How Jane Lynch Went From Wannabe Actress to Emmys Host

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An interview with the Glee star about her career, her struggles, and her new memoir

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Reuters


Growing up, Jane Lynch knew she wanted to be an actress. She idolized The Carol Burnett Show's Vicki Lawrence and Happy Days' Ron Howard (who she thought was "foxy") and Anson Williams (just "pretty good foxy"). Desperate for this to be her career, she would cold write to Hollywood agents as a child telling them that she was available for work--and one even wrote back. "Dear Jamie Lynch," the letter began. Addressed to the wrong name, before telling her her ambitions were a pipe dream.

Fast-forward to 2011, and Lynch is now one of Hollywood's most in-demand actors, at age 51, no less. Her new memoir, Happy Accidents, released Tuesday, recounts the journey from "Jamie's" rejection to becoming an indelible part of the Glee phenomenon. The book covers her anxiety-motivated tenacity on her way to becoming a steadily working actor--with memorable roles in films like Role Models, Best in Show, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin--as well as her battle with alcoholism and her struggle to come to terms with her homosexuality. As she gears up to host Sunday's Emmy Awards--where she's up for a second Emmy, after winning last year for her role as the acid-tongued Sue Sylvester--and next week's third season premiere of Glee, Lynch speaks with us about her new book, her life, and the long road to reaching personal and professional glee.


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Hyperion Books

What's it like being one of the people who actually has a memoir?

Well, you know, I didn't set out to do it. I just kind of found myself doing it, like everything that happens in my life. I like it. I've been out of hiding for quite a while, in terms of what goes on inside of me, so I'm not at all afraid of it being out there.

And it starts off with a particularly laudatory foreword written by Carol Burnett, too. What does that mean to you?

Everything in the world. How lucky am I? She's the person who inspired me. After watching The Carol Burnett Show, I wanted to do ensemble comedy--although I didn't know it consciously. And, you know, it's kind of a gift from God. She played my mother-in-law, my mother, and now she wrote the foreword to my book. It's outlandish. It's like having every dream come true.

Over the past few years I've read memoirs written by other female comedians like Sarah Silverman, Betty White, Kathy Griffin, and Chelsea Handler. Just like you do in Happy Accidents, they all recount fondly growing up with a father who cracked them up as a kid.

Oh, that's right! Kathy's father is hilarious. And Sarah's father ... oh my God, those messages he would leave her!

Exactly. What do you think it is about having a father with a sense of humor that shapes all these funny female performers, yourself included?

It's funny, comedy because it's considered a man's field, and we girls get our main comedy inspiration from our fathers. It's interesting that we would have our focus on him so strong in our books.

Do you find yourself calling on your father's sense of humor at all in the roles that you play?

I haven't used him in any characters yet. I've used my mom many times. I am very much like my dad, though. I am more and more like him. I'll be saying things and realize that I'm doing my dad's ridiculous, corny humor. And now Haden, my daughter, and she'll use an "-erotomy" at the end of a word like my dad did to be funny, and I'll think, "Oh my God! My dad lives through my daughter!" (laughs)

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You talk a lot in Happy Accidents about your own struggle to accept yourself and to come to terms with your sexuality. Do you think you would have had a different experience if there were famous, openly gay actors on TV when you were growing up, similar to how actors like Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Colfer and yourself can serve as role models now?

Absolutely. I think if there was somebody openly gay on TV in the '70s and '80s I would have felt much better about things. So I'm really happy for kids out there who get to watch people like me and Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell and Melissa Etheridge walk through their lives having a normal life where the least of their problems is their sexual orientation.

It's still the case, though, that when actors like Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres are discussed in the media, and even in casual conversation, the fact that they are gay comes up high on the list of characteristics used to define them. Certainly higher than when "straight" is used on a list of characteristics describing a heterosexual actor.

That's unfortunately true, where we're at right now. But I think that will change. As far as I'm concerned, I don't go walking around saying, "I am a gay actor," or "I am an advocate of gay humor." I am a person (laughs), who has many different points of view, and many different attributes. I wouldn't pin myself into a corner as being a gay this or that. I love what Rosie O'Donnell once said. Someone once asked her that question, "As a gay person..." and she said, "You know what? I'm going to stop you right there. You wouldn't say, 'As a gay person...could you pass me the mustard?'" (laughs) So for me, as I go through my life, I try not to focus on that at all. I think it's clearly the evolution, that being gay means something right now. It's like, "Oooh. Oooh." But that will change. Black people used to marry white people and it was like, "Oooh."

You're right, things are changing. That's probably part of why Chris Colfer's character, Kurt, on Glee is so popular, and his gay teen story line is getting such a big response. What's it been like to be part of that journey and story line with Chris?

What's great about Chris's character is that it's not just young gay boys who are relating to him. America is. So many kids, when you ask who their favorite Glee character is--besides me, of course--and they'll say Kurt. They love Kurt because he has the power to stand up and show himself for being really different from a lot of kids in one aspect of his personality, and he gets embraced for it. He gets to say, "Hey, don't look at me like that! I'm the same person you are, just a different sexual orientation." I think kids really latch on to that. I think Chris is really brave. He's just great. He's such a mature kid and a wonderful person. I think he's handling this all so well.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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