Janeane Garofalo finally annuls her 20-year “joke” marriage, and other revelations from The Ben Stiller Show reunion

For two decades, trivia listings on Wikipedia, IMDB and other websites listed Janeane Garofalo as married. Despite her many jokes and serious statements over the years on stand-up comedy stages, TV shows and other appearances to the contrary, in which the comedian and actress claimed she’d never get married, Garofalo had been married for 20 years — to her then-boyfriend and writer on The Ben Stiller Show, Robert Cohen.

Joke or no joke, their whim to wed in the drive-through lane of a Las Vegas wedding chapel counted.

Garofalo and Cohen finally annulled their marriage over the weekend, announcing it to a packed crowd Saturday night at The Paley Center for Media in New York City during the reunion of The Ben Stiller Show‘s cast and writing staff. “We were married for 20 years until this evening,” Garofalo said.

The couple had dated for about a year back then, before deciding to elope in a double-ceremony. Show writer Dino Stamatopoulos and his lady were in the front seats; Cohen and Garofalo, in the back. “But now he’s getting married for real,” she said.

Cohen’s fiancée, Jill Leiderman — executive producer for Jimmy Kimmel Live — told The Comic’s Comic after the panel that her friends and family had questioned her ability to date Cohen over the years for precisely that reason. She and Cohen, however, thought his wedding to Garofalo wasn’t real just because it was on Wikipedia. Until it turned out, Leiderman said, that there was a very real, very legitimate marriage certificate filed in Nevada.

Pressed about their relationship and “joke marriage” last night by Judd Apatow, who co-created The Ben Stiller Show with Stiller, Garofalo said, “I’m sure I was terrible.” To which Cohen quickly replied, “I can confirm that.” He also jokingly claimed: “I’m going to get all that Reality Bites money.”

Later, Garofalo — who famously doesn’t own a computer nor use email — told The Comic’s Comic that she never gave her “joke” marriage to Cohen a second thought. “We even gave them fake middle names,” she told me.

The importance of personal and professional connections as comedians fueled not only the relative success of The Ben Stiller Show, but also reveals its influence and ripple effects in comedy and TV. Apatow and Stiller were quick to point out during Saturday’s reunion panel at The Paley Center (scheduled as part of the 2012 New York Comedy Festival) that they didn’t bother with putting out a broad search for talent when filling the cast. They hired friends and people they personally found funny. The cast and crew, from co-creators Stiller and Judd Apatow, to cast members Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk (reunited via Skype), to writers Jeff Kahn and Robert Cohen, all attested to it publicly.

To wit:

  • Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow cast Janeane Garofalo because, as Apatow said, “She was the funniest female we knew.” Apatow and Garofalo had appeared and performed together on an HBO Young Comedians special.
  • Stiller and Jeff Kahn were two of several young comedians/actors who used John Cusack’s Los Angeles home as a hostel in 1988, while Cusack was making Say Anything.
  • Stiller and Kahn moved to NYC to try their hands at stand-up comedy. That didn’t work out so well. But while acting in a Broadway revival of “The House of Blue Leaves,” Stiller made a short parody film of Tom Cruise in The Color of Money. “There was not a big market for that,” Stiller said. But, Jon Lovitz came to see the play one night, and after Stiller had shown Lovitz the film, he asked him to bring back to 30 Rock for Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels to see it. That was a Friday. The film aired the following night. “So you owe your career to Jon Lovitz?” Apatow joked. The short film led to a brief stint for Stiller on SNL, but also to MTV, and from MTV, a parody of FOX programming led to a deal with FOX.
  • Ben Stiller and Jeff Kahn met Andy Dick in Chicago. Kahn and Dick both had worked at, and both had been fired from, D.B. Kaplan’s deli there; Andy said he had been giving away soup; Jeff, for dropping something and yelling “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
  • Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk both were doing one-man shows in Chicago, and eventually began working together.
  • Andy Dick and Dino Stamatopoulous had performed together since college. Andy suggested Dino write for the show. His sample, became the TV sketch, “Skank.”
  • Janeane Garofalo met Bob Odenkirk when she was 25 at Catch A Rising Star. It was an SNL audition. “Even though I was just a stand-up then,” she said.
  • Janeane Garofalo met Andy Dick when “he crawled under my (toilet) stall and propositioned me.” She recalled thinking: “I thought you were gay!”
  • Apatow said he and Stiller met at Elvis Costello’s “Unplugged” concert. They knew HBO wanted a new sketch comedy series. Their initial premise starred Stiller as a college film professor lecturing his students, with a guest lecturer coming in each week to present new short films. HBO sold the pilot to FOX. They shot the pilot three times. Each time, they wrote and produced different wraparounds. “Finally the network said, ‘Just do something!'” Stiller said. They went simply with Stiller introducing new clips. “It was the opposite of Mr. Show. Not in any way inventive.”
  • The Ben Stiller Show was Apatow’s first real TV show. Before then, he said he had no resume — just two spec scripts (one for The Simpsons, one for Get A Life) and was making a living writing jokes for other stand-up comedians. “I literally had no skills,” Apatow said. “I was just scared much of the time.” He listened to self-help tapes, and he absorbed as much as he could in terms of producing and editing, and worked 15-hour days. He also wrote in parts in the sketches for his famous comedian employers. “I thought we’d get picked up if we had a lot of famous people on it,” Apatow said.
  • When FOX demanded someone of a higher level be added to the writing staff, Apatow said they brought in Brent Forrester. Forrester hadn’t yet done much. “We created a fake resume for him and he was our high-level guy,” Apatow said. Forrester went on to write for The Simpsons, and become a writer/producer/director on The Office, among other projects.
  • Garofalo credits her role on The Larry Sanders Show and her acting career to The Ben Stiller Show. “I was just a stand-up until I was 27,” she said. “My aspiration was, I want to be George Carlin. I didn’t think I could do other things.”
  • Dino Stamatopoulos and Bob Odenkirk would join the writing staff of Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
  • Through Janeane Garofalo, David Cross joined The Ben Stiller Show, writing and appearing in the sketch, T.J. O’Pootertoots. Cross, of course, would stay connected with Bob Odenkirk for Mr. Show.
  • Andy Dick thought he was famous six episodes in on The Ben Stiller Show, Odenkirk and Cohen both noted. Not quite yet. That wouldn’t happen for a couple of years, when Dick went on to co-star in NewsRadio.

They also waxed nostalgic about several of their filmed sketches together…

Here is the debut episode in full. Roll it!

And this was the final episode to air, which included “A Few Good Scouts,” “Cops” in Medieval Times, Ben Stiller’s Music News with Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) and Casey Kasem; American Profiles: High-Tech Hillbillies, and The Legend of T.J. O’Pootertoot with David Cross.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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