Janet Varney is comedic gold. With two shows back in the fall rotation, “You’re The Worst” and “Stan Against Evil,” prepare to laugh as Varney hints that the best is yet to come on both. In the meantime, get to know about her career beginnings, “pinch me” moments and other gems sprinkled in between.
How did you get your start in acting? What is your worst audition story?
I guess technically I “got my start” in first grade playing Snow White at my elementary school. That entailed wearing a ratty, curly brown wig over my white-blond hair, and you could see a blond line of bangs under the top of the wig. Really professional production.
I’m trying to think if I have a train-wreck-of-an-audition story. I do remember a sinking feeling of shame when I was auditioning for a commercial pretty early on after I’d moved to Los Angeles. It was some kind of thing where I had to pretend I was watching my cat do something crazy involving a litter box, and none of those things were actually in the room. Pretending to watch your cat poop and then run around a room while you looked on in amazement was particularly humiliating somehow.
When did you know you were funny? Do you think a person is inherently funny or can they learn to be funny?
Well, “funny” is pretty subjective, but I do think my dad is super funny, and I credit him for a large part of my sense of humor. He used to watch “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” with me and we’d do lots of our own little “bits” inspired by those shows. He has a killer Ernie impression. My Bert could use some work.
As far as funniness being inherent or learned… that’s a great question. Again, so subjective though, right? But as I mentioned, I believe my dad had so much to do with me being into comedy and performing comedy, and that could arguably be, therefore, a thing I was taught.
What can you tell us about season four of “You’re The Worst”? Is there any pressure going into your fourth season with the acclaim it’s received in its first three seasons?
I think I can comfortably speak for the cast when I say that we all feel like the scripts are CRAZY GOOD this year. They’re always amazing, don’t get me wrong. I really feel like it’s just an extraordinarily well-written show every season, but there is so much great, juicy stuff this year.
What has been the biggest takeaway for you personally/professionally while working on this show?
Well, it’s definitely helped me to accept how much I love playing assholes. The characters on that show say and do the most appalling things, and yet (maybe with the exception of my character), I still find myself rooting for each of them. I think that’s such a delicate balance to strike. Some shows with anti-hero types don’t sustain watchability, in my opinion. In large part because you just can’t care enough about the characters to keep watching them make mistakes. There’s a real vulnerability and heart to “You’re the Worst” that makes it really special.
How did you get your role on “Stan Against Evil”? What was your reaction to season one’s response? How did that build the momentum going into season two?
I feel way more comfortable when Dana is the one telling this story, but evidently he wrote Evie for me. I don’t know why he looked at me one day – probably as I was on my bike with a dorky helmet (safety first), covered in sweat and decided that translated to me being (his words) “an action hero” – but I’ll be forever grateful.
I was delighted that the response to season one was so positive and that people enjoyed the kind of live-action-“Simpsons” insanity mixed with some real heart that we brought to the table, but I can’t wait for people to see season two. More weird demons, more goo, and a really cool arc that involves Stan and Evie’s relationship in a cool way.
Do you share any personal characteristics with your characters, Evie and/or Becca?
Oh man, if I share traits with Becca I’m in a lot of trouble. I think I’ve tried to adopt some of Evie’s more badass qualities – facing my fears with a sort of grim determination – but sadly I don’t share Evie’s propensity for high-wasted polyester sheriff’s pants.
What do you take into consideration when it comes to a new project?
I’ve been really lucky to work on a ton of stuff I’m also a fan of. It’s what makes doing appearances at comic cons and stuff so bearable and so much fun. It’s a total honor to get the chance to chat with fans (and meet some of my heroes from stuff I love) about projects I’ve done, because I happen to also think they’re great and that I was fortunate to work on them. I think if I had done shows I couldn’t see the appeal of it would be really hard to sit on a panel and talk about it.
What is it about comedy/being a comedian that continues to light that fire for you?
Honestly, I mean… I’m a kid. There’s lots of stuff I am a grownup about in my life – paying a mortgage, producing my comedy festival in San Francisco with my amazing partners, taking care of my family, etc. – but for some reason I’m also lucky enough to show up for a “job” that often requires me to say ridiculous and hilarious things written by brilliant people. My number one priority is just not to start laughing when I’m saying it. That’s a ludicrous job. It’s not always as easy as that, but overall, let’s face it, I’m stupid lucky to do what I do.
Is there a story you haven’t done or a role you’d like to play that you haven’t already? What new projects are coming up for you in addition to everything else you have going on?
Heavens, I’m sure there are hundreds of things I’d love to play. If I get to a point where I can Gene Hackman my way into retirement because I feel I’ve checked all the boxes, that will be an incredible moment. I don’t see it happening, but now it’s a goal! As far as other stuff, I’m already working on SF Sketchfest 2018, plus doing my weekly podcast The JV Club, and there are a couple of other things in the works that I hope will come to fruition over the next few months or so as well. I also have to find time to jam in watching all of the fantastic television that’s being made these days (note to self: schedule recording of “Halt and Catch Fire”)
Final question: what has been the biggest pinch me moment of your career?
If I actually literally pinched myself every time I had a “pinch me” moment, I’d be covered welts. People would be even more worried about me than they are now (I’m always covered in bruises due to klutziness). A couple that pop up for me right now include: hearing Brian Henson (Jim’s son and one of the luminaries at the Henson Company) singing a song I’d written for our web series “Neil’s Puppet Dreams” with Neil Patrick Harris; getting to perform with and record for Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy of MST3K for Rifftrax; doing improv with Rachel Dratch. Basically any moment where I’m surrounded by people more talented than I could ever be feels like a total win, and that seems to happen a lot.