Tuesday 31 August 2010 | By Andy Malt
Jennifer Coolidge: Yours for the fringe
ThreeWeeks’ Andy Malt caught up with Hollywood actress Jennifer Coolidge, ahead of her first Edinburgh show to discuss her move into stand-up.
Having made her television acting debut in a 1993 episode of ‘Seinfeld’, Jennifer Coolidge has gone on to become a regular face in US TV and film, appearing in movies such as ‘Legally Blonde’, Christopher Guest’s improvised mockumentaries ‘Best In Show’, ‘A Mighty Wind’, and ‘For Your Consideration’, Werner Herzog’s remake of ‘Bad Lieutenant’, and the ‘American Pie’ series, in which she played the role she is most recognised for, Stifler’s Mom.
Prior to moving into screen acting, Coolidge made her name as a member of LA-based improv group The Groundlings, which also launched the careers of such familiar faces as Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow and Conan O’Brien. So, she is not without experience of live comedy performance. But now in her late 40s and with continued success on screens big and small, now still seems like an unusual time to move into stand-up.
“It’s just a strange experiment”, she explained on the phone from LA. Last summer while on holiday in Cape Cod, she decided to try performing some stories and ideas she’d been working on. “I was reading out of a notebook on stage, and it wasn’t that interesting”, she continued. “But afterwards I got a phone call to come and do it somewhere else, and then another place and another. I don’t know why, it’s just stories strung together about my experiences in Hollywood, boyfriends, being single, sex”.
The calls kept coming and she continued to accept the offers. Almost by accident, it seems, she became a stand-up comedian.
“I don’t think I would have pursued it if people hadn’t kept asking me”, she admitted. “Because the first times I did it, it wasn’t very good. In the beginning I had no idea, I could barely look up from my notebook, but I kept getting offers and next thing I know I started going round the United States”.
She quickly found that it was something she really enjoyed, a significant change from her normal life. The travelling, she conceded, can be very hard going, especially as she often goes straight from a gig to an airport to a film studio. But the whole experience has been eye-opening.
“It’s fun leaving Hollywood”, she said. “My life changed drastically since I started doing this. It’s incredibly refreshing because I wasn’t just meeting people in ‘the business’. When you’re an LA actress it can be quite an isolated life, you just hang out with your own kind. Now after shows I’m hanging out with out with firemen and all kinds of different people”.
She added, “I’ve been doing mostly television and movie jobs for the last twenty years and, except for the Christopher Guest stuff, you show up and do someone else’s thing. It’s nice to be able to say what you think and express your own opinion”.
That first show was just a year ago, and when we spoke Coolidge was preparing for her first trip to the Edinburgh Festival, with a full month-long run of shows ahead of her. Was this a daunting prospect, I wondered.
“Edinburgh could be really daunting, yeah”, she said in the most undaunted voice imaginable. “I would love for it to be well-received, but it’s not like I’ve been working on this for 25 years and it’s been my life’s goal. I’ve always wanted to go to Edinburgh, it sounds like a really fun time. If it goes terribly, there’s still some fun to be had, the show is only an hour of my day, after all”.
“Why, do you think I should be daunted?” She asked, after a pause.
In all honesty, the answer was no. Throughout our conversation, Coolidge was disarmingly friendly and engaging, it’s hard to imagine any audience not instantly warming to her. But with such a wide range of comedy movies under her belt, what kind of audience does she find she attracts, and does she meet their expectations?
“I don’t know what people would expect”, she confessed. “I have done the show in certain cities where people have thought I’d be doing scenes from ‘Legally Blonde’, and are shocked that the show is a bit filthy”.
As for who she attracts, she continued, “The show’s audience is an incredibly strange mixture. Young guys show up for ‘American Pie’, then the female factor is there for ‘Legally Blonde’, there’s an older group – people above 30 all know the Christopher Guest films – and then there’s sort of a black audience because of ‘Pootie Tang'”.
Speaking of expectations, finally I ask what she hopes for from her first jaunt to the Fringe. “I’m gonna crash all the shows”, she announced excitedly. “I have other friends over there, plus there’s a million acts I don’t know”.
“How many shows are there?” She quickly shot back. Roughly 2000, I estimate. “Wow”, Coolidge says. “I hope I get to see all 2000!”
Jennifer Coolidge’s show ‘Yours For The Night’ was performed at Assembly during Fringe 2010.
Photo: Kate Edwards