by Ryan Meehan
Janet Varney is a writer, producer, actor and improviser based in Los Angeles, which is in California, which is in the United States (see globe). She hosts the innovative podcast The JV Club (featuring guests including Sarah Silverman, Connie Chung, Christina Hendricks, and more) and is the voice of the title character on Nickelodeon’s wildly popular animated show, The Legend of Korra. She spent seven years hosting TBS’ Dinner and a Movie, worked as host and story producer at The Huffington Post’s network HuffPost Live, and has appeared on numerous television series and films including Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, Psych, and in the Emmy Award-nominated Burning Love. I am delighted to have Janet Varney as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: According to Wikipedia, you were raised Mormon until you left the church at the age of seventeen and now you identify as agnostic…When did you first begin to realize that the Mormon religion didn’t necessarily represent your world views; and how did your parents react when you finally told them that you didn’t want to be a part of that faith journey anymore?
JV: Wow, you’re digging right into the deep stuff straight out of the gate! I respect that. Well, my parents are divorced and were not together from very early in my life. Thus since my dad was never really a believer, he didn’t bat an eyelash and probably knew all along that I didn’t feel that religion was a fit for me. I did have to tell my mom, which I did when I graduated from high school. To be honest, even though I felt I had to go to church with my mom, I have a lot of really positive memories about it and I love so many of the members of that church. She was upset at first, but it’s not something that came between us on any permanent level.
RM: When you founded SF Sketchfest with David Owen and Cole Stratton back in 2001, what was the original intention of creating that event? At that point in time did the three of you think that it was going to be something you’d be able to commit to producing annually, or was that festival’s initial year the only thing that you were focused on getting off the ground?
JV: I think it was a bit of both. We were hopeful and open to the idea of creating something foundational that would go for years, but at the same time, we had such limited experience in producing an event like SF Sketchfest, we also just had to focus on each day and hope for the best (and that we were doing the right stuff to move ahead).
RM: Did you, the producers of Korra, or any of the higher-ups at Viacom receive any bizarre right-wing hate mail regarding the fact that series ended suggesting that your character was in a same sex relationship with Asami? If so, what was the strangest thing you read about the finale of the show you had just poured two solid years of your life into?
JV: I am so incredibly happy to say that I personally have not received one negative letter about it. Quite the opposite— I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of something that brought encouragement and joy to people. We have amazing fans!
RM: Where do you keep your BVTA Awards? Are those something that you always want to hang on to; or could you potentially see yourself giving those away at a comic convention many years down the road?
JV: Um… I don’t have a physical award of any kind, like a statue or a plaque or anything. You could maybe make one for me out of rice cakes and peanut butter?
RM: For those who might not be familiar with the program, what do we need to know about The JV Club? When did you first start developing the concept of “adult-lescence”; and what would you consider to be the exact definition of that term?
JV: The JV Club is my podcast, and in some ways it feels like my little 4 year-old child. It’s certainly the most personal thing I’ve ever done. I’d wanted to start a podcast but wanted to do something I hadn’t seen out there yet- particularly because I have some brilliant and funny friends whose podcasts I so admired. In looking around at the podcast landscape at the time, I felt there was an opportunity to create a more female-oriented comedy/non-comedy podcast that while focusing more on female guests (with me, the female host), still explored stuff that everyone can relate to. It turns out we’ve all been teenagers. And I thought of “adult-lescence” because as a young person, I sort of assumed there would be some moment when I crossed over into adulthood. But as we all know, it doesn’t really work like that.
RM: You’ve appeared on @Midnight several times now…Which of the episodes was your favorite to do; and is that show as much fun as it looks like on television?
JV: It’s super fun! I love doing that show. I love Chris and I’ve loved the people I’ve done it with. It’s hard to pick a favorite! What I look forward to most about doing that show is that I’m guaranteed to laugh my ass off with everyone else there.
RM: Is filming that show in any way awkward for you considering you and Chris Hardwick were together for seven years? What’s the key to maintaining a healthy professional relationship with someone you’ve previously dated, much in the way that you’ve done by being such an integral part of the Nerdist network?
JV: I guess the key is that you have to still love the person! Chris and I adore each other and just because ultimately we weren’t meant to be a romantic couple doesn’t mean that we weren’t meant to be in each others’ lives. I think we were together for the right reasons and now we’re apart for the right reasons, so everybody wins in the end.
RM: What was the best part of getting to work with fellow comedian Paul Gilmartin on the TBS series “Dinner and a Movie”? When you first started co-hosting that show, did you expect to be there all the way up until the very end?
JV: That was one of the more surreal experiences I had in showbiz because I got that job really close to the beginning of my foray into Hollywood (I had been living pretty happily in San Francisco just doing sketch for fun) and I had watched Dinner and a Movie long before I was on it. I fell in love with Paul and Claud immediately, and the fact that I got to spend seven years with them, and with our incredible TBS crew in Atlanta is still one of the things I’m most grateful for.
RM: How did you get the opportunity to work with Mike Nelson and the rest of the MST3K crew to do the movie commentary series Rifftrax?
JV: That was a thing that just sort of evolved organically out of having Mike, Bill and Kevin at Sketchfest. We were huge fans, and they liked what Cole and I were doing as performers and writers, and somehow we ended up weaseling our way into their world. Another set of AMAZINGLY great humans, those fellows!
RM: How would you best describe the process by which the jokes for these recordings are written? How many times through do you watch the film before you start deciding on jokes; and do you share ideas with the other writers and producers in between viewings of the movie or wait until you’ve seen it several times over?
JV: Great question! Cole and I try to write both together and apart. We often split the movies into 10 minute pieces and alternate writing the bulk of those jokes, each of us taking every other 10 minute chunk. Cole and I have been working together for so many years both as writers and improvisers, it’s kind of insane how much our writing flows together even before we know what the other person has written. He still makes me fall on my face laughing and he’s one of my best friends in the world.
RM: How does an individual who has done so many different things under the umbrella that is show business refer to themselves when asked about their profession? Do you simply identify as an entertainer, or do you have some other description that encapsulates everything that you’ve done within the industry?
JV: I think in some ways what you just asked/described is my biggest challenge. I’m not known for one thing and I haven’t devoted my lifeblood into a specific enough pursuit to really hone in on being the, let’s say, “go to” person for something. But hopefully my enthusiasm and my experience make up for it when I take on new stuff. (she says, gulping)
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JV: Well, Season Two of the great FX Network show “You’re the Worst” just premiered, and I was delighted to take part in that once more. I just think it’s such a funny, uniquely awesome show. I’m out doing a lot of anime/comic-con type events, some really fun satellite shows with The Thrilling Adventure Hour, and appearing regularly on Paul F Tompkins’ crazy fun improv podcast, Spontaneanation. And SF Sketchfest turns 15 this January, so my partners David Owen, the aforementioned Cole Stratton and I are busy preparing for that as well. Come hang with us in San Francisco!
Official Website: http://janetvarney.com/
Janet on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janet.varney.90
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