Oh, sure, she's Stifler's mom from the American Pie movies, Paulette the beautician in Legally Blonde and its sequel or any number of hilarious characters in Christopher Guest's movies, including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.
But she's also Jennifer Coolidge: Standup Comic, and she's in the midst of her first U.S. tour.
In the movie A Cinderella Story, Coolidge's character, Fiona, says (and gets mocked for saying), "I'm a very appealing person."
In real life, she is.
Before her Indianapolis debut, Coolidge took some time to talk. Here's the conversation.
NUVO: People know you as an actress. Do you do a lot of standup and have you done a lot over the years?
Coolidge: No. I didn't start out as a standup or anything. I was an improviser. I was in this improv comedy group called The Groundlings. I was in the L.A. one, and my timing just happened to be amazing. It was the early '90s and I was there with Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Kathy Griffin, Lisa Kudrow, Ana Gasteyer, Cheri Oteri, Will Forte. I even did some alumni shows with Paul Reubens, Wendi Starling – all these incredibly talented people. But not a standup person at all.
But it's sort of nice. When you're an actress, you don't get to tell anyone your point of view on anything. No one really cares. If you're on a movie, you have to do their script, and if you're an improviser, you're still doing something that's loyal to your characters. You're not saying how you feel about anything. And you can't say much on The View or talk shows like that because you're edited. So it ends up being this dishwater experience. So I started doing standup on a whim and I kind of like that you just say anything, and even if it was offensive, there was no one there with a fire extinguisher.
NUVO: So how did you develop the act? Did you start doing open mike nights or guest spots?
Coolidge: I started out in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, and I was literally reading out of a notebook. I think people paid $15 and they really shouldn't have paid anything because it was so stupid. I was in Ptown one night and someone was there and they owned a club in Atlanta and they said: You should come visit my club in Atlanta. That started the whole thing. That was summer of 2009. Then last year I took my show to Edinburgh, Scotland, and I did like 30 shows there.
It's not very philosophical or anything. It's entertainment. It's stories from the point of view of a character actress living in Los Angeles and how unglamorous it is.
NUVO: I have to think that comes as a huge shock to people because to them, you're a star. They see you in all these movies and TV shows and think you live a glamour life, right?
Coolidge: I think so. And most of my commentary is about how the reality world is usurping the legitimate world somehow. I go after the Kardashians and stuff, just how silly our town has gotten. I talk about that and I talk about how I went through a breakup right before I started doing standup. I think it was therapeutic to go on the road and talk about being single at my age (now 49), the weird dates I go on and sex and stuff. But it's just entertainment; I don't have any political humor.
NUVO: Is it talking? Observation? Do you tell jokes?
Coolidge: I would say more it's relating a lot of humiliating stories.
NUVO: Is this a strange turn for you? Are you glad to be doing this, and are you surprised?
Coolidge: I have to say there's nothing like it. The highs are high and the lows are low. I have to say the greatest part of it is, when you're an actress and you live in LA – I also have a house in New Orleans – I came from a Broadway show in New York City this fall (Elling) – but I'm in the acting world, and most of the people I hang out with and know really well are actors or producers or directors. Your life gets really strange. You see things through a very small keyhole. On the road, I'll go weeks without running into an actor. I'm meeting everybody, and I have a much better view of what's going on.
NUVO: I imagine people want to talk to you about all your roles. They want to know what it's like to be in the Christopher Guest movies and things like that.
Coolidge: Yeah, they do. And they want to know: Are you really dating young guys – like Stifler's mom? And that's kind of true. They're really the only ones who ask me out. They want to know if I'm that horny woman I played in the movie or am I that really dumb woman in Best in Show.
NUVO: And the answer is neither, right?
Coolidge (deadpan): No, I'm definitely the dumb woman.
You get a lot projected onto you. But in some ways I feel weird about demystifying Hollywood, because as a kid, I was obsessed with Hollywood. That's all I could think about growing up. So I don't know if I want to burst people's bubbles sometimes. I kind of want to go, "It's fantaaaastic. It's magical. Glamour, glamour, glamour. I want them to think I'm going to Grauman's Chinese Theatre every night wearing a feather boa and living the high life.
But I do talk about how strange Hollywood has gotten. I'm hoping this is just a weird phase we're going through where people like Snooki exist and they're the lead on a show (Jersey Shore). I think people want to watch someone on TV they feel superior to as opposed to someone they admire. So I guess if you asked what is the through line of my show, it's how weird the world has gotten – hopefully told in a funny way.
NUVO: IMDB lists Seinfeld as your first role. Is that accurate?
NUVO: Good start. What was that like?
Coolidge: It was a really big thing. It had to be a big deal because when I went home to visit my parents, my mother introduced me to everyone at church. I thought, "Wow, I've really stepped it up here. I'm meeting the congregation. I have landed." I remember my mother being so proud. But she was very ill with cancer. That happened right before she died, and it was a good thing to have happen. She probably thought I would end up in jail or something. I think that gave her hope that maybe I might not end up on the street.
Seinfeld was a good break.
Interestingly, when I did Seinfeld, I was in the same episode as Lisa Edelstein, who is on House now. Lisa and I bonded on that show. And then Lisa said to me, "The guy who wrote the episode invited us out for drinks and food with the cast." We all went to this place, Jerry's Famous Deli. I walked in and the minute we sat down at the table, Lisa Edelstein and myself, I knew we shouldn't have done it. It was Larry (David), Jerry (Seinfeld), Julia (Louis-Dreyfus) and everyone sitting there, and it was so clear we shouldn't have been there and shouldn't have been invited. It was the most uncomfortable hour of my life. I'll never forget that. Awful.
Later, there was a giant party for the end of Seinfeld, the final show. There was a big cake for Jerry with his face on it, a giant, massive cake. I had this friend who was very snotty and I invited her to this party and she went up to Jerry and was like, "Excuse me, you're sitting in my friend Jennifer's chair. Could you please get up?" (laughs) She was so rude to him. You don't see stuff like that very often. Then he got up and she was like (sarcastically), "Thank you." "Jennifer, I got your chair back." She didn't give him special treatment. It was kind of cool.
NUVO: We're at the end of our time, so is there anything you want me to tell people about you or the performance that we haven't talked about?
Coolidge: This is the question I wish you'd asked me: Have you ever gone out on a date with someone who came to your show?
NUVO: OK. Well, let me ask you: Have you ever gone on a date with someone who came to your show?
Coolidge: Yes, I have. I wish I met more people that way. Before, I was meeting actors on movies and that's who I was dating. You never know. There might be some guy in the audience one night who I end up with for a long time. You never know. I guess I just want to get the single thing in.
The last guy that I dated that I met who came to the show, when he took his shirt off, he had this giant tattoo on his chest that said, "1987." I said, "What happened in 1987?" He said, "I was born." "1987? Wow. That makes you about 21 years old." Because I'm such an idiot, I thought it was either a rock band or some very significant year that some group got together or somebody got sent to the moon. It just never occurred to me that that would be his birth date.