David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, The Larry Sanders Show, Reality Bites
Born Sept. 26, 1964 in Newton, NJ, Garofalo's parents both worked in the oil industry, which forced the family to relocate frequently during her adolescence. She developed an interest in comedy at an early age, drawing inspiration from "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993), which she hoped to write for one day. After graduating from high school in Katy, TX, she studied history at Providence College in Rhode Island. At that same time, she entered a comedy contest sponsored by the Showtime Network, where she surprisingly took top prize. After graduating from college, an invigorated Garofalo began making the rounds at comedy clubs. Like many comics, her early years were challenging, so she frequently worked at odd jobs - including bicycle messenger and shoe salesman - to make ends meet between engagements.
Eventually, Garofalo's humor - cutting, dark, politically and socially savvy, refreshingly different from the typical "women's issues" female stand-ups - developed a following - enough that film and television began to beckon. She soon appeared on several TV comedy specials and marked her film debut with a small role in the obscure science fiction drama "Late for Dinner" (1991), by cult filmmaker W.D. Richter. In 1992, Garofalo joined the cast of "The Ben Stiller Show" (Fox, 1992-93), a hip and very funny sketch comedy series based around the parody skills of its star. Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, the show was largely abandoned by its network, and fizzled after just 13 episodes. Stiller and Garofalo remained friends after the show's demise, working together on several projects, including a hardcover parody of self-help guides called Feel This Book.
Garofalo next jumped to "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-97), Garry Shandling's much-lauded comedy series about the behind-the-scenes workings at a long-running late night talk show. As Paula, Garofalo honed her sharp-tongued, fast-thinking Gal Friday persona, earning critical acclaim as well as two Emmy nominations in 1996 and 1997. For a brief stint during this period, Garofalo was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975-) from 1994-95, but found the experience distasteful due to rancor between the writing staff and performers like herself and Jay Mohr, who hoped to bring their own comic abilities to the ailing program. Garofalo quit the show after a season, returning to regular appearances on "Sanders." After "Sanders" and "Stiller," her most memorable television appearance was the grown Mabel, child of Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser's characters on the series finale of "Mad About You" (NBC, 1992-99).
After "Saturday Night Live," Garofalo bounced frequently between movies and television, with hit-and-miss results. "Reality Bites" (1994), directed by Stiller, was an attempt to compartmentalize the 1990s youth culture into a wan love story, but her turn as an off-kilter sidekick to Winona Ryder offered some of the film's few bright spots. Other movies, like "Now and Then" (1995), "Bye Bye Love" (1995), and "Sweethearts" (1996), were largely ignored by audiences. She fared slightly better in comedies like Stiller's "The Cable Guy" (1996) - in which she had a brief role as a waitress at a medieval-themed restaurant - the Bill Murray picture "Larger than Life" (1996), and "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" (1996), which gave her a rare lead role. She reportedly found the latter film unpleasant due to its trite romantic storyline, but Garofalo gave a charming performance all the same. She also scored as a bitter former high schooler-turned-bitter adult in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" (1997). Interestingly, Garofalo turned down two projects which went on to be colossal hits - Wes Craven's "Scream" (1996), and "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004). She was also considered for Renee Zellweger's role in "Jerry Maguire" (1996), but asked to lose weight for the part. Sadly, after completing the request, she discovered that the role had gone to Zellweger.
For the rest of the nineties, Garofalo marked time in less-than-inspired films, while touring frequently on the comedy circuit. Among the better pictures during this period was "Cop Land" (1997), in which she gave a straight dramatic performance as a police officer, and Kevin Smith's "Dogma" (1999), for which she played Linda Fiorentino's co-worker at an abortion clinic. Both genres showed a knack for playing more than just the oddball character, and she continued to display these talents in interesting, independent-minded fare like HBO's "The Laramie Project" (2001) and "Wonderland" (2003). Garofalo also enjoyed lead billing in the very funny "Wet Hot American Summer" (2001), a silly parody of summer camp movies that also starred Paul Rudd, David Hyde Pierce and Amy Poehler.
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the ever outspoken patriot began to bring more of a political edge to her stand-up and interviews, and over the next few years, commented frequently in the media on George W. Bush's administration and the growing war in Iraq. Her "tells-it-as-she-sees-it" attitude made her a target of conservative pundits and talk show hosts, but earned her considerable respect from left-leaning publications and media groups. In 2004, she joined the on-air talent at Air America, where she co-hosted the program "The Minority Report" with comedian and writer Sam Seder. Her tenure on the program was brief and occasionally controversial. On more than one occasion, her views clashed sharply with Seder's, and the latter left the studio after one angry debate. Garofalo left the network in 2006 on good terms with Seder, and continued to contribute to the show on infrequent occasions until his program ended in 2007.
Garofalo continued to act during her stint on radio, most notably on the final season of "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), where she played a flinty campaign advisor to Jimmy Smits' Democratic Presidential nominee. She also filmed a number of failed pilots for television, most notably "Deal" (2005), which was based on the life of poker champion Annie Duke. She also did impressive work as the embittered ex-wife of alcoholic David Schwimmer in "Duane Hopwood" (2005), and lent her voice to several animated projects, including "The Wild" (2005) and Pixar's "Ratatouille" (2007). In 2007, she embarked on a national comedy tour with that film's lead voice, Patton Oswalt.
In 2007, Garofalo returned to editorializing as part of IFC's "The Henry Rollins Show" (2006- ). She contributed monologues on political and social subjects that were filmed in her apartment in New York.