Jennifer Coolidge is a classic “character actor,” as Hollywood types call them. She’s instantly recognizable when on screen. Her big cheeks. plump lips, ample bosom, boozy delivery. But hardly anybody remembers her name.
She’s okay with that. That’s because her distinctive persona keeps the paychecks coming in. Her film/TV resume on imdb.com is extensive, from her most famous gigs as Stifler’s mom on “American Pie” (upper left) and the nail gal in “Legally Blonde” to guest gigs on “Friends,” “Nip/Tuck” and “The Closer.”
Coolidge also does the occasional comedy show, landing at the Laughing Skull Lounge tonight through Sunday. I caught her by phone last week. She was open, very conversational, a fun person to talk to.
Q: What’s your background to do standup?
A: I was in the Groundlings [an improv comedy troupe] for many years with people like Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan and Lisa Kudrow. That was probably the most fun I had in my life, performing live. What happens, you get in TV and film, you never get that experience again.
Q: So what’s your show like?
A: It’s sort of like what Kathy Griffin does. I don’t want to compare myself to her but it’s the same format. I tell stories. It’s not one liners. It’s my experiences in Hollywood and going through a breakup. Stuff like that.
Q: You have kept yourself busy the past few years. Your imdb.com is huge!
A: That’s very edited down I got rid of a lot of bad [expletive.] There’s a Roger Corman film I did called “Bucket of Blood.” I’m not even given a name in that one. I’m called “stupid girl” in the credits. I think I got paid $700 take home for that for that one! [Actually, that credit is still there.]
Q: What was your breakthrough role?
A: I got this very small part as Jerry’s girlfriend on “Seinfeld.” [She played the masseuse who wouldn't give Jerry a massage.] The minute I was on that show, I was able to support myself just acting. It opened so many doors.
Q: Do you like being a character actor?
A: It’s so weird. If you’re not J. Lo or Cameron Diaz, you get offered these strange parts like some weird funny drug addict or a white woman who wants to be black. I have to say that’s better than being the wife of a big star. Those are thankless roles. With the weird people, you get to act.
Q: Do you still have to audition for roles?
A: I did this movie last year with Nicolas Cage “Bad Lieutenant. [Director] Werner Herzog, I had to audition for him. I got my first real dramatic role. He had never seen my American movies. If he had, he probably would have never given it to me.
Q: What do you play?
A: I’m a real messed up drug addict.
Q: But do you now just get roles handed to you?
A: I still have to audition sometimes. The thing that bums me out is when I used to go for particular roles, there’d be the same four girls I’d see all the time. Now with Hollywood having such rough times, I’m up against thousands of girls. It’s a real bummer. I had the corner on the weird gold digger market. If there’s a part of a woman sleeping with younger men, they’d be offered to me!
Q: Have you gotten used to auditioning?
A: I hate auditioning. It’s such an unrealistic setting. You never audition on stage. You do it in an office. They’re sitting two feet away from you and your shoes are practically touching. You have to play out this whole scene. It’s hard when the person starts eating their lunch or is talking the entire time. But it’s hard to figure out if they want you or not. The Werner Herzog thing. I was 100 percent sure I didn’t have the part. I literally felt like it was the worst audition I ever had in my life.
Q: Your biggest TV role was Joey’s agent in the “Friends” spinoff. What was that like?
A: Matt LeBlanc was so nice. Such a good guy. I thought he was going to spoiled. I just wish I had a different character. What happened is I did that character in the pilot, just this weird agent. I thought it was just one episode. When the show went on, they offered me the role so I had to do it every week. I couldn’t change it.
Q: What didn’t you like about her?
A: I would have preferred to have been more attractive. I was playing a ballbuster. If you’re out in a club later, people aren’t going to ask you to dance.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m playing an ex hooker on ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of an American Teenager.”
Q: What’s Molly Ringwald like?
A: I really like her. She’s very cool. I see her in the makeup trailer. She’s another person who has had a lot of fame and is unspoiled.
Q: I remember talking to Ricky Gervais, who became famous later in life. Do you think that makes a difference for you, too?
A: Things did happen for me later. I didn’t hit it in my 20s. I hit in my mid 30s. It makes a huge difference in your life. I was so surprised anything had happened at all. I was expecting nothing. You don’t have any expectations by that point. I think you just handle things better. I’m so glad I’m not Lindsay Lohan and have every bad thing I did when I was younger covered by the paparazzi.
Q: What’s it like when you are living in New Orleans and not Los Angeles?
A: People in New Orleans are not obsessed with show business. There are no paparazzi except when Angelina and Brad are around. You can have a messy night out and nobody is there to photograph it.
Q: What’s it like when TMZ does catch you?
A: One day I was in a makeup store. The photographer literally wouldn’t go away. I asked the store manager, just let me know when he leaves. He never left. So I just went out and got filmed. He was a TMZ guy of course.
Q: I find it hilarious that they always ask celebrities about whatever pop culture news happened that day, whether you care or not.
A: I’d love to one day, when they ask me about someone dying, to say, “You know? I’m really glad about it.”
Q: What’s your current status?
A: I’m single. I’m dating. I do want to date that guy from “Twilight.” The one with the dirty hair. [Robert Pattinson.]
Q: As the woman who was Stifler’s mom, do you get asked out a lot by younger guys?
A: Yes! Those are the guys that ask me out, guys 20 years younger. It’s never guys my own age!
Q: Why is that?
A: I think younger guys are more confident than older guys. I think they also hope the woman you play in the movie is who you are on the date. They’re hoping you get sloshed and take them back to the hotel.
Q: So can that actually happen?
A: [Pause.] I have to say, I like younger guys. I do. I have no problem with that!
Laughing Skull Lounge
878 Peachtree St., Atlanta
www.vortexcomedy.com, 1-877-LAFF-AT-U (1-877-523-3288)