Tales From Beyond the Tracksuit
Jane Lynch talks life after Glee, Catholic guilt and crushing on Susan Sarandon
By Chris Azzopardi | Photos by Jake Bailey & Courtesy of Jane Lynch
You better believe Jane Lynch can sing, and even if you don’t, “I think by the time you buy the ticket and come to the show, you hope I can sing! You’ve got your fingers crossed!” the Glee alum says of her touring act See Jane Sing, cracking her signature booming laugh.
Lynch is best known as iconic cheer coach Sue Sylvester, who tormented McKinley High for six seasons of Fox’s musical-dramedy behemoth Glee, which brimmed with all sorts of songs – just not many sung by Lynch herself. There was, of course, the playful homage to Madonna, when Lynch donned black lace for a frame-by-frame remake of the Queen’s video “Vogue.” But on Glee, the 55-year-old Emmy winner was better known for her tyrannical outbursts and hair taunts (poor Mr. Schuester) than she was for breaking into song.
Now, Lynch is making up for lost time as she headlines See Jane Sing, the entertainer’s touring cabaret that merges comedy with music and also features Kate Flannery of The Office and Tim Davis, the music director of Glee. After resolving a shoddy phone connection (“Where are you? Iraq covering the war?”), Lynch spoke at length about how her cabaret is not a “live sex show” like Liza’s, the one man she’d go straight for (and the one woman she’d stay gay for), and what’s so funny about three white people performing Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.”
Do you read reviews?
Ummm, good question! I have for this show, yes. The reason being is because I’m confident (laughs). I don’t think anybody could say anything about it, me or anybody in it that would actually stick. I don’t think they could say anything bad because I’m very confident in it; it’s such a blast that it stands alone as an experience for me without having anybody telling me it’s good or bad.
The reason I ask is because I read a New York Times review from 2014.
It was awesome, wasn’t it?
It was! They noted the show’s “sexual subtext.” I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’m curious about this “sexual subtext.”
Yeah, I am too! I’m curious about it too! (Laughs) I think what they might have been talking about is: Cheyenne Jackson, a wonderfully talented man who also happens to be gay, did “Something Stupid” that night with me. It was a special thing and he came up and we sang the song “Something Stupid,” and he talked about this weird kind of sexual tension between the two of us, because I think he’s so attractive and so handsome and I get very confused about my sexuality when I’m in the presence of Cheyenne Jackson.
When I’m watching Cheyenne Jackson I know that I am 100 percent homosexual, no question about it.
Isn’t that wonderful? I feel that way about Susan Sarandon, though she probably wouldn’t, you know, receive my affection… well, she’d receive it, but she might not return it.
What was your introduction to cabaret?
Well, let’s see, I’ve been in theater for a long time. I go see people perform, whether it’s at a hole in the wall or it’s a chick with a guitar. I usually don’t like big rock concerts – I don’t seek those out – so the combination of doing a comedy show with music has always been something I loved. I used to do sketch comedy a lot before I started doing television and film, and we always found a way to put a song in there. I did a “one person” show and I put the quotes there because there were three other people in there; it was all my material, but I had other people in it and we had six or seven songs in it and I love that. I don’t play a character so much, but Kate is my inappropriate drunken sidekick and we have a particular thing that I think is very entertaining and a lot of fun. She’s the glue of the evening for me and I’m so lucky to have her.
So your introduction to cabaret was not Liza’s Cabaret?
Oh, that – well, that’s a whole different thing. That was almost like a live sex show in Nazi Germany! It’s funny, I think we call (this show) a cabaret and it’s kind of stuck with the show because we did it at 54 Below (in New York). It’s where one person stands there with their band and people come to eat and listen, so when I say cabaret, it’s a live performance comedy concert. (Laughs)
Were you a funny kid?
Yeah, I was a funny kid and that was one thing I always knew I had. You know how you’re insecure as a kid? I was like, “Well, I know I’m funny.”
So you used that to your advantage?
Yeah, I guess so. You know, sometimes I felt like I was just trying to survive, as I think a lot of kids feel, having the big gay secret and all that stuff. I feel like when you’re a kid – for a lot of kids anyway – it’s about trying to survive and stay under the radar of humiliation so people don’t sniff you out.
Did humor help you survive, then, as a kid?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
How did you know you were funny and when did you realize you could make a living _being_ funny?
I never set out to do that. I love mining things for the comedy and, of course, that attracts people who love doing that as well. I had this one hilarious friend in high school, Christopher, who’s still a friend, and we did nothing but laugh together. The silliness of the social hierarchies – we would watch those and we laughed about those. We laughed about everything; nothing was too sacred. And we were Catholic kids too! We laughed about the priests and the congregation. So, if you’re allowing your passion to lead you, you end up making money at it, which is a great thing! (Laughs) But I didn’t set out to do it. I really just set out to laugh.
For a while there, you were performing in church basements.
Yeah – a lot of them! The churches would rent out their basement just to make some money and they didn’t care what kind of show you were doing. They didn’t show up; you just paid the 50 bucks and you set up the lights and that’s what ya did.
