Interview: Comedian Janet Varney

Editor Shenyah Webb, Interview, April 19th, 2013

"... I've literally been nailing it all weekend..."

comedian janet varney

Nailed Magazine conducted a series of interviews with comedians for the 2013 Bridgetown Comedy Fest in Portland, Oregon.

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NAILED: You have so many layers to your career. Actress, Producer, Writer, Improvisational Artist, Co-founder of SF Sketchfest (going strong now for 12 years!), JV Club, Huffpost Live Host, and so many more. I see you began your studies at San Francisco State University in Theater and then Interior Design. When did comedy enter the whole equation? Have you always been “the funny girl”?

JANET VARNEY: I was raised by a dad who has a fantastic sense of humor who raised me on The Muppet Show, Steve Martin movies, and Woody Allen’s standup, and he really encouraged me to ham it up from an early age. So in that way, comedy definitely played a big role in my day-to-day life growing up. But I never pursued anything in terms of performing comedy until I was in my twenties. I was basically forced into it by a couple of my friends who were starting a sketch troupe and thought I’d be good at it. I was kind of terrified by it, but I gave it a try. I am so grateful to those guys for believing in me and viciously twisting my arm!

NAILED: When you hosted Huffpost Live, you tended to cover less comedic issues spanning death, time travel, gay marriage, and many others. Was your tenure as a host with HuffPost Live ever challenging due to the coverage of more serious issues rather than comedy?

JANET VARNEY: Working at HuffPost Live was certainly an enormous departure from what I’d been doing the last 8 years in my career. It was very intimidating to be thrown into the world of broadcast journalism without having any real training in that realm. Thankfully, the team at HPL was truly amazing and I almost feel like they implanted me with a Matrix-style brain download of experience in an incredibly short duration when I began working with them. I loved my time there, even though the comedy side of my life was more on hold. I think the hardest thing for me was the emotional impact all of the stories had on me, because I wasn’t seasoned enough to have developed a thick skin. So for example when the Connecticut shootings happened, I was basically a complete wreck, trying to keep it together to deliver news. I have such respect and awe for journalists who are able to communicate important information to the masses without sobbing.

NAILED: When was the last time you nailed it?

JANET VARNEY: I just papered one of the walls in my house with this awesome birch tree photo mural, seventies-style, but I’ve had to completely change around where all of my artwork is hanging to accommodate this new addition. So I’ve literally been nailing it all weekend, hanging paintings and prints. [Baddum-ching]

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Arizona native & San Francisco refugee Janet Varney is well-known for her wildly successful and long-running stint as co-host of TBS’ “Dinner & a Movie” (1996), as well as the Mark Burnett-Steven Spielberg-produced film competition, “On the Lot” (2007). She has also starred in the sketch series, “Home Purchasing Club” (2006), with David Koechner, Diedrich Bader & Kristen Wiig, and Sean P. Hayes’ sketch series for FOX, Man Stroke Woman (2008) (TV). She has guest-starred on many hit shows, including “How I Met Your Mother” (2005), “Hot in Cleveland” (2010), “Psych” (2006) and “Bones” (2005). She recurred as smart, sexy TV executive “Amy Miller” on HBO’s “Entourage” (2004) and as a panelist on “Chelsea Lately” (2007). She can also be heard as the titular character on Nickelodeon’s wildly popular “Avatar” series, “The Legend of Korra” (2012). In film, Janet has appeared alongside Heather Graham in Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (2011), Owen Wilson in Drillbit Taylor (2008), Halle Berry in Catwoman (2004) and in the Lionsgate feature, Still Waiting… (2009) (V), as part of a comedy ensemble that included Justin Long, John Michael Higgins and Luis Guzmán. Janet is the co-creator and co-producer of one of the largest and most successful comedy festivals in the country, SF Sketchfest: The San Francisco Comedy Festival.

This interview was conducted during Portland’s annual Bridgetown Comedy Fest, which takes place on the weekend of April 18 – 21, 2013. Click here for information on shows that feature Janet Varney during the 2013 festival. [Photo Via: Wikimedia]

Shenyah Webb

Shenyah Webb is originally from Detroit; she studied Psychology at Michigan State University, and later finished in Industrial Design with an Art Therapy minor at The College of Creative Studies. She lives and works in Portland with her husband and son. She is a visual artist, and musician under the name Lithopedion. Her self-titled EP was released in 2013. Shenyah is the Arts Editor and a Contributing Editor for Nailed Magazine.