Jane Lynch is Not Just Playing Games

Written by | Entertainment

Instantly recognizable by her tall stature, signature voice, and impeccable comedic timing, Jane Lynch’s career credits read longer than a CVS receipt, taking part in some of TV and film’s best-loved pieces. Born and raised in Illinois, she would eventually move on to Chicago and work for over a decade with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and, at the time of her audition, was one of only two women picked to join The Second City comedy troupe. Her on-screen career started in 1988 with a small role in Vice Versa starring Fred Savage, and after a string of commercials in the ’90s would be handpicked by her Frosted Flakes director, Christopher Guest, to appear in the truly hilarious film, Best in Show. She would become a regular with the Christopher Guest troupe, also appearing in A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, quickly becoming an audience and critic favorite.

Despite her being very recognizable, she has avoided being typecast and has popped up in an array of on-screen insta-hits. Her TV appearances include her iconic, tracksuit-wearing turn as Sue Sylvester in Glee, as well as recurring roles in Two and a Half Men, The L Word, Criminal Minds, The Good Fight, Party Down, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and voice work for American Dad!, not including guest spots on an even longer list of fan-favorite shows. On the big screen, in addition to her Guest films, she’s appeared in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Julie and Julia, and Role Models, and voiced characters in Shrek Forever After, Rio, and the Wreck-It Ralph films. On stage, she took part in Nora Ephron’s off-Broadway play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, wrote and starred in the award-winning play Oh Sister, My Sister, appeared with Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Brad Pitt in a performance of Dustin Lance Black’s play 8, making her Broadway debut as Miss Hannigan in the 2013 revival of Annie, and most recently, playing Mrs. Bryce in the Funny Girl revival.  A decade ago, she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and to date, has received five Primetime Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Golden Globe Award. With an indelibly strong presence on screen and on stage, chatting with her, she is down to earth, intimate, and ready to share her opinion.

Her personality shines through in her hosting gigs. She’s hosted VH1’s The DoSomething Awards, the Primetime Emmy Awards, and SNL. She has also become the queen of the game shows, hosting Hollywood Game Night and the latest reboot of Weakest Link. What does she love most about hosting game shows?

I love to have parties. I love watching people have fun, and I like to be in charge of it. I don’t like going to parties, I don’t like playing games, but I like to be in charge and help everybody have fun!

This Pride season, Weakest Link, now in its third season, featured a panel of drag queens on an episode titled “Drag Extravaganza!” WooWoo Monroe, Lili Whiteass, Scarlet Envy, Cierra Symone, Pickle, Kat Sass, Olivia Lux, and Gila Moonstar all competed to outlast one another in this biting of the press-on nails high-level trivia. The show included the tagline, “They have beauty and brawn, but who has the brains to be crowned champion?” With the current political attacks on the drag community, presenting the episode seemed, pardon the pun, pretty ballsy. What were the conversations behind the scenes for that episode and why was it so important to follow through in presenting it?

Well, it didn’t come out of a reaction to what was going on. In fact, we planned to do this probably over a year ago. It was just one of the great ideas that our executive producer had. We did wrestlers, we did a soap opera cast, Christmas characters, and we did drag queens. So, it ended up being very timely and a good idea. A very good idea. I’m really glad that we did it.

We can’t respond to the whim of every bigot and every bigot movement. You just have to go forward and keep it normalized. Men have been dressing up as women for centuries, and probably even further back than we have recorded history. We have to just keep moving forward and weather this storm. We will get past it. It’s just really an overreaction swinging way out into the right stratosphere, and we will come back to center. But until we do, we stay the course – it is a normal thing.

Lynch has certainly been witness to, and part of, the current boom of continued LGBTQ content in the mainstream world to the point that we even have Hallmark movies! What is Jane’s take on the trending representation in front of and behind the camera in opposition to what is happening to our community politically?

It makes total sense – when things are changing and start to normalize in society, there’s an even bigger reaction. I think Donald Trump was a reaction to the election of a Black president. We’re into extreme reactions right now and the opposition to the arc of justice, going more toward justice, is always something very, very extreme and when it looks inevitable, it’s like, “We’ve gotta get this back!”

With headlines today leading with what actors came out, or how they identify becoming media fodder, there was never a moment where Lynch had her media coming out. She just was who she is, without the fanfare, without the spotlight on her sexuality. Her lifestyle was always her norm. 

When I came out, when I came on the scene as an actor, Melissa Etheridge had already come out, Ellen had come out, K.D. Lang had come out, so I really didn’t need to. They kind of blazed the trail, leading to people getting used to us. I just found myself in their wake so I didn’t have to have a press conference or anything else. I’m a character actor, I’m not the lead actor. There’s not as much interest in me as there was say, Ellen. I mean, she really took one for the team.

With her many roles in well-known projects, her career and characters didn’t seem to be limited by her sexuality as her star continued to climb. Why does she think she never got pigeonholed by the industry?

I think it didn’t happen to me because I show up and I do my work. Most of Hollywood just wants good work. Now, there is something to be said about the romantic leads that they want those folks to have straight vibes on them. I think we’re still a long way off from that being normalized. Some people’s careers have been hurt, but like Ellen really stuck her neck out. She was the first one, she was very popular, and it could have all ended for her. She’s someone who really had to face it. But I think we just keep doing our work.

Growing up in the Midwest, in a Catholic environment, staying there through college, acting would be a source of identity while her sexuality was blossoming, contrary to the norm accepted in her Illinois community.

