Janeane Garofalo

On this date in 1964, actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo was born into a conservative family in Newton, N.J. Her family relocated to Houston when she was in high school. She majored in history at Providence College, where she quickly shed her parents' politics. While a college student, Garofalo entered a Showtime-sponsored comedy talent search and won the title of "Funniest Person in Rhode Island." After college she became a standup comedian. To make ends meet she worked briefly as a bike messenger in Boston.

Garofalo's breakthrough came when she befriended actor/comedian Ben Stiller in 1992 and joined the cast of his acclaimed sketch comedy program, "The Ben Stiller Show." She starred in the 1994 Stiller film "Reality Bites" and was nominated for an Emmy in 1996 for her role on Gary Shandling's HBO series "The Larry Sanders Show." She briefly joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 1994 and worked as a correspondent on Michael Moore's news magazine "TV Nation."

Garofalo appeared in or starred in films such as, "Now and Then" (1995), "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" (1996), "Larger Than Life" (1996), "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion" (1997), "The Matchmaker" (1997), "Cop Land" (1997) and "Dogma" (1999), a film satirizing religion. She starred with Joaquin Phoenix and Vince Vaughan in 1998's "Clay Pigeons" and worked again with Stiller in "Permanent Midnight" (1998) and "Mystery Men" (1999).

In addition to her extensive acting and comedy career, Garofalo has been an outspoken critic of religion. Calling herself an atheist on the Air America radio show "The Majority Report," Garofalo became a favorite of the left and a target of right-wing criticism. She helped launch Air America and has been a guest on Freethought Radio. Also a noted peace activist, Garofalo has said, "[God] just seems very man-made to me. There are so many theories, and not everyone can be right. It's human nature to need a religious crutch, and I don't begrudge anyone that. I just don't need one." ("Showbiz," Aug. 1995.)

Garofalo's celebrity grew with appearances on the final season of "The West Wing" (2005-06), the series finale of "Mad About You" (1999), the voice of Stith on "Titan A.E." (2000), the voice of Colette in "Ratatouille" (2007) and a recurrent role in the 2009 season of "24." Garofalo received an FFRF Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2001 for "telling it like it is" about religion and in 2007 became a Lifetime member of the Foundation.

Garafalo in 2014. Edwin Torres photo, CC 2.0.

"Organized religions and their dogmas only serve to indoctrinate the participants into sheeplike common behaviors. This type of blind assimilation promotes the popularity of top-forty count down radio stations and movie sequels. Skepticism towards groups, holy or otherwise, is enriching and makes you a far more entertaining person." 

—"Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction" by Janeane Garofalo and Ben Stiller (1999)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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