By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Comedy clubs were closing, and many comics were trying out their routines in alternative venues. Inspired by comics “who had a complete sense of their personality, doing things they might not try in comedy clubs,” Rajskub did a long performance-art piece in which she dressed in a towel, read from a scroll and fired shots from a prop banana.
“Then this woman in the San Francisco Weekly wrote that I was one of the strangest, funniest performance artists, and I said, Whooah.”
Rajskub used her stage fright to inform her persona, which she says people found slightly freaky. At one gig, she asked to be strong-armed onto the stage, as though she were being forced into the limelight against her will. She says the “comedy” was met with something between hostility and sympathy.
Kramer suggested that in order to frame the act as “performance,” she should announce at the top of the show that she’d just taken Ecstasy. That helped.
“They needed a context for bizarre behavior that didn’t fit into the standup mold,” Rajskub explains. And that context gave her the license to come up with ever more abstract imagery.
“I’ve never been a joke teller,” she explains.
Rajskub arrived in L.A. in 1993 to do live performance art. She had no head shots and was not gunning for the industry.
“I don’t really know why I came here,” she says. “It was a really exciting time. I miss it because of the people, but it’s not happening anymore.” She means the poetry readings in Laundromats, the sheer quantity of performances and recitations in coffeehouses, the sheer number of coffeehouses not named Starbucks.
And if it were still happening, Rajskub doesn’t know that she’d be a part of it.
“Would I want to perform in a Laundromat in Echo Park? Would it yield anything now? At that time, I’d have said yes.”
Meanwhile, being repped by a friend’s manager, who’d been hip-pocketing her since seeing her in San Francisco, Rajskub did a comedy cable show hosted by Janeane Garofalo, which led circuitously to her landing a part on the HBO comedy series Mr. Show, and then to one on The Larry Sanders Show. Paul Thomas Anderson saw her do a performance at Largo and gave her a part in Magnolia that was largely cut. However, he used her again in Punch-Drunk Love, which got her enough film screen time to be seen by 24’s producer, Joel Surnow. And so it goes.
But Rajskub continues to employ her trademark discomfort with herself in order to develop stories and refine a way of telling them. The challenge of this is that as she’s gotten older, she’s become more self-possessed.
“I don’t feel so nervous now,” Rajskub admits. “I was nervous in all situations, especially parties. I’ve improved a hundredfold.”
She certainly appeared poised during a recent appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Her body language conveyed a regal presence. Quick to pick up on sly innuendos and return them in the flicker of an eye, she was somewhere between übercompetent Chloe and Rajskub’s nervous comedy persona. Even with a gracious smile, her focus still gravitated toward the safety of the floor.
She has mixed emotions about such trappings of budding fame. “It makes me feel special, which is dangerous, because it’s made me more confident, made me some money, but there’s this little flag — be careful, because if you buy into this, you can use being recognized to heighten something that’s not real at all. I should go back to my roots, the real me.”
But who is “the real me” for anyone who’s evolving as life rolls by? These days, Rajskub is wrestling with her future as she grows more successful and as childhood fears and the desire for attention yield to adult yearnings and the desire for a home.
“The older you get — you need ways to meet people,” she says. “It doesn’t happen by magic.”
“So the bars just aren’t doing it?”
“I’ve been to my share of bars,” she says, laughing. “Too much drinking. Not enough action.”
She plays with her coffee cup for a moment.
“People get married back home,” she reflects. “They settle down. They get jobs. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, God, I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts and my things.’ But I don’t want to force it. Maybe it’s just who I am, and I have to give in to that. I had a teacher who was surrounded by objects. Maybe that’ll be me. Or, soccer practice with the kids in Woodland Hills.”