Jennifer Coolidge: A Star Turn

The Fringe has been known to eat American comics alive. But Jennifer Coolidge has survived Hollywood, so how hard can it be. The film-star and former “MILF” chats to ‘Fest Magazines‘ Lyle Brennan.

Hollywood, to those of us who don’t know it well, is built out of images of idealised glamour: gleaming, 45-foot letters; red carpets; handprints in concrete paving. For many of the aspiring stars currently populating Edinburgh, it no doubt makes for a tantalising picture. But when Jennifer Coolidge, speaking from her retreat in New Orleans, mentions that she will return to her Los Angeles home later that day, she doesn’t exactly sound thrilled.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that, for the 48-year-old character actress, the novelty of Tinseltown has worn thin after more than 20 years. Since moving there from her native Massachusetts, she has racked up appearances in some of the most popular comedies to hit screens both big and small, granting her the kind of ubiquity that almost makes you forget she exists outside of those four corners. Her filmography reads like a greatest hits of recent US entertainment: guest spots on FriendsSex and the CityFrasier and Seinfeld; brilliantly unselfconscious performances in Christopher Guest’s semi-improvised mockumentaries; supporting roles inLegally Blonde and Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant; and—yes—those indelible scenes as Stifler’s Mom, American Pie’s prototypical “MILF”.

Hollywood has served her well, it seems, but while she stops short of slating it altogether, she frequently calls life there “weird”. It’s not so much LA’s notorious insincerity, its desperation or its debauchery, as chronicled in countless rockstar biographies, that has soured her affair with the city – it’s the continuing rise of cheap reality TV.

“Hollywood’s gotten different. When I got there it was very much all about movies and television shows. But now there’s this new thing, and I guess I have to get on the bandwagon but…” She tails off for a moment, perhaps too repulsed to wade into contemplating the genre. “You could have a whole show about people that don’t buckle their pants. I could come up with that show and probably sell it.”

Her distaste will strike a chord with anyone who’s despaired at the prospect of another summer of Big Brothertedium, but for Coolidge, escaping the trend wasn’t as simple as switching channels. Her solution was a change of scene and a self-reinvention she compares to those of the chameleonic Madonna. And what better sanctuary for the disillusioned actress than the freer, more self-reliant world of live comedy?

Although she’s been performing her one-woman show for barely a year, Coolidge will take a bold step into stand-up’s spiritual home when she brings Yours for the Night to Edinburgh this August. A month before her first Fringe date, the nerves are kicking in.

“When people say ‘is your show any good?’ all I can say is ‘I don’t know.’ I’m hoping it’s entertaining, I guess. Who knows? I could be terrible.”

Explaining the substance of her debut hour—mainly a collection of aptly “weird” anecdotes designed to shatter misconceptions of supposedly glamorous showbiz life—her speech is peppered with ‘maybe’s and ‘hopefully’s, but despite pre-festival jitters, she’s not flying completely blind. A background in improvised comedy predates Coolidge’s screen successes, and her time with celebrated stage troupe The Groundlings—which counts Will Ferrell and Lisa Kudrow among its alumni—means she’s able to take comfort in her belief that “stand-up isn’t all that different.”

Early shows have been well received by the American press—though Coolidge, who refrains from reading her reviews, wouldn’t know—but even if her festival run proves disastrous, she insists the experience of touring life will be ample reward.

“You get to hang out with normal people – it’s just amazing how refreshing that is, that you’re not hanging out with people in show business. My life is so concentrated on that, and that’s all I really meet, living in LA. But you go on the road and you meet everybody. It’s pretty cool – and the dating life is way better on the road.”

Edinburgh, particularly, will be a playground for an excited Coolidge, who has never set foot in Scotland. “Maybe it’s presumptuous, but I expect to have a full-on relationship with somebody there,” she reveals, and for a moment it’s impossible not to associate her with that cougar character, which she still bears as if it were some horny, inebriated albatross. But romance is far from the only thing on what turns out to be a wildly varied agenda: apart from celebrating her birthday in the capital, Coolidge throws up such random suggestions as hiking with the Scouts, judging beauty contests and “eating dinner with anyone who would invite me into their home.”

“I have a short attention span and I’m up for some cheap thrills,” she laughs. Edinburgh, be prepared.

Jennifer Coolidge is performing in the Assembly@George Street at 8.15pm for the duration of the festival. (Not 16th)

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