RiffWiki: So to start off with, tell us a bit about your background, who you are, where you come from and what the hell you've been doing with your dang life.Janet Varney: I like to get REALLY detailed about all of this stuff, so I hope you have 17 or 18 hours to spare. Also, I enjoy that you used the words “hell” and “dang” in one sentence. That tells me you like to live on the edge, but not too much.
I’m originally from Tucson, Arizona. I lived in San Francisco for about 10 years. I have funny and weird and great parents. I have one of those books that parents use to keep old report cards, drawings, etc. from each grade of school, that kids fill in with names of their teachers, friends, hobbies, etc. Each year ends with the statement “When I grow up I want to be a _____________.” Common answers through the years from me were: “Bike Ridr [sic],” “Actor” and “Roc Star [sic].” I ditched the Roc Star part and, except for a GIANT gap of 10 years in my late teens-twenties where I avidly pursued a career in interior design and merchandising (I’m 100% serious), I guess I’ve stayed true to those goals.
RW: What was it that made you want to become a writer and performer of funny things?Janet Varney: My dad. The Muppets. Steve Martin. Lily Tomlin. Albert Brooks. Laraine Newman. The Kids in the Hall. But it really took my post-college friends Gabe Diani, David Owen and Cole Stratton almost physically forcing me to do it for it to finally happen.
RW: How has being on television affected your life? A lot of people tend to lament their loss of anonymity. Do people recognize you on the street or anything like that?
Janet Varney: Just enough that it never feels anything but delightful. My friends who are wildly famous have a bit of a rougher go of it, I think. Anonymity is truly great. My friend Dave Goelz has the best job in the world, and nobody ever runs at him with a camera or a stack of photos to sign and hawk on eBay. Unless he’s doing a very specific Gonzo-related event.
RW: Another thing people always like to talk about is how different working on film is from working on television. I have always questioned the validity of such differences, but now I'm talking to somebody who might actually know. Is there a huge difference, or is it just an urban legend like alligators in the toilet or Elvis driving a Greyhound?Janet Varney: In my limited experience, I can’t say there are that many differences in the day-to-day of working in film vs. single-camera television. Obviously multi-cam in front of a live audience is definitely very different. With a high film budget, productions can take their time on how many shots they need to cover in a day but, (laughs) I’m usually on shoestring budget movies so the pace is as fast and furious as is most television I do. When I do bigger budget films or television shows, getting to do more than 4 takes starts to make me think I’m tanking the scene!
RW: Do you have any specific recollections of how you first became exposed to MST3K and the whole concept of movie riffing?Janet Varney: Found it on cable as a teen and fell in love. I assume I’m like other every fan of the show— from the moment I saw the first episode, I thought “They made this for ME! These are my people!”
RW: Same question, only with RiffTrax .
Janet Varney: We found out about Rifftrax through Mike, Bill and Kevin when we’d had them out to SF Sketchfest. That it resulted in me being any kind of a part of Rifftrax my own self is still a wonder to me! And a joy!RW: Our interview with Cole Stratton tells the story of how you guys were approached to be part of the RiffTrax Presents brand. Is there anything you want to recap or add to any of that?
Janet Varney: I can’t remember- did Cole mention that we threatened Mike’s life if he didn't bring us aboard?
RW: He did not. Your partnership with Cole Stratton is something of a legend in the riffing world. How did the two of you come across each other, and how has RiffTrax Presents contributed to your collaborative efforts?
Janet Varney: Did Cole tell you this already? We met through a mutual friend just after college when said friend decided to try and assemble a sketch group. That friend ended up leaving the group and ultimately we became Totally False People, comprised of Gabriel Diani, David Owen, Cole Stratton and me (see above answer about me in comedy). Cole became on of my best friends and making him laugh is one of my favorite things. Our car trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco for Sketchfest-related stuff are a legend of their own within the confines of our friendship. We have come up with so many ridiculous lists of things like Fake Band Names and Fake Songs, it’s kind of sad.
RW: RiffTrax has done a lot to expand the platform of movie riffing, and one of them was creating the RiffTrax Presents brand and another was creating the concept of iRiffing. This expansion has led to so many movies that would not otherwise have been riffed to enter the "riffing canon." What contributions have you made do you think will ultimately become your "riffing legacy?"Janet Varney: Oh heavens, I don’t know. This is the first I’m hearing that I’ll even HAVE “riffing legacy.” I love all the movies Cole and I have riffed. As if they were my children. My enjoyable-but-easy-to-make-fun-of children.
RW: Is there a particular movie that you would like to riff one day, but haven't gotten to yet?
Janet Varney: The one we’re working on now is actually one I feared we’d never do, so I’m particularly excited about it but can’t say what it is!RW: And if you could force Mike, Kevin and Bill to riff a single movie of your choosing, which would it be and why?
Janet Varney: I like the idea of forcing Mike, Kevin and Bill to do something. Does it have to be riffing a movie? Could it be forcing them to re-live our night of karaoke in San Francisco when Mike belted out a woman’s ballad in a baritone so deep it made the drink glasses rattle?
RW: Thanks so much for talking to us today. If there's anything you want to plug or somebody you want to viciously insult using some very unladylike slurs, feel free to do so here. You're the best.
Janet Varney: YOU are! I refer people to my podcast, The JV Club , as well as the shows I am very honored to be a part of: The Thrilling Adventure Hour , The Legend of Korra , and You’re the Worst . And come hang out with Cole and me at SF Sketchfest!