Actress Jane Lynch returned to her roots in Illinois to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to comedy. She appeared at Second City to discuss her accomplishments at the opening reception for the Chicago Comedy Film Festival.
What a career the Evergreen Park native has had. After graduating from Illinois State University, she spent 15 years at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She joined Second City and landed a part playing Carol Brady in Annoyance Theater's The Real Live Brady Bunch.
The out actress became a regular on Christopher Guest's movies, including Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration and, most recently, in Mascots.
Glee made her a household name, as she played Sue Sylvester on the hit television show. Lynch then took on Broadway with Annie and now hosts NBC's Hollywood Game Night, currently in its fifth season this fall. Her most recent project is the CD A Swingin' Little Christmas!, which has her collaborating with Kate Flannery and Tim Davis.
Windy City Times: What brings you into town?
Jane Lynch: I did a short film with writer Carol Leifer called Writer's Block. It was selected for the Chicago Comedy Festival. It turns out I am getting a Lifetime Achievement Award. I just had a Q&A with the Second City kids.
WCT: What is the plot of Writer's Block?
JL: It is the story of a pop song writer, kind of like Diane Warren. She is very popular and very successful. She suddenly loses her mojo and has writer's block. It is a short so it gets kind of weird. She becomes inspired by a bird that is whistling a tune. The bird keeps coming up with beautiful melodies. She builds a house for the bird where it stays.
Everyone is loving her music and she is selling records. Then the bird flies away…
WCT: Oh, no!
JL: Yes, and she gets writer's block again. Barbra Streisand wants a song and it's not good. I couldn't find the bird! I was agonizing over it, sitting on my beautiful wrap around porch, and I hear, "Ribbit." A person calls and says, "You know what? A young Barry White needs a song!"
WCT: Talk about your new holiday album.
JL: It's called A Swingin' Little Christmas! It is 15 songs with 10 that you will recognize; five were written by Tony Guerrero, he is the band leader of The Tony Guerrero Quintet. Kate Flannery, she played Meredith the drunk on The Office, sings with me, and also this guy named Tim Davis, he was the vocal arranger on Glee. We had been performing in this great cabaret show that we loved doing with tight three part harmonies. We decided in April to do a Christmas album. We created the label, hired the studio, the mixers, and a promotional person. We did it all ourselves.
WCT: Is it campy?
JL: No. It is straight on. There are a couple of funny songs, but musically it is gorgeous. It is like studio singers from the '50s.
WCT: That's why you are wearing that dress on the cover.
JL: Exactly. Here let me play you a little… [sings] "Let's have a party."
WCT: That is fun. What are you doing for the holidays?
JL: I will come back here. I will be here for about four days. I will be hanging out with my sister and friends in La Grange.
WCT: Is Christmas your favorite holiday?
JL: It was. In my adult years I almost didn't like it. I like Christmas music but I get overwhelmed at that time of year. It is too commercial. I usually don't listen to music until I am home for the holidays.
Now I have my own album and I am listening to it all the time! [Laughs] I am in love with Christmas all over again.
WCT: I saw the tour schedule that has you performing in California.
JL: Yes; we are doing The Nikkothat is Michael Feinstein's placethen we will be at Largo at the Coronet in LA.
WCT: Why not perform in Chicago?
JL: We were offered the Lyric Opera. It turns around for a smaller stage. We just couldn't get it together where everyone would be here. We just did our cabaret show there in June. It was wonderful. We will do it next year.
WCT: How was reuniting with the gang for Mascots?
JL: It was great and a homecoming. It is like creatively jumping off a cliff and knowing everyone is there to catch you. I liken it to keeping a balloon up in the air.
I worked mostly with Ed Begley Jr. I have never worked with him before and we had a blast.
WCT: Did you have a favorite moment from Glee?
JL: Working with Carol Burnett. She had called Ryan Murphy and said she wanted to play in his sandbox. I had met her earlier where she played my mother in a movie called Post Grad. This was another chance for her to play my mother againthis time, as a Nazi!
WCT: Was there a time in Glee that your character was too mean?
JL: Yes. Ian Brennan wrote all of my lines. He has a dark sense of humor. He would always put something in to see if it would get past Fox. He planted a line where I said, "I am going to the pound to get you a kitty cat. I am going to let you fall in love with it, then one night I am going to steal into your house, and skin that kitty cat alive."
I told him I wouldn't say it. Somehow it got past the censors so he said to add in after "skin that kitty cat alive, then I'm going to punch you in the face!" It made no sense but became one of the most iconic lines ever. People always repeat it back to me.
WCT: Do you own a cat?
JL: Oh, my Godyes. I have had cats and dogs.
WCT: Can you talk about current LGBT rights?
JL: I think we are moving along really nicely. Everything seems to happen on its own accord. Before we had a life that we had to have people fighting for it. People were trying to change hearts and minds. We had marches, going all the way back to Stonewall.
Now it has a trajectory of its own, which is melding into the fabric of society in a beautiful way. It is just another flavor. It is a scary time because of the uncertainty. There is no way to predict what a President Trump might do. He is unpredictable because he doesn't function from principle. He is pure gut reaction and emotion. It is usually from a place of ego. So we will see.
I didn't watch his speech, but I heard it was conciliatory. I saw some of the optics. He had his little boy standing next to him falling asleep on his feet. He should have been in bed. Seeing his boy next to him softened him in my heart.
WCT: How is Hollywood Game Night going?
JL: Great! We just did 10. We never know if we are going to do more. We are on the bench. They will say all of a sudden, "We are going into production." We do them on weekendstwo on a Saturday, two on Sundaythen one on Wednesday. It is a blast. It is even more fun now. I have settled into it in a way that is comfortable and a joy. I'm 60 so I better get it by now!
WCT: Did you think of people like Vicki Lawrence, who did Win, Lose or Draw?
JL: Absolutely. I was a fan of those game shows. I loved Match Game and Hollywood Squares. Remember Brett Somers? Her career was just doing game shows with Charles Nelson Reilly. They would shoot four or five a day and all had booze. They had tumblers where they would drink on their commercial break. They were drunk.
WCT: What are your plans for next year?
JL: I have no plans. To have plans is less of my mission. I'm very happy and content.
WCT: I remember you said to me years ago that you just wanted a seat at the table of actors.
JL: I loved being in ensembles. There was a time when I did The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Talladega Nights where I was in terrific comedy ensembles. I then went into Role Models and Party Down. I would do that over again in a second!
I heard that Starz might be doing Party Down marathons. That would be fantastic.
WCT: There could be a little reunion, possibly?
JL: They have been trying to do a movie but everyone's careers have blown upbut maybe one day.
Swing over to JaneLynchOfficial.com for more on Lynch's new holiday project.