Welcome To The Anti-Cabaret
Glee’s Jane Lynch Does Broadway, Her Way
Last Friday, TV’s Glee concluded an ultra-successful six-season run. This Saturday, March 28, Jane Lynch, who portrayed the stern but lovable Sue Sylvester on the popular series, brings her sassy, “anti-cabaret” show “See Jane Sing” show to Symphony Hall. As the busy actress-singer-improv comic continues to cross the country with her musical tour, she’s also in the process of filming a new pilot for television as well as hosting the award-winning celebrities and alcohol party-game-show Hollywood Game Night on NBC. Her resume of films is impressive to say the least, with featured roles in blockbuster ensemble comedy films from Christopher Guest (“Best In Show,” “A Mighty Wind”) and Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”). She recently spoke with Insite on a day off from filming her new pilot.
You’re in the middle of shooting a new pilot for CBS? Can you talk about it yet?
I sure can. But it’s just a pilot, I’m not touting it too much. It’s called Angel From Hell. It’s one of those things where you make it and if they deem it worthy, then they’ll pick it up. But I really love it, I’m playing a guardian angel, or a person who is nuts, you never really know. My character is extremely odd and extremely compassionate and the writing is beautiful. We’re in the midst of pre-production for that right now.
A lot of people might take some time away from TV, but you’re jumping right back in with a brand new project.
Yeah! Well, it’s one of those things that’s something I didn’t plan; as is almost everything I end up doing. Something will come my way. I don’t set goals, like, “I will not do television for a year,” but I didn’t think I’d be going back so fast, either. I really love doing this cabaret show and I’ve booked myself into 2016, and I’m pretty excited about that. But if I go back on television, then that’s fantastic, too. It’s just a great project.
You are busy with a million cross-platform projects.
Well, I love to work. It’s kinda what I do. It’s what I’m doing, even when I’m relaxing, I’m thinking about it.
You “See Jane Sing” show has been billed as an “anti-cabaret” type show.
Yes, but of course, again, it’s not what I set out to do. Back last winter, about this time, 54 Below, a cabaret space in New York, offered me four nights for my act. I said, “I’ll take those four nights, but I don’t have an act! I’ll put one together.” So we scheduled it off a bit in the future [June] and I got to work on the show.
How did it come together?
I started with music. A friend of mine, Brad Ellis, who plays piano on Glee and became a friend of mine throughout the running of the show, suggested a Dave Frishberg song and that got everything for me. It kind of set the tone for me. It’s a really funny, but beautifully arranged jazz song and I love doing that kind of thing. Then, as things came to me, I’d collect them and put them off to the side.
Did you formulate a theme or a story for the show in the process?
That’s the thing, there’s no discernable theme! I even say this in the show, “Join me on a musical journey through a world of songs that have very little to do with one another.”
And obvious there’s irreverent comedy involved.
I have a lot of hilarious patter. Well, I think it’s funny. It makes me laugh. And Kate Flannery, who plays Meredith Palmer, the drunk, on “The Office,” is coming with me. She’s been a friend of mine for a couple of decades and she’s part of the show. She started the show with me at 54 Below and she’s been on the road with me ever since. And we have a five-piece quintet, who are amazing.
Kate has a long history, as well, in improv.
Oh yeah. That’s how we met. We met at the Annoyance Theater (www.theannoyance.com) in Chicago. She did the “Real Live Brady Bunch” [in 1991] and I did, as well, but we did it at different times. But our paths have crossed so many times. Like, five years will go by and I’ll pick up the phone and call her and say, “Do you want to sing at this charity event?” Then another year will go by and we’ll do another charity event. So now I see her all time and it’s fabulous.
So you’ve had a couple of shows so far on this leg on the tour.
Yes, and four or five others, including the cabaret before this, so it’s still relatively new to us. We’re coming to you, pretty fresh.
Is it an evolving show, or is it already a set performance?
It’s pretty much set in place, but I’ve added a couple of numbers and I think by the time I get to you, we should have added a couple of new things. That might mean at the expense of something else, but we’ll see.
Is there any room for improv, with you and Kate and your collective history in comedy?
Hopefully it will sound like we are going way off the script. She’s like me, we like to set things pretty tightly. Then within that foundation, within those limitations, we’re very free. We have gone off the rails and it’s funny, but it’s really great when you can pull yourself back to something that is set. So we definitely build a cage for ourselves, and then we go wild within the confines of that cage.
It’s built around the premise of show-tunes, and that’s the ultimate pop music.
It is! I love show tunes. We’ve got a couple of actual songs from Broadway shows. One we’re doing, “Far From The Home I Love,” is from Fiddler On The Roof. We’re doing it as a duet and instead of as a ballad, which is how it’s performed in the musical. We’ve actually ripped off the Barry Sisters, this Yiddish group from the ‘50s, their arrangement of it. So it’s the 11 o’clock number now, with the big belty broads singing the song!
That was a great place to debut the show, [in the basement of New York’s legendary Studio 54], but it’s a tiny cabaret space.
Oh, you’ve been there? It’s old school and I just love it.
But at less than 150 seats, it’s far from the bigger halls you’ll be playing on the tour. How does it translate to the much larger venues on this tour?
It was perfect there, but we’ve been doing it in the bigger halls and it’s working. It’s really translating. We were a little fearful: “My God, how’s this gonna be, in front of 1.200 people?” And it’s been great, just great, it’s been so much fun. It’s fast, it’s a little over an hour. At the end of it, you don’t even know what hit ya! You’re laughing and smiling and then, hopefully, you’re on your feet, giving me a standing ovation!
(laughs) But no pressure!
You guys opened this leg of the tour in Austin, how’d it go?
