Janet VarneyÂ is a comedian, actor, writer and producer; she starred in Stan Against Evil as well as You’re the Worst, Entourage and many more. This October Janet will be joining Dana Gould at the Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival for their live reading of Plan 9.Â
I got to chat with Janet about the project which you can check out below.
What made you want to be a part of the Plan 9 live stage reading?
I would counter that question and say I would be a fool not to want to be a part of the Plan 9 stage reading (laughs); itâs such an extraordinary group of people including some of my comedy heroes. The show has so far been in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. From the very first show Dana Gould reached out to me asking if I wanted to be a part of it; he wasnât sure whether I was familiar with Plan 9 or not but I absolutely was. Itâs just one of those movies thatâs just so uniquely and adorably bad. It never got old for me; I understand there are other movies like that people swear by and they love like The Room. I have only seen bits of The Room and it doesnât quite do for me what Plan 9 does which is the passion that Ed Wood had; his wonderful brain is so present throughout this script and film. As absurd and just baffling as some of his decisions were (laughs) thereâs something so wonderful about it that I feel very affectionate towards it. I donât feel contemptuous about it at all; I feel only affection towards it. Dana who Iâve worked with for many years is just one of the funniest people Iâve ever known and he has written this kind of narrative that goes over the top in explaining and describing what would be seen if you were watching the film. The way he has written that is hilarious. So we have these multi-layered things going on; weâve got the performers interpreting their roles, narration thatâs depicting and reminding people Â âthis is the part where the tiny UFO hanging from a string is dangling around and moving around like a very bad modelâ and then we have the script itself which is funny in its own right. I think there are a lot of laughs; some of which Ed Wood intended and many he did not.
How did you find reconnecting with Dana Gould again? Is it like family coming together?
Absolutely! He is so wonderful to work with; he is so generous. Dana is not only an extraordinary stand up comedian but he is a huge collaborator; he brings that problem solving mentality into working on a project like this or Stan Against Evil. He is always saying âI want the best people for all the jobs and I want to be able to defer to all of them and have them collaborate and bring their energy to it. Then weâll have a great product by the end”. He is a team player through and through.
Do you get to do improv with this show or do you stick to the script?
We definitely stick to the script because there is so much in there thatâs delicious; I think improv comes in with the cast interpretation of the roles. I play Paula and she has a lot of statements that are less than feminist and so my interpretation of that might be to make it kind of ironic or play it so over the top that itâs clear we are winking at the audience with it. Then all of these moments come out which are kind of improv but itâs more natural dialogue in a meta way where we discuss what just happened. Sometimes things just happen like you get up from your chair to walk to the microphone and your script pages fall out! Rather than move past those moments we like to react to them because Plan 9 itself is such a weird mess that I think when messy things happen during the live stage read it just contributes to the overall vibe of the show. People love being in on that stuff so thereâs the improvisation coming out of life just happening if that makes sense.
Any moments when performing live where where itâs hard to stay in character and not laugh?
I donât think I ever stay in character, I have to say (laughs) but itâs very true. I have this seriously loud guffaw which Iâve been called out for many times and I really have to try and keep quiet so I donât laugh over peopleâs lines. It tends to be when someone is doing a scene at the microphone where the rest of us who are not doing a scene are just sitting in a chair in the background just watching; thatâs when I become the naughtiest member and donât even try to hide it. Itâs such a celebration of comedy that I feel free to watch my fellow cast members performing just as an audience member does.
Do you remember your initial reaction when you saw Plan 9 for the first time?
I just laughed my ass off, frankly. Iâm pretty sure I came to it through the kind of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 world which was something where we watch a movie with some other class clowns in the room and make snarky remarks. That already got my brain thinking in that way if that makes sense so when I started writing for Riff Trax a few years later itâs so hard not to hear jokes in my head. I think so much of my first experience has been preserved miraculously somehow every time we do a reading of it. For some reason I never stop being surprised and confused and made to laugh by Ed Woodâs âmasterpieceâ. I never grow tired of it and I just donât understand that and frankly Iâm kind of baffled by it. When somethingâs not great in the conventional sense you maybe laugh at it once but you donât want that hour and a half of your life eaten up again by this thing thatâs not great. That doesnât happen with this and it stays fresh to me. It still makes me laugh every time and I donât know what that secret recipe is.
How challenging is it to keep the humour fresh every time you do the show?
I donât know why but itâs not a problem at all (laughs)! I think itâs because the audience are so lively and great. There just manages to be a laugh every minute or so and it depends on the audience reaction. There can be some lines which some audiences will react to and other lines which another audience will react to. Weâve also had different people interpreting different roles in different ways keeps things fresh. Itâs shocking how different interpretations can be from different people.
What do you want audiences to take from it?
I think just to giggle; I mean it is so silly and nobody is asking you toÂ interpret anything from a political bent. Itâs really just about the silliness with smart people making silly jokes so for some reason that does it for me. The biggest compliment I can say is at times Iâll be laughing so hard and Iâll say âThatâs so stupid! (laughs)â. I think there are a lot of those kinds of moments which is just so stupid but itâs done so artfully where it manages to just make you laugh so hard. Itâs a very spirited, very fun getting together which kind of feels like a part in a weird way.