A stand up comic by trade, she was first discovered during a comedy talent search by Showtime. Her TV debut was on The Ben Stiller Show (the second one), which resulted in Garofalo and Ben Stiller getting cozy for a while. A lucky break landed her the role of Paula on The Larry Sanders Show, netting her two Emmy nominations.
Garofalo joined Saturday Night Live during the show's 1994-95 season, which was fraught with Seasonal Rot the likes of which haven't been seen on the show since the 1980-1981 season note . Garofalo hated her time on the show, describing the sketches as "juvenile" and "homophobic" and referring to the male-dominated cast and writing staff as an "immature boys' club." Garofalo quit midseason (her last episode was a February 1995 episode hosted by George Clooney) and was replaced by Molly Shannon.
Her other notable 90's roles include Jerry's Distaff Counterpart on Seinfeld, a snarky Gap manager in Reality Bites, and starring alongside Uma Thurman in The Truth About Cats & Dogs. She continues to act on television.
In the 2000's, her acting has largely taken a backseat to her current work as a liberal political pundit, most prominently as host of her own show on the short-lived Air America Radio.
Notable film roles:
- Vicky Milner in Reality Bites (1994)
- "Serving Wench" in The Cable Guy (1996)[deadpan] "There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times. Would you like a refill of that Pepsi?"
- Abby Barnes in The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996)
- Heather Mooney in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997)
- Deputy Cindy Betts in Cop Land (1997)
- Liz in Dogma (1997)
- The Bowler in Mystery Men (1999)
- Paloma Fineman in The Independent (2000)
- Stith (voice) in Titan A.E. (2000)
- Beth in Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
- Officer Monica Romero in Big Trouble (2002)
- Colette Tatou (voice) in Ratatouille (2007)
Notable television roles:
- Paula on The Larry Sanders Show (1992-96)
- The Ben Stiller Show (1992-93)
- Saturday Night Live (1994-95)
- Jeannie on Seinfeld (2 episodes, 1996)
- Adult Mabel on Mad About You (series finale, 1999)
- Herself on The Sopranos ("D-Girl", 2000)
- Sheila (voice) on King of the Hill ("Cheap Saks", 2003)
- Louise Thornton on The West Wing (2005-06)
- Janis Gold on 24 (2009)
- Tilly on Ideal (2011)
- Beth Griffith on Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior (2011)
- Lyla on Girlfriend Guide to Divorce (2015- )
Janeane Garofalo provides examples of:
- Ambiguously Jewish: She's not, although her characters in Dogma and Wet Hot American Summer are.
- Asexuality: She is openly asexual.
- Better as Friends: Came to this conclusion with regards to herself and Ben Stiller.
- Brainy Brunette
- Deadpan Snarker: So much that she's often considered the living incarnation of Daria
- Demoted to Extra: Her role in Southland Tales was cut down to a single second in a crowd shot, with no dialogue.
- Meganekko: So much so that people often think she's the voice of (or the inspiration behind) Daria (which isn't true. Daria's voice actress is Tracy Grandstaff and she was originally a supporting/minor character on Mike Judge's Beavis And Butthead. The fact that there's a real life version of her, only more political-minded, is a coincidence).
- Nerds Are Sexy: Perhaps ironically, as she is asexual.
- Old Shame: Her brief tenure on Saturday Night Live (which she described on an HBO special as "...being the Indian who was given the smallpox-infested blankets by the white settlers") is something that she (and most SNL fans) would like to forget.
- Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: More to the point, she didn't know her drive thru Vegas wedding to Rob Cohen was legal in the eyes of the law until Cohen tried to marry his current paramour and his lawyer dug up their marriage certificate. They're now divorced.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: Often refers to herself as "the Funniest Person in Rhode Island."
- Raised Catholic
- Rebellious Spirit: The daughter of an oil executive, she attended school in Texas and was raised as a Catholic conservative. Flash-forward to her today, a poster child for every left-wing atheist on the east coast.
- The Snark Knight
- Soap Box Sadie
- What Could Have Been:
- Has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene in Dogma as Bethany's friend. In the DVD commentary for the film, Kevin Smith castigates himself for not casting Garofalo in the lead instead, citing Linda Fiorentino being impossible to direct.
- On the strength of her success in The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Garofalo was offered the leading lady role in Jerry Maguire. By the time she had gotten in shape for the role, Renée Zellweger was cast in her place.
- Garofalo later received an offer to play Gale in Scream (played by Courtney Cox in the film) and was David Fincher's first choice to play Marla in Fight Club; she turned both down.
- She played Princess Fiona opposite Chris Farley in the first soundtrack for Shrek. After Farley's death, both parts were completely changed and Janeane's sarcastic princess no longer worked.