You’ve seen and enjoyed Jane Lynch; you just might not know Jane Lynch. A regular in the ensemble of Christopher Guest’s comedy films, she’s also played a “shrink” on CBS’ Two and Half Men and had a recurring role in Showtime’s The L Word. On Sunday, June 3, Lynch will appear in “What a Pair,” a benefit for breast cancer research at the John Wayne Center at Saint John’s to be held at the Orpheum Theater. Over a cup of coffee, the Mirror’s Steve Stajich talked to Lynch about acting and being a female comedy performer.
It’s tough times for TV comedy right now. What’s on that you like or think is funny?
I think that The Office is brilliant. I read the pilot for My Name is Earl and that was a fantastic, dark, quirky pilot and [now] it’s not so dark and quirky.
Is it difficult to sustain more interesting tones in television series?
I think so, because the audience doesn’t want it. The people who watch network TV don’t really want – they want… They don’t want to think too hard. And that’s why Arrested Development went away and it was one of the smartest things on television.
You have a long list of credits; you play a wide variety of roles. Does that condemn you in some way to being one of those “Oh, it’s her…” kind of actors where people don’t quite know who you are?
That’s all right, I don’t mind that. What I’m concerned about right now is that I’ve done almost every kind of television show! I’ve done a lot of guest spots. But I like it all. I did a thing yesterday for a friend where I wasn’t even sure what the thing was. He says, “Oh, it’s a show demo.” I kind of show up and do it.
Certainly the Christopher Guest movies have a more subtle kind of comedy than, say, an Adam Sandler movie. Is subtle comedy an endangered species?
I don’t know. I don’t think it will go away, the more subtle, understated stuff. But it’s never been the most popular, and the people who love it, like the audience that loves it, feel like they’re a special group of people. Like if somebody says to me, “I love the Christopher Guest movies…” we kind of wink at each other like, “Yeah…” Like we’re in a special club. It’s never been big in [our] pop culture, like in England. They allow the laugh to be just a chuckle. They maybe let the writing not be so great, but the characters are so wonderful.
You’ve played shrinks on several TV series. Any personal attraction to that?
I am kind of fascinated, I’ve been in therapy. And especially with one therapist, who was so colorful and had so little [trouble] with her own issues. And I always found that interesting, and I hope I bring that to the more comedic [role]… like in Two and Half Men, she’s probably the most messed up person in the room. But she has such a sense of self and self-confidence, you know? [laughs] I mean, what kind of a patient would you have to be to go to Dr. Laura? If you’re going to her for help…
Is there any kind of glass ceiling for female comedy? There seems to be an ongoing sense that men–
They get the good stuff.
But for example, there’s no female Judd Apatow… is there?
Very rarely. Like an equivalent of him. I think…Judd has all this confidence and he’s so good just making something out of nothing. Women need to do that, too. And they’ll come along. It’s not like it’s, “Oh, we can’t do this.” I think we have to kind of step out. It’s just harder for us. It’s not our nature so much. It might not be the easiest thing to get a meeting. And I don’t know who’s measuring these things, but male “stuff” does better, even in drama. So it’s kind of in the nature of Hollywood, and I’d love to see a change. I don’t know if I’m the one to do it, if I have that kind of confidence. But if there’s some chick out there, I’ll ride on her coattails.
They’re not interested in taking those meetings. I just pitched an all female sketch comedy show. And we got meetings because of [male partner on project], but really, nobody was that interested. I think it’s just because it hasn’t been offered. Again, you look at England and those girls on Absolutely Fabulous were the two most popular [TV comics] in England.
The L Word was never really attacked from the right or threatened with boycotts like you might have thought. What’s your take on that?
Yeah, that’s interesting because I know Megan Mullally of Will and Grace and they told her and the cast in the beginning, “Be prepared for an onslaught from the right wing,” and then it never happened. And it didn’t happen with The L Word either, and it has nudity and sex scenes. Maybe this anti-gay, anti-woman thing isn’t as strong as we think. I tend to think that if the networks allow more women-based shows, and I don’t mean exclusionary, but allowed women to take the helm more, I think you’d be surprised how well the audience takes to it.
You have so much variety in your roles… is there any criteria for you before you’ll take a role?
It must be offered. [laughs] No, it depends on the writing. I’ve not done things because the writing was bad, if it’s gratuitous. But I’ve been really lucky. Everything that I get offered or audition for is good.
After so much comedy do you have a yearning to do, say, a serious play?
I haven’t yet had a “yearning.” I’m so enjoying what I’m doing right now. I really am, I dig it so much. Every time I work, a different muscle gets flexed and I feel like I’m growing. I’m in a really good place right now. However, I did do a character arc on Criminal Minds and I played the mother of one of the regulars and I’m in an insane asylum. And it was pretty heavy stuff and I loved it.
Are commercials a good situation for actors?
I’ve done a lot of commercials. I really don’t think you register in commercials. That’s been my experience. Unless you’re in a role where you get to show some chops. A funny or “cult-y” commercial. I don’t think network execs go, “Hey, that’s the DiTech guy…”
Ever think about what the actual product was?
No. I never thought about that. I was not a principled commercial actor, not at all. [laughs] You’re jumping up and down when you get the job. You’re just trying to get your SAG insurance and make a living. I have no principles, if that’s what you’re asking. [laughs] I did turn down an adult diaper ad. Bladder, what d’ya call it. I would have been sitting in an airplane seat, needing to go. I didn’t want my public to see me in that light.
“What a Pair,” a concert of women’s duets to benefit breast cancer research, is Sunday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater in LA. In addition to Jane Lynch, over 30 female actors and singers are scheduled to perform. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster, 213.480.3232 or ticketmaster.com.