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Big screen comedian shares insights

BY LAURA WILLIS | JANUARY 27, 2011 7:10 AM

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On 19th Street and Park Avenue sits one of New York City’s finest restaurants, Canastels. Foodies recognize the eatery for its fine Italian cuisine, but many don’t know that at one time, Canastels had two soon-to-be Hollywood stars: a host named Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Coolidge, a cocktail server who later acted in such films as American Pie, Legally Blonde, and Best in Show.

But those roles didn’t allow Coolidge’s type of humor to shine through.

“When I think of standup, I think of a line and a joke and a line and a joke,” she said. “Mine is more Kathy Griffin style, more storytelling. It’s a chance for me to be sort of dirtier and to speak unedited.”

Audience members can see Coolidge’s humorous dark side at 10 p.m. Friday in the IMU. Coolidge will discuss the bizarre aspects of working in Hollywood, her dating life, and insight on what actors irritate her.

“You can’t go on ‘The View’ and talk about sex or imitate actors you think are weird,” she said. “So my opportunity is to do it in standup, where I can’t get in trouble.”

Campus Activities Board comedy director Audrey Shelton said she believes Coolidge’s humor will appeal to college students and others.

“Most students were just becoming adults when the American Pie movies were released,” Shelton said. “I bet [Coolidge] will make all of us laugh as if we were 16 again.”

When Coolidge left her hometown of Boston for New York City, she wasn’t planning to pursue a career in comedy. The Emerson College graduate hoped to take on dramatic film roles.

In one drama class, Coolidge watched the teachers rave about an actor who cried in every scene.

After the lesson, she did an imitation of the teacher’s favorite student, cracking up those around her.

A friend suggested that Coolidge try out for Gotham City Imrov, a group that included Will Ferrell and Kathy Griffin, among other comedians. After one audition, she earned a spot in the comedy troupe, which opened the door for numerous job offers.

“It was then that I realized that I should have done the comedy thing all along,” Coolidge said.

She soon left New York and became a member of the Groundlings, an improvisation group in Los Angeles. There, she landed her first television role as a masseuse in “Seinfeld.”

In the following years, she won roles as Stifler’s mother in American Pie, a dog owner in Best in Show, Hilary Duff’s stepmother in A Cinderella Story, and an agent in “Joey,” to name a few.

For Coolidge, each character showed a certain part of herself. While playing a manicurist in Legally Blonde, she went back to her sophomore year of high school, when she felt she was at a low point.

When auditioning for the role as Stifler’s mother in American Pie, she believed it was only natural for her to play a seductress.

“I haven’t had a job yet where I’ve played someone that wasn’t really me,” Coolidge said. “I am dying to play that mother on the run with a machine gun in which I have to take on a bunch of zombies.”

Her wit keeps fans such as William Herrmann of Bloomingburg, N.Y., returning to shows whenever he can with his wife.

“She is just hilarious,” he said. “She gets into her zone, and no matter how much she gets the audience laughing, she keeps a straight face.”

While she has been flexible in the roles she’s played, she couldn’t see herself taking a different career path. Aside from being talented at running and playing the clarinet, the comedian didn’t believe she had a strong backup plan.

“If I hadn’t become an actress, who knows what I would be doing,” Coolidge said. “I would be living on a park bench in New York City.”


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