Jane Lynch Teaches Us How to Let It All Go

The gleeful actor gives our listeners etiquette advice for dealing with spotlight-stealing birthday singers, art that might be a little too risqué for relatives, and more.

Photo Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA

Rico Gagliano: Each week, you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this time around is actor Jane Lynch.

Jane Lynch: Hello.

Rico Gagliano: Hello, Jane.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Hello, Jane.

Jane Lynch: Hey!

Rico Gagliano: Here’s a few things about your resume you may or may not have known.

Jane Lynch: Ooh, please tell me!

Rico Gagliano: You are possibly best known for playing Sue Sylvester…

Jane Lynch: Possibly.

Rico Gagliano: …the Machiavellian cheerleading coach on the TV musical comedy, “Glee.” That role earned you an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Jane Lynch: Yes, it did, indeed.

Rico Gagliano: You’ve also stolen scenes in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Talladega Nights,” and many other comedies, including the improvised mockumentaries of filmmaker Christopher Guest. The latest of those comes out this week on Netflix. It’s called “Mascots.” It is about a bunch of folks who dress up in ridiculous costumes as sports team mascots and the lengths they go to to win the Gold Furry Award at the World Mascot Association Championships.

Rico Gagliano: Jane, thank you for joining us.

Jane Lynch: Oh, thank you for having me, guys.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Isn’t that a little bit redundant that they dress up in ridiculous costumes as sports team mascots? Like, are there non-ridiculous costumes?

Jane Lynch: Right, there is no such thing as non-ridiculous. They’re all ridiculous, and they’re all fun, and they all love what they do and take it very, very seriously.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You play Gabby, a kind of legend of mascotting who injured herself doing a split for an entire football game.

Jane Lynch: Right.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So now, Gabby’s a competition judge.

Jane Lynch: Right, she’s now sitting in judgment.

Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Jane Lynch, Michael Hitchcock *ahem* stand in judgement in "Mascots." (Photo Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix)
Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Jane Lynch, Michael Hitchcock *ahem* stand in judgement in “Mascots.” (Photo Credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix)

Brendan Francis Newnam: How much of this movie is actually based on the reality of mascot subculture, do you know?

Jane Lynch: Well, it’s very close to it, and if you go on YouTube, you’ll see that every year they, indeed, have a competition. All the mascots do routines as their character, and then they give them awards: a gold, silver, and a bronze.

And it’s nothing to be sneezed at. I mean, these guys, they work really hard, and these are really inventive little routines but, yes, they’re quite devoted. And they’re nonprofessional, which means, of course, they don’t get paid. So, they’re doing this, really, for the love of it.

Rico Gagliano: Your character, by the way, again, is this kind of passive-aggressive competition judge; your character on “Glee,” an acerbic gym coach. In “40-Year-Old Virgin,” you’re a tough, kind of sexually aggressive store manager. Now, you seem like a perfectly pleasant person. Why do you think these kind of roles started happening to you?

Jane Lynch: Well, I’m kind of fascinated with the evil that lurks beneath the surface of everybody. You know, mine is not that far… you don’t have to dig too deep to find the person in me who can be sarcastic and demeaning.

And, you know, I think, because I’m able to harness this for acting, that I’m not the victim of it as I was before.

Rico Gagliano: I see. Do you remember when that first came out? You were like, “Hey, I can really do this.”

Jane Lynch: Yes, I do. I was in therapy, and I was complaining about something, and my therapist said, “I want you to come up with a character.” And I came up with this character called “The Angry Woman.” I wore a neck brace and a very tight, red wig, and I went into therapy and started to rant about things, and she was cracking up. I could barely get through it without cracking up.

You know, when you can laugh at yourself, and you can laugh at those parts of yourself…

Brendan Francis Newnam: You dressed up for therapy? That’s pretty amazing.

Jane Lynch: I did! I went in in a costume.

Rico Gagliano: Are you sure that was a licensed therapist?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Exactly.

Jane Lynch: You know, I’m not sure she was a licensed therapist, but she was genius, and I thought it was a great assignment.

Brendan Francis Newnam: She was dressed up like a therapist. It was actually brilliant.

Jane Lynch: She always kind of looked like a woodland sprite, as I recall.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow.

Rico Gagliano: That is an amazing story.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I really need to move to Los Angeles and seek treatment.

Jane Lynch: Oh, it is definitely indigenous to Los Angeles. You’re not going to find a therapist like this in, like, New York.

Rico Gagliano: Have you ever used that character in sketches or anything?

Jane Lynch: Yes, yes! I did. I did a one-person show in 1998 called “Oh, Sister, My Sister.” And it opened with The Angry Lady, and I always entered to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”

I opened with it. I had a monologue in the middle and a monologue at the end, and the monologues were exactly the same rant on different holiday.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, I see.

Jane Lynch: So, she basically complains about the same thing all the time.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I think my father wrote that [Jane laughs]. I should check.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, you may owe him royalties, Jane.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. So, it sounds like you tapped into your inner self to kind of find some of your performance, but you also have a grad degree in acting from Cornell. And what’s interesting is these Guest films are mostly improvised.
Some people get the misimpression that that means you’re just winging it. I wonder what techniques or training you draw upon as a jumping-off point for improvising.

