there’s like five people who get to do everything.”

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Garofalo and Ben Stiller, here on Fox’s short-lived “The Ben Stiller Show,” became friends after professing a “mutual admiration thing” at a Los Angeles deli at 3 a.m.

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Famed matchmaker Dermot (Milo O’Shea, left) uses his best tricks to make a couple of Sean (David O’Hara, right) and visiting Yankee Garofalo.

N o wonder Janeane Garofalo is puzzled by the bitter, prickly image often attributed her. In real life, she’s disarming as can be — even when answering questions about “The Matchmaker” well before noon on a Sunday morning — her 33rd birthday, no less. Outfitted in a dark turtleneck sweater, jeans, chic glasses and mussy black hair, the quick-witted comedian’s only apparent baggage is a huge Starbucks cup, a pack of Marlboro Lights and several clunky bracelets. As everyone else yawns awake, Garofalo breaks the ice with a sweet, if not saccharine, question: “Is it OK if I smoke?” After that query, Garofalo had all the answers, from why she loves Hanson to the evils of personal ads to why she’s so misunderstood.

With “The Matchmaker”, you’ve now been in your share of romantic comedies. Do you like them? Do they make you cry?

Oh hell, I’ll cry at the drop of a hat. I am actually not dark and cynical. I don’t know why the perception is that I’m a hard-edged person. I love any genre of film if it’s good. If they’re bad, I don’t. Like music, I’m totally willing to give it up for a pop tune, like Hanson. I love Hanson! I’m not made of wood, I can be taken places. But I do walk out of movies a great deal, I do hate a lot of things. But last night I was watching “Men Don’t Leave,” and I wept through basically the entire movie. There are commercials that make me cry. I guess I’m just like anybody.

You like Hanson?

That drummer is so cute! And I’m not even kidding, he’s so adorably cute that from the very first — well, at first I thought that guy was a girl, the middle guy. I thought, “What a cool girl.” And I remember just thinking, “She’s the coolest, what a great role model for young girls.” I just thought it was a girl. So when I first saw Hanson, I was caught up in the ideology of a great role model for teen girls, and thinking, “What a important thing this band is doing.” And then I find out that’s a boy. And, uh, they’re still great. I just think that they’re utterly adorable. They seem really well-adjusted and sweet and they’re home-schooled hippie kids, and I like the whole thing. I just like the “MMMbop” song.

What appealed to you about playing Marcy in “The Matchmaker”?

The fact that I was offered a lead in a movie that shot in Ireland for 3 months was the most appealing thing. I had a meeting with Mark Joffe, the director, and it went very well right off the bat. He was fun and funny and said, “The female part isn’t well-written. I’d like your notes.” That’s unheard of, especially for someone at my level of show business.

How did you develop your character, then?

I didn’t, really… It was what the script was, and then of course my natural demeanor. Some people construe it as harsh and cynical and mean, for whatever reason. I don’t know if it’s because my voice is deep, or I have dyed-black my hair, or I walk funny. [laughs]

Did you ever think you’d play a romantic lead?

No, not at all. And I’m not actually doing it a lot. I’ve done about 14 films and had a principle part in like two, so I don’t know if it will be something that continues… In smaller, European films it’s much easier to be cast in a principle role, because in Hollywood, as you know, there’s like five people who get to do everything. But I never thought I’d be playing anything in a movie. It’s not like as a kid I the dreamed of the Oscars. I wanted to be a secretary; my mom was a secretary. Then when I was a senior in high school, Letterman came on, and that changed my life. And I thought, I wanna write for David Letterman. Then when I was a senior in college I thought no, I wanna be a standup comic. Then when I was 26, I started acting after meeting Ben Stiller. But I hadn’t even had the idea. I wanted to be a famous stand up comic, like Denis Miller or Sandra Bernhard or Paula Poundstone, and travel the country and have people actually buy tickets to see me. My stand-up career is my passion.

Who smoked more, you or Denis Leary [costar of “The Matchmaker”]?

[No hesitation] Denis. Nobody smokes more than Denis Leary. I’m like a part time smoker compared to Denis Leary. He lights cigarettes off cigarettes, he goes right into the next one. And what’s amazing is he looks great. I can’t believe it, he’s 40, and not only very handsome but looks about 32 or something. Can you imagine if he didn’t smoke what he’d look like? He’d look like he was about 10. I think he’s just genetically blessed.

