Full disclosure: I've had a crush on comedian Janeane Garofalo for the better part of the last two decades. Since first taking notice of her during her stint on the short-lived sketch comedy The Ben Stiller Show, I've been taken with her acerbic, self-deprecating sense of humor, her often long-winded, circuitous speech patterns and, yes, her diminutive physical beauty (I wish I was above it, but I am not). Her first HBO stand-up special, broadcast in 1997 at what could be considered the peak of my affection for her, is one that I've seen at least a dozen times. But Garofalo has been less visible as a comedian since then (on TV, anyway; she still performs live and has toured), focusing more on TV and movie acting. So it was with no small amount of excitement that I sat down to watch If You Will, her first comedy special in 13 years.
Recorded live in Seattle in 2010, If You Will actually finds Garofalo pretty much unchanged, save for several tattoos that now adorn her ripped arms. That's both a positive and a negative, actually; I was comforted to find the same Garofalo I've always known and loved, but I would be lying if I said it seemed like she's evolved a great deal as a comedian. That's not really even a criticism, as Garofalo pretty much defined a specific kind of comedy in the 1990s. Actually, it could be argued she defined an entire pop culture character: the small, sarcastic, funny girl with the horn-rimmed glasses -- she's Daria made flesh.
If You Will finds Garofalo not so much grown up as it does 15 years older. She's still focusing on many of the same obsessions: religion, politics, popular culture and her own inability to function properly in a romantic relationship (the fact that she's been in a 10-year relationship with the same man doesn't stop her from mining a lot of this same territory, with very funny results). Garofalo's style as a comic hasn't changed much, either; it's still almost totally free-form, with the comic working from a notepad she keeps beside her and taking tangent after tangent. Her comedy is smart and literate enough (littered with five-dollar words and references, kind of like Dennis Miller without the right-wing arrogance) to make every tangent seem rehearsed, making the stuff that's prepared and the stuff that's improvised indistinguishable from each other. She doesn't tell jokes, per se; she never has. Her comedy plays like one long, sometimes rambling one-sided conversation in which she constantly puts herself down in amusing ways and apologizes for, well, just about everything. If You Will doesn't really contain any material that Garofalo just had to get on record to be preserved for decades to come. It's more of a snapshot of who and where she is in 2010. I'm on record as being a fan, so I'll take it.
The special isn't likely to make her any new fans, though, and that's ok. Garofalo isn't really the kind of comic who's going to win people over with her act. Her politics aside (which many people are unable to overlook; she inspires more animosity than a lot of other comics, I suspect because she's a) outspoken, b) political and c) female), the style of comedy that Garofalo has created (what was once referred to as "alternative" comedy) is such that you're either in tune with her sensibilities or you aren't. The content of her comedy isn't going to make a difference if you don't dig the approach, and there are a lot of people who probably don't. I, on the other hand, have always been a huge supporter of Janeane Garofalo, and if you, like me, are a fan, there's every likelihood that you'll have a good time with If You Will. My boyhood crush aside, Garofalo's a smart, funny comic with a singular voice and style. She's one of a kind -- or, at least, the first of her kind. It's good to have her back.
DVD and Blu-ray Details
- Release Date: 9/14/10
- Running Time: 63 minutes
- Studio: Image Entertainment
- 1.78:1 Widescreen/1080p HD (Blu-ray)
- Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
DVD and Blu-ray Bonus Features
- Bonus Video: Pets
- Bonus Video: Representative Richard Martin