It was the best show we’ve had. Not that you guys have to beat them, but they so excited to see us. Kate and me, and our friend Tim Davis, who also arranged every vocal on Glee, he’s with us, too. He’s a wonderful crooner and he sings with us. We do some three-part harmony. They ate it up, they loved it.
Thanks to TV, there’s a definite audience familiarity, like you’re a relative or an old friend.
Right and that really helps, too. There’s an intimacy to this that I actually count on. I talk to them as if I know them. And it feels that way. It’s a very intimate, funny, family sort of inside-joke, which I love.
Now that Glee is over, what do you feel will be the lasting legacy of the show?
It really resonates deeply with kids, and adults alike.
I think it represents a place, in this made-up world, McKinley High, where a person can go to the choir room and be themselves, and to be celebrated for who they are. And just raise your voice in song and make a joyful noise. I think we’re all looking for that in life. I think we’re all still in high school in that regard. We’re all looking for a place in this cold, hard world where people are soft and truthful and funny. And when you get made fun of, it’s good-natured ribbing that helps you learn more about yourself. Everything is done with love.
If only the real world was like that.
Yes! But to contrast that, you have to have a ridiculously evil villain. And that’s where my character came in. I was very grateful to play that role.
People loved you for it.
Yeah, but that’s because she wasn’t dangerous. She was ridiculous and funny and of course, had a heart of gold and really wished that she could be in that choir room, too!
Your other series, Hollywood Game Night, follows in the sort of “anti” mode as well. It’s sort of the direct opposite of a regular game show
That’s because when you combine alcohol and celebrities, you have anti-everything!
How’s it going?
We are having a blast. We just shot our first one for the new season, two nights ago. And we’re shooting more this weekend and we’ll have a total of ten.
That’s a lot of work!
It is, but it’s fast and it’s fun and it’s crazy. I love it.
Seems like nothing bothers you, or can really derail you. And obviously your early improv training helps!
It does. Imporov training was probably the best training I had for life. I did a Home Shopping show, many years ago, when it was brand new, like in the late ‘80s, and I was very young. They didn’t tell you what to say, they just threw up a product and you had a list of the attributes of that product were - and you had to riff on it for twenty minutes! I learned so much, doing that. Then, after that, I auditioned for Second City in Chicago. You do, you really learn to roll with it, as indeed, as I roll with things in life, too. It’s very rare that something stops me and makes me throw a fit.
Including hosting the Emmys.
Exactly, yeah! But I must say, if I were to do it over again, I’d be much more relaxed. I was very nervous for that.
Well, that’s a huge deal.
It is a big deal, and I think that if I were to do it again, I’d be more relaxed. Because I understand what it is, I know what the function is, and once you understand that, it’s smooth sailing.
You might as well go for the Academy Awards next time!
Haha, well, we’ll see…
Speaking of movies, I do want to ask you about working with Christopher Guest. He also has a big background in comedy. Is it true that your introduction to him was because of a cereal ad?
It’s true! Yeah, I was doing commercials and I showed up for a call-back and the director was there and it was Christopher Guest. He cast me in a Frosted Flakes commercial and then shortly after, [in 2000] he invited me to do “Best Of Show.”
You are perfect in his ensemble comedies.
Well that’s my favorite way to work; I love ensemble.
Does he just go, “Ok, do whatever you feel” or is he strict on set? What’s his style of direction?
Yes, he’s exactly that. He’s not a task-master at all, in terms of telling us what to do. As he says, he hires people because he knows they’ll show up and do it. He gives very little direction, he just rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls. They’re long takes, but only a few, and we’re done very quickly. Then he goes into the darkness of his editing room and he puts together a piece of magic.
How does he differ from working with Judd Apatow?
Well, there’s more a script with the Judd stuff, but for “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” we improvised so much! He was really fun. The only difference, really, between the two of them, is that personality-wise, they are different guys, but I loved working for both of them.
You’ve done a lot of charity work in the past. What causes are you working on these days?
I’ve kind of stepped back from being involved in, especially, political things. I just don’t see the point in it right now. I think the best way to affect change in the world is affect change in yourself. When you’re walking through the world, and you’re living from your own authenticity, I think that’s much more powerful. I’ve really cut down on things, including clutter. And I’m driving a tiny little car now. Everything’s just become so much more down to the bone and I’m so much happier.
You seem very happy and very relaxed.
Thank you, I am a happy girl! I was talking with a friend last night, too, about how happy we are. I said, “I’m not circumstantially happy.” I’m not happy because of this, that or the other thing, I’m just happy. Which is a great thing, because if you take away this, that or the other thing, I’m still gonna be happy!
That’s so healthy, and so rare these days.
I think it’s kinda what we’ve gotta do. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last, probably, two or three years.
Right, because otherwise life will dwindle down into misery, and who wants that?
Exactly. Misery and clutter. You’ll have a lot of things, but you won’t know what to do with them!
Of course you’re coming to Atlanta with the show and you’ve worked in Atlanta before. Didn’t you shoot some of “The Three Stooges” in Atlanta?
Yeah, everything I shot for it was in Atlanta, in the heat of the summer, in a nun’s habit!
Did you have time to see much of the city?
Not really because I was working. But I love it. I stayed at the Four Seasons, so it was downtown. I did a lot of walking around and it was great. I kept looking for the center of town and, like in L.A., there is none! I was like, “Where is the center of town?”
Symphony Hall is pretty close. It’s a great venue and when you’re there, it’ll be the center of town.
Oh, good. I can’t wait!
Jane Lynch’s “See Jane Sing” is Saturday, March 28 at 8 pm at Symphony Hall. For tickets and info, visit atlantasymphony.org.