I didn’t want to be gay for sure because nobody else was. I just wanted to be a part of the group. So, it was a big secret. I suffered over it a lot. That part was hard growing up and I didn’t know anybody else like me. Any whispering about homosexuality was about how weird it was and how sick it was and how perverted it was. Now that’s not my parents telling me this at all, we didn’t talk about it at all. But it was the environment, and I didn’t know anybody like that and if there was anyone – my parents’ friends who were – they were definitely closeted. Any members of our family who might’ve been, and there had to be, we all have gay people in our family, weren’t able to express their true selves.

So that part was tough, and I have a very sensitive nature, so I suffered over that. Getting into theater is the best antidote for that, it’s teeming with gays (ha!) and understanding that just by being in the arts itself, you’re always exploring human nature and the different expressions of human nature. I didn’t encounter any homophobia in our little theater community in Chicago. Not all of us were out either. I wasn’t sure until I was in my late twenties. It wasn’t the most fun thing in the world. I know other people didn’t suffer it as much. I think it depends on the person’s nature, how sensitive they are, and how much they want to be a part of the world. I didn’t want to be banished, as Romeo says.

Living in big cities like Los Angeles or New York, it is easy to become more comfortable with living your true life. We hear from our readers in the Midwest that our articles, our issues, are their only source of feeling normal whether they are in the closet or live in an area where being a part of the LGBTQ community is not welcome. Coming from that environment, how does Jane think we can best support those members of our community that are far from our safe spaces?

It’s a tough one because they put themselves in danger. But I loved – and I know this doesn’t sound like it’s the answer, but it is AN answer and I think it can be effective – Dan Savage’s campaign, “It Gets Better.” We can’t go in there and change their parents and change their relationship with their parents and change how the teachers treat them. We can’t do that. But we CAN tell them it does get better. And there are places where you’ll be loved and fricking name the cities down to, the streets! Roscoe and Clark in Chicago! Come to LA, go to New York, go to Chicago! Unfortunately, if you stay (in little towns) your path is laid out for you. Either accept that, this is what it’s going to be and hopefully, it will change, or go where people love you, go where you’re accepted .

The word “iconic” is bandied about so often, but truly a number of Lynch’s roles are truly iconic and even have become memes. Who can forget Sue Sylvester’s clap backs, Christy Cummings’ relationship with Jennifer Coolidge’s Sheri Ann, or Jane’s version of Annie’s Little Girls? With this library of characters and hosting gigs, what has been a pinnacle personal moment for Lynch?

I don’t know that I’ve ever had that moment. You always think that you should have them. Like it should have been here, and it should have been there. I think it’s kind of a myth that we say, “I made it!” You just move on to the next job. And it’s not like I don’t love what I do. I remember the first season of Hollywood Game Night where we actually shot it in a house. It was a really rough shoot and when I got through the sixth one, I remember driving home and going, “That was something!”  Because you were almost not in the moment, we were working through to the end. That felt good. It felt good that we pulled that off, there’s nothing better. But I don’t think I said, “I made it!” I’ve walked away from jobs like the first season of Party Down, remember that ending going, “Oh my God, this is the best.” And I knew it while I was in it. “This is one of the best experiences in my life.” So, I mostly remember the joyous ones, the Christopher Guest movies, getting through a day where you improvise, and you always hope the muse shows up because you’re improvising. You don’t know how it’s going to go, it’s the great unknown. You’re always hoping that the magic shows up – and it does. It always does and never lets you down. And at the end of the day going, oh, even more than I could have ever dreamed came out of today. Those are my high points.

Are any roles or genres left on Lynch’s bucket list?

I have no bucket list. I really don’t. I never have. I don’t have any idea of what I want to do, or even if I want to do it. I love where I live. I live in a little kind of rural community and I’m very happy here and I feel very satisfied artistically. We’ll see what happens. Like when I talk to my friends about this, they’re like, “Eh, you’re not done.” But we’ll see. I just stay as present as I can.

A personal gem for Lynch is her musical touring shows with The Office’s Kate Flannery.  If you haven’t seen one, run, don’t walk, and catch their Christmas show, A Swinging Little Christmas. It’s a hoot and the perfect showcase for Lynch’s musical and comedy prowess, and her unbeatable chemistry with Flannery.

It’s a great show if I do say so myself. We play little venues like City Winery and stuff like that. Some bigger theaters too with 800 to 1,000 seats, but nothing large. They’re very intimate. They’re very fun. We have a beautiful five-piece band called the Tony Guerrero Quintet. We have an album, Swinging Little Christmas from which we perform music with a lot of fun and funny lines here and there and Kate acting like a drunken fool – in the most delightful way. What’s funny is, Kate barely drinks but she plays a very good “I’ve had a couple too many cocktails” person.

There is no stopping Jane Lynch. She delights as she trailblazes, never shying away from who she is. Her message to our community this Pride season?

We shouldn’t have to have a Pride season. Everybody should have pride in who we are all the time. It is fun to go to the parades and dress up and do the crazy stuff. I love that. I never want to lose that. But, I hate that we’re in a place where we have to go, “Hey, we exist and we’re going to have some fun and, just remember, we’re equal to you!” It’s a shame. It felt like we were past that. I think the response to the fact that we’ve been integrated into society as being just as standard a human being as anybody else really created a crazy backlash that a lot of people are capitalizing on and putting gasoline on the fire.

Just keep going. Stay present. They say, “I don’t want it in my face.” Just being who you are is not putting it in anybody’s face. So don’t listen to the haters. They’re screaming really loud right now because things are changing, we’re ascending. Society is ascending into a much more equal-loving place.

You can follow everything Jane at JaneLynchOfficial.com

Photos by: Chris Haston/NBC

Last modified: August 1, 2023