Thursday, May 10, 2012

Janet Varney

photo taken by Clayton Hodges

One of the cool things about working for Austin Fusion is all the cool stuff I’m able to do, and the amazing people I’ve been able to meet. The coverage for the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival was no exception, and I was able to meet and interview the very talented Janet Varney.

Janet Varney was at the Moontower as part of the sketch group Theme Park. Jessica and I sent over a request for an interview based on her involvement with SF Sketchfest.  She is a co-producer and creator the festival that’s grown to be one of the most talked about comedy festival.  I wanted to get her opinions and insight on Moontower.  All the typical questions you tend to ask when someone has knowledge on a subject you’re writing about.

To my surprise, and joy, we ended up talking about so much more than that.  Yes, we talked about the festival, and if you read the Moontower article on Austin Fusion (link) you would of read her wonderful insight.  We also talked about her new job as the voice of Korra from the Avatar series in The Legend of Korra, her new podcast JV Club.  By the end of the conversation, we (AFM staff) had a woman’s crush on her; she’s just so sweet!

I hope you enjoy, and please check out all that Janet has done.  I promise you won’t regret it.
JV Club Podcast on The Nerdist Network
JV Club Facebook page for bonus material

Keep an eye out for some upcoming projects.  An online show with Ben Stiller’s company, called Burning Love, and her show with dear friend Neil Patrick Harris on The Nerdist YouTube Channel (spoiler, there are lots of puppets)!

 LMM: How has your experience been at Moontower, at our inaugural year?

JV: I’ve been so impressed.  Our festival just celebrated its 11th year, and to be in the first year and it be this smoothly run, with excellent communication leading up to it, it’s nailing everything.

LMM: What was behind starting the Sketchfest?

JV: The whole reason we did the festival was because we had a hard time finding places to perform. We wanted to do a run, but couldn’t afford a theater to rent, so we asked five other sketch groups if they wanted to help with the rent, and promoted it like a festival. What we were doing was unique enough that we got some crazy coverage, and we sold out every show.  The second year we took applications from elsewhere, and had two headliners; Fred Willard and his sketch group, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade. The following year we asked a few more headliners, and it just grew out from there.

LMM: Do you find that people want to be involved now?

JV: Yes. The word of mouth has been really great, and the ripple effect of those involved has been amazing.

LMM:  With listening to so many podcasts, the weeks leading up to it, they all seem so excited to be involved with it.

JV: Yeah, it’s so great. What podcasts are you listening to?

LMM:  Oh man.  Um…The Nerdist, Jordan Jesse Go, Pod F. Tompkast, Marc Maron. I’m listening to like 19.

JV: I’m such a music nerd, and I have some friends who listen to NPR when they drive instead of music, and I envied them.  How can they learn while driving?  I just want to zone out and listen to music.  With the shift towards podcasting, things began to change for me.  Now, I just listen to Radiolab podcast. 

LMM: It’s been great, since I have a desk job, I can listen to all these shows.  Once I finish catching up, I am excited to download a few new ones.  Yours is next on my list.

JV: I’m always shocked when people come up to me and say they’ve listened to mine.  It’s so new, and I know how many other amazing choices they have.

LMM: How has your experience been with starting JV Club podcast?  Did having friends with podcasts help?

JV: It’s been so great.  I recorded so many episodes before I started airing them, and I’m glad I did it that way because it was really scary putting the first episode out.  With the podcast, you’re not playing a character; it’s a raw form of you.  I’m just talking, and if it doesn’t resonate with anyone I can’t blame him or her.  My friends have really helped in this venture; it’s been helpful to see the process on so many different types of shows, and of course dealing with the feedback. The negative comments hurt my feelings, but the positive things have been the most exciting feelings in the world. A few reviews even said they were surprised how well done it was for a first episode, and I appreciate that compliment, but it should be taken off me and placed right on those other people that showed me the way.  Without them, who knows what I’d be doing.

LMM:  All of the Nerdist podcasts are great; you know you’re going to hear something great.  It’s also a great way to be introduced to new comics.

JV: I’m so glad it’s become what we hoped it would, and that it hasn’t been over saturated.  There are so many choices, and there is something to celebrate about that.  That’s something great about the festival, too.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen so much standup, but I really prefer a comedian on a podcast.  It’s not that their stand up isn’t great, cause it always is, but at the end of the day I would rather hear them talk.  What surprises them, when talking to a guest, is more electric than their act on stage.  That’s my best way to get to know a comic.

LMM: When you get to hear them on the podcast, you connect with them on a different level, which makes you understand their standup even more.

JV: I couldn’t agree more.

LMM: I hate to ask the typical question, but with the movie Bridesmaids being such a hit, do you feel it’s a new era for the female comic?  Do you feel there is more pressure to succeed?

JV: I think it has made a huge difference.  It sucks to go to a place, in the middle of celebrating, to be so excited yet worried that the trend will end.  I really hope it doesn’t end.  In a way I feel the pressure that we have to find a way to ride the wave.  We shouldn’t have to feel this way.  We should be able to feel that our work is valued, not because it’s part of a trend.

LMM: Can we discuss your voice over work in The Legend of Korra?  How has that experience been?

JV: I was so excited when I found out I got it.  It’s been so well received, and I’ve never experienced anything like that before.  It’s a great show.

LMM: I had a huge debut.

JV: It’s has a huge fan community, a protective anime fan community who know everything and more about the series.  If you know it, you know it and love it.

JH: I started watching the show, and I wanted to ask, did you have an influence on the visuals of Korra?  I ask because you both have the same striking eyes.

JV: Oh, thank you, that’s very sweet.  No, they had the character totally drawn.  I wish I could say I inspired any of it, because she’s awesome, but they had already illustrated the character. I, by the way, didn’t see any association at all. She’s awesome. I saw the character and was nervous about how to audition.  Oh, right, it’s a voice, and you don’t have to look like this. 

LMM: Is the first thing that you’ve done that’s been so fan oriented?

JV: Yes. This something fans are inspired by and reach out about their love of the show.  It’s the first thing I’ve ever done that… I get so emotional about it.  There is something so pure about it. They love the show, and they love and approve of me.  I get tweets from these fans, “You equal Korra.  Korra equals awesome.  You equal Awesome.” It feels so real, good natured, and positive.  I love that.

LMM: You’ve been doing a lot of new technology, with the online series and podcasting, is it fun coming back to something like Moontower, when you have an interaction with an audience.

JV: It’s been great.  There’s nothing like it. I don’t get to perform live all that often, so getting out in front of an audience, in a different city outside of LA, like Austin is great.   There is freshness here.  The audiences are smart, savvy, there to support; and that’s why people love performing in a city like Austin because they feel like everyone is having fun.  Performing in a city, be it a show or a festival, that supports your craft (comedy) makes such a difference.  The fans make it all so worthwhile.

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