Is it true that, when you ended up at Second City, you were one of only two women picked to join the troupe?
Well, that wasn’t unique. There were only two women in every company. Now, it’s three. So it wasn’t a unique thing. Every company had two women and four guys and now it’s three and three. It wasn’t like I was only one of two women in the entire history of Second City. I know in some press release it says that, or something online says “she was chosen,” but no, it’s not a big deal. All the girls were one of two women. Now they’re one of three women.
Did it feel unfair to you that the men and women weren’t equal in number?
Nah, I didn’t have eyes for that stuff. I really didn’t. I didn’t see that stuff. I wasn’t available to feeling less than in that way. It just didn’t happen for me.
Assuming you’re taking a bus on tour, what kind of music do you listen to on the road?
Oh no, we’re not on a bus, man. Dude, we are flying. We do this first class – that’s why I’m not making any money on this tour! We fly. I said, “I’m not gonna do it if I have to sit in a bus,” so we fly and we all fly together, although Kate and I do fly first class and I make a joke about it in the show – another reason why I’m not making any money on this tour. But we all fly together and we hang out. We all eat together, laugh together, so I’m not listening to music or anything. I’m not a listener to music – I don’t listen to it very much. But Kate does, and Kate and I have very much the same taste. So, when we’re getting ready – we have a dressing room together – she plays Burt Bacharach songs. She has a terrific library of Burt Bacharach songs, not just by Burt Bacharach, but by all sorts of groups like The Carpenters and we sing at the top of our lungs and that’s our little pre-show warmup.
How did Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” end up on the setlist?
I had a burst of inspiration! I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we did this?” First of all, I think it’s one of the most amazing, hilarious and artful videos I have ever seen. It is so funny. She is sooo self-deprecating, and she’s so kind of pinned this character – this rich girl who’s from the hood who has no class who all of a sudden is hanging out with drug dealers and having access to Balmain and nice clothes and a nice car. She just nails it. So, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fucking hilarious if me, Kate and Tim” – I mean we look like the Heritage Singers out there! We’re so white, so immaculately white, and all three of us cannot dance at all but have all the confidence in the world in our moves.
Looking back on Glee: The show changed a lot of queer kids’ lives, and if I had been younger, it really would’ve influenced me in a major way.
Right; me too!
If a show like Glee had been on when you were a young gay person, how might your life have been different?
Ahh, it would’ve showed me that I wasn’t alone, and oh, just to know that you’re not alone. I really thought I had a mental disease that I was never gonna be able to get over, that I was cursed with it, that it was my fault.
Yes, yeah! And I don’t know where I got this, because my parents weren’t Catholic in that way. We went to church but they weren’t like, “This is bad; this is good.” They just weren’t that way. They were very relaxed, not very good Catholics except that they went to church every Sunday. In saying that they weren’t very good Catholics – they were really good people! (Laughs)
I get it. They weren’t devout.
Exactly. So, I don’t know where I got that it was so horrible, maybe just by the fact that it was whispered about, if it was spoken about at all. And I didn’t see one person in my trajectory of life that had it! (Laughs) I was completely alone in it, so for me to have a Glee, and I’m sure I speak perhaps for you and a lot of other gay people growing up in the ’70s and the ’80s, a Glee would’ve been so wonderful – oh, how great that would’ve been.
Did you feel that, when Glee ended in 2015, it was time?
Yeah, sure. Absolutely. You know, these things can’t go on forever. We have this thing in American television that you have to be on for 10 years or something, and I think the British have it right. The British do 13 episodes and then take a holiday.
Does the cast keep in touch? Are you and Matthew Morrison still close?
I do talk to Matthew, yeah. And my niece was assistant to one of our executive producers and she’s friends with all those folks, so I see them and they come over to my house and we make dinner and sit out on the porch.
I was gonna say, “What’s a post-Glee party at Jane’s house like?”
(Laughs) Well, they don’t talk about Glee, that’s for sure! They’ve all kind of moved on, but they’re very good friends. It was a bonding experience for them – for all of them.
You have Mascots coming up for Netflix, and it’s directed by Christopher Guest, who also did Best in Show with you. What was it like teaming with Jennifer Coolidge again after playing her butch lesbian personal dog handler in Best in Show?
Well, I didn’t work with her; I haven’t even seen her. I worked with Ed Begley Jr., Mike Hitchcock and Parker Posey, so I didn’t even get to see her. I can’t wait to see her at the premiere.
What do you remember from working with Jennifer on Best in Show?
It was a first-time experience for both of us, and we were both very nervous. We were shooting it in Vancouver and we got very close. The days we weren’t working we would take walks through Stanley Park, and she is one of those people who can make me laugh so hard that I can’t catch my breath. She renders my mind inert. I can’t do anything but hold whatever spot I’m at and just double over and try to catch my breath.
Has there ever been a role you regretted not taking?
I can’t even think of one. I’m so in the moment, man. I don’t think about that stuff. I can’t even remember turning something down and I can’t even remember – I don’t remember most things. (Laughs)