What’s your take on this “Matchmaker” approach to romance?

I’m highly suspicious of personal ads, video dating, all that. If you read the personals, everybody’s good-looking, everybody’s smart, everybody’s special. Well if they’re so charismatic, whey are they putting [in a] personal? I highly doubt I, Janeane Garofalo, would find an appropriate boyfriend via the personals, because something tells me that these guys are probably not that interesting. Especially when they have the nerve to write, “Must be slender. No fatties.” Beggars can’t be choosers, first of all, and that you would write “no fatties” in your ad — who are you? How dare you? Anti-fat stuff like that drives me nuts. “I enjoy moonlit walks on the beach.” Everybody in the personals — when do you *ever* take a moonlit walk on the beach, A, and B, how unoriginal could you get? So I doubt that I would meet a guy that would be interesting. Although unless I’m rewriting history, I believe that my father met his current wife through video dating. And she actually is a lovely woman, very nice. And attractive, no less. And she’s not a fattie.

You’ve said you lack confidence in your acting skills in the past. Do you still?

I actually am confident that I can do a few things well as an actor. I am confident that I can look natural in front of the camera and do a deadpan line fairly well. I’ve never been asked to do something that was totally, way-far-away from my scope of what I can do. I’ve never been asked to play Joan of Arc or something like that, [then] I would not be confident at all. There’s no evidence that I’m a good actor, so I can’t even say that I’m good at what I do. [laughs] But I’ve been able to survive to this point without being bashed. Now, I’ve had my stand-up [act] bashed. But I’ve been lucky enough so far to be fairly unscathed by movie critics

Would you like that kind of acting challenge?

I definitely would. But I haven’t gotten a script yet that’s like, “This is it!”

You live in Manhattan. Can you still go out unrecognized?

Oh God yeah.

Is it annoying when you are spotted?

You ostensibly are in the pubic eye, and I accept that. The only time it bothers me is when people will come into the bathroom at a bar and wait outside the stall. That bothers me because I’m embarrassed. Or when somebody’s been drinking, they’re bolder than they would be and guys tend to sit in the booth with me and my friends and they’re awkward. Or then they’ll fire off questions that you’re not really in the mood to answer when you’re at Brownies [nightclub] at midnight with your friends, like “How did you get into show business?” That can be a little painful.

Or sometimes I’ll be a Starbucks reading the paper at *seven in the morning* and someone will sit down at the table. And they’ll pretend that they’re just sitting at the table, but there are open tables. And they’ll e-a-s-e their way to getting around to the point. [In a quiet, dumb voice] “Can I borrow that section of the newspaper?” That’s how it starts. Then they’ll talk about something in the paper and then, “Uh, what do you do?” That’s the biggest tip-off! Nobody at seven in the morning talks to anyone anyway, nobody asks anyone what they do. So I’ll lie, [and] their eyes widen just a bit. I’ll say, “I work in a management office.” And then they’re totally blown, they go, [very dejected] “Oh.” But they won’t leave!

But they’re also blown because in 33 years of living, no guy has ever talked to me out of the blue. Ever ever ever ever ever. I am so much not the gal that walks into a bar and guys come talk to me. I’ve had a lifetime of not having that happen. So when it happens now, I know it’s for a reason.

Does it make you angry when that happens?

It doesn’t piss me off like, “Where were you guys before?” But it’s like, don’t pretend that we’re just meeting now, and we’re gonna get around to the fact that you’re a writer. “Wow, how fortunate we met. I didn’t even know you were you! This is real Kismet here.” That bothers me. Just straight-up say it. Right off the bat, hand me the script. That’s what you might as well do. Just come up to me, hand it to me, and leave. I could respect that. [laughs]

Why are you so often mislabeled the spokeswoman for Generation X?

They don’t know I’m 33! I’m so old, compared to those kids. I think a few things in the press have said that [about me], and I think maybe “Reality Bites” started it. And at the time I started doing standup in ’85, visually there were probably not a lot of Doc Martin wearing, dyed black hair, college rock type of gals doing stand-up on television. Now it’s the norm. I’m not saying I’m a groundbreaker, I’m just saying it takes a while for TV to catch up. Where I live [in Manhattan], everybody looks like this. I’m so a dime a dozen, carrying a lunch box for a purse and with the Betty Page bangs, listening to Pavement. There’s a million of us, a jillion of us.