Jane Lynch: It’s not just winging it. We have a script that’s a very mapped-out story, a mapped-out journey, and the characters are very well described by Chris, and then, we improvise all the dialogue.

So, we go away and take the thumbnail sketch he’s given us for our character, and then we flesh it out, and we show up having done all of this work and all of this preparation. Then, you throw it all out, and you stay open and spontaneous because you’ve done all your work. You’ve done the hard part.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, you do, like, a dry run where you think about how you’re going to respond to a situation?

Jane Lynch: I do it at home, yeah. At home, I’ll, like, improvise this character in the mirror. And I’ll write things that seem important to me, like why she is the way she is, what’s she’s trying to hide, how good she is at hiding it. And that’s the stuff I love to do.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I don’t know if I’d like that as an actor. I mean, why do you have to go back and write Christopher Guest’s movie.

Rico Gagliano: Do you get extra pay for that?

Jane Lynch: That’s so funny. No, in fact, we get paid a lot less. But it’s the joy. It’s so much fun.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, sure, they sell you on the joy.

Jane Lynch: They pay us on the joy. “Well, we’re not going to pay you a lot of money, but we’re going to pay you in joy.”

Rico Gagliano: There you go. So, you play a judge in this film. Are you ready to adjudicate our listeners’ problems?

Jane Lynch: Yes. Oh, you betcha! I’m ready to dive in.

Singer stealing the birthday spotlight

Brendan Francis Newnam: Excellent. The first one comes from Dani in Brooklyn, New York, and Dani writes: “Every time my family sings ‘Happy Birthday’ at gatherings, my aunt treats it like it’s an audition for ‘The Voice.’ She does these full-on, Mariah-Carey-style vocal runs that draw out the song, and she completely overshadows everyone else. She’s not a terrible singer. I’d call her ‘karaoke good,’ but the secondhand embarrassment we feel at restaurants is real! And it delays us from eating the cake. How do I let her know without hurting her feelings?”

Jane Lynch: Oh, you’ll hurt her feelings. You just can’t. It’s one of those things that you really just gotta let go. She wouldn’t be doing it and making a fool out of herself. She’s in some joy when she’s doing it. She’s loving it. So, I think you just have to tolerate, and if you’re embarrassed, that’s where you have to dig deep and go, “Why would I even care about that?”

Rico Gagliano: Well, because it’s drawing attention if you’re at a restaurant.

Jane Lynch: Well, so what? And also, you could go further with that and say the attention should be on the birthday person, but, you know what? If a person really needs to shine that much, let them have it.

Rico Gagliano: That’s nice. I can also imagine, if I’m Jane Lynch, I’m watching that and going, “I know where my next character’s coming from.”

Jane Lynch: I know. I probably will steal it. So…

Rico Gagliano: OK, we’ll look for it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s yours.

Tall troubles

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Paige via Twitter. So, we don’t know where Paige is from. Paige writes: “What the heck am I supposed to say when someone comments on how tall I am?” You are also a somewhat tall woman.

Jane Lynch: I’m a tall person. I would say that.

Paige, what you have to understand, first of all, it’s about them. It’s really not about you being tall. It’s about how they feel next to you. They might be intimidated, but it’s all about them. Again, let it go. And there’s no answer to the question. If they were to say, “Why are you so tall?” “My mother was.”

Rico Gagliano: Genetics, it’s called.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Vitamin D milk.

Jane Lynch: Yeah, there you go.

Rico Gagliano: I will say, though, Paige is a woman, and there might be a gender implication here.

Jane Lynch: I do, too. Especially if it’s a guy who comes up to you. It’s about him feeling short.

Rico Gagliano: Do you find yourself having to, like, make dudes feel better about that?

Jane Lynch: Yeah, I do. I always put my arm around them and say, don’t be intimidated by my height.

Brendan Francis Newnam: No, no, I thought you should pat them on the head. Be like, “Aw, don’t worry about it.”

Jane Lynch: Yes. Or say, “And you have a very straight part.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right. Paige, there’s your advice.

The naked elephant in the room

Brendan Francis Newnam:This next question comes from Margaret in Durham, North Carolina. Margaret writes: “I’m having my boyfriend’s family over for dinner at my house for the first time. They’re conservative Evangelicals. My boyfriend and I are not. I have a large, early 20th century photograph on my dining room wall of a tasteful female nude. What, if anything, should I do with this photograph? My instinct is to take it down. My boyfriend says leave it up. Advice?”

Jane Lynch: Yeah, I think, you know, the instinct to take it down, I completely understand it, but I would leave it up. It’s your house. You consider it art, and, you know, they might be just delightful people who have no problem with a beautiful nude.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, that’s the other thing. Just because they’re Evangelicals doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate art.

Jane Lynch: Right. Once you start doing that, especially in the beginning, you’ll start tempering other things.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is a slippery slope. You take this down, then there’s going to be no more heavy metal caroling, there’s going to be no drugs after dinner. Where does it stop?

Jane Lynch: Exactly. Where do you stop? Where do you draw the line, people?

Rico Gagliano: You can’t praise Satan, anymore. It’s nuts!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Jane Lynch, thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave.

Jane Lynch: Thank you. That sounds terrible. But, yeah, use your best instincts, people.