Bob Dylan famously bucked at the notion of being the voice of his generation. He was simply a song and dance man, the eternally grouchy singer-songwriter would tell reporters, not an icon or a prophet. To this day, Dylan’s message is clear: Find your own voice. I’m not it.
Janeane Garofalo is not Bob Dylan. But, like Dylan, she was once saddled with the baggage of being a representative of an entire generation—in this case, “Generation X.” It was a generation defined by, among other things, a beyond-its-years streak of cynicism and a penchant to “slack.” Garofalo embodied those qualities perfectly. There she was—witty, verbose, hilariously world-weary—in ’90s-defining classics like The Ben Stiller Show, Reality Bites, and Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion. There she was in 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, keeping the flame alive. There she was in…well, not a whole lot any more.
“I don’t have what it takes to get it done,” Garofalo said Tuesday night at Turner Hall of her erratic current career. “It was a fluke to begin with!”
It wouldn’t be the only self-deprecating moment from her winding, digressive, and seemingly stream-of-consciousness 90-minute set. It was a set that touched on topics like hoarders, the specific outfits politicians wear when they’re assessing natural disasters (khaki pants, short sleeves), fat babies, smoking, the Puppy Bowl, The Walking Dead as a documentary of Atlanta, gluten intolerance, Charles Nelson Reilly, finding porn in the woods, a “Weird Al” book signing at Barnes & Noble, and an untold number of others. “I’m not a strong joke writer,” she said upfront, explaining her rambling and reading-from-a-notebook approach to comedy. “Sorry for the ticket price.”
There was no need to apologize. Garofalo’s stammering delivery and unconventional stage presence—she sat and knelt almost as often as she stood, and at one point milled through the crowd—more than covered for her lack of polish. Still, there were plenty of good old-fashioned, capital-C comedy bits sprinkled throughout the night. A section on casually slipping Taco Bell’s “Think outside the bun” slogan into everyday conversation went over big, and an explanation of how to best handle an unexpected intervention from friends and strangers was both personally observed and hilarious (“Just help them set up chairs for the letter-reading portion.”) Garofalo’s well-documented liberal political views got plenty of play, too, including a scathing joke that compared Republicans who identify as Libertarians to people who claim Native American ancestry (“So exotic!”)
“I’m 51 years old,” Garofalo said at one point, noting that she was now a member of the AARP. It was a jarring moment—Janeane Garofalo is 51?!—but a good reminder of just how much time has passed since her days as an unwitting Gen X icon. The Janeane Garofalo of 2015, however, was just as memorable and just as vital. There she was—still witty, still verbose, still hilariously world-weary—the voice of no one but herself.