20 Questions Tuesday: 212 - Janet Varney

So, I have the rare honor of asking the amazingly talented Janet Varney 20 Questions for this edition of 20 Questions Tuesday.  That’s right.  The. Janet. Effing. Varney.  I am honestly surprised she has the time to be able to do this, because she is a crazy busy lady and has had no, that’s right, no previous interaction with me.  Ms. Varney is a wildly talented comedic… um… talent.  Janet is currently the voice of the title character in the animated super-hit The Legend of Korra on Nickelodeon.  She is also probably more well known for her stint on tbs’s Dinner and a Movie with previous 20 Questionee, Paul Gilmartin.  In the comedy circles she is also well-known as the co-creator of the insanely popular and distressingly talent-filled SF Sketchfest which happens every January for over a decade.  Did I mention as well that she is the host of a podcast?  Well, she is the host of her very own podcast called The JV Club, in which she interviews/has conversations with other creative celebrity womens.  I became aware of the lovely Ms Varney’s comedic talents from here visits to Jimmy Pardo’s Never not Funny. God-awful funny stuff.  So, enough of my doing the equivalent of flapping my yapper.  Onto the question!

I have my MA in geography focusing on mapping and spatial distributions(… jealous?) so I love hearing people’s geographic stories.  For example, I was born outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, move to Montgomery, Alabama, pretty much grew up in just to the northeast of Birmingham, Alabama, went to college in Kent, Ohio, followed my Wife down to Columbus, Ohio for my grad school and have been in C-bus ever since.  Question 1:  What is your geographic story?


I was born in Tucson, Arizona. I left Tucson after graduating from high school and moved to Flagstaff, AZ, where I lived/went to school for 2.5 years. Then I migrated to San Francisco for a blissful 9 years, then down to LA, where I’ve been ever since!

For some reason I thought your story would be more bi-coastal instead of “Old West” to “West Coast,” but I am not sure where that notion is from.

Question 2: Is LA truly your home now, or is there still some piece of you holding onto San Francisco or Arizona as “home?”

You got me.
Even though I’ve been in Los Angeles for years, part of me definitely still thinks of San Francisco as home. There’s no way to avoid the annoying overuse of “leaving your heart in San Francisco,” but… people like me, who were intensely drawn to live there… it just stays with you. I have never wanted to move anywhere the way I wanted to move to San Francisco. I moved to LA for work. It’s a common tale. I fell in love with LA in a totally different way, but it took time. SF swept me off my feet and planted a french kiss on me from the get-go.
That’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful to have SF Sketchfest. It keeps me connected to the city.

I have heard that many a folk who have lived in the Bay Area find themselves unable to truly transplant themselves to another “home.”  That place really gets into people’s psyche.

Here is the question that everyone waits for.  The question that people talk about at the water cooler when they sit and wax eloquent about this blog (I think I have 12 readers, and I don’t think they know each other).  Question 3: Cake or Pie? and which kind specifically.  

Oh my. I guess one answer is neither: cobbler.
But… within the delicate constraints of your question, I would actually pick cake. I know, right? Bit of a surprise, since I love cobbler, right? Probably thought I’d pick pie, RIGHT?
A girl will always love a nice German chocolate cake, when done right.

Very interesting.  You are the first person to eschew the cake and pie and choose something else.  I have had a few who have said “both” and one who said “Ice Cream Cake,” but you hold the singular honor of offering a wholly different alternative.  You did pick German Chocolate Cake, which is appalling due to the coconut pecan frosting, and we all know that coconut is a horrible abomination that should be stricken from the cosmos like the blight on the concept of “Life” that it is.  So…

Question 4: Which kind of cobbler, because there is a significant difference between apple cobbler and, say a pecan cobbler? and detail what you like about the cobbler structure that makes it superior to pie in your estimation… color me intrigued.

HOLY LORD, is there PECAN COBBLER somewhere out there??! That couldn’t sound better.
I like a berry cobbler, Scott. But if you wanted to throw a little peach in there to mix things up, maybe a blueberry peach cobbler, I wouldn’t turn it down. Ice cream melting into the warmth of the cobbler also doesn’t hurt anybody.

Here you go:                      

  • 2 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 cups pecans, coarsely chopped                                    

Cobbler Crust

  • 1 cup oat flour (1 cup regular oatmeal processed to a fine powder)
  • 1 cup unbleached flour (all-purpose flour will work)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup cold water                                       


  • 1. Pre-heat oven to 350º.
  • 2. Spray a 13 X 9 inch pan with cooking spray.
  • 3. In large bowl, mix together the syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs until very well combined.
  • 4. Pour 1/3 of this filling mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  • 5. Add pecans to the remaining filling mixture and set aside while preparing crust.
  • 6. In medium sized bowl combine the two flours and salt.
  • 7. Cut cold butter into small pieces and add to flours.
  • 8. Combine butter into the flour using a fork or pastry cutter.
  • 9. Add cold water, a little at a time, stirring until the dough forms into a ball that sticks together (I only used 1/4 cup water but the original recipe called for 1/2 cup).
  • 10. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead gently about 4 or 5 times until it is no longer sticky.
  • 11. Roll out dough into a 13 X 9 inch rectangle.
  • 12. Carefully pick up the rolled dough and place in the pan on top of the filling mixture.
  • 13. Pour the remaining filling mixture with the pecans onto the top of the dough.
  • 14. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until the center begins to set.
  • 15. Remove from oven and let cool for about 20 minutes.
  • 16. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The Holy Lord provides pecanny goodness.

In truth, if you add brown sugar and butter to chopped pecans and bake, you can have almost any number of pecan dessert constellations.  The house I grew up in to the Northeast of Birmingham had 2 pecan trees.  I ate sooo many pecans as a kid, yet, I do not really like pecan pie.  I am a conundrum to be sure.

Question 5: So, you are doing voice acting, you are an actor, you do a podcast, you organize Sketchfest, I am sure you most likely have a book deal on the back burner, etc… so… If you had any downtime, what would you do as a hobby?

I do make sure I have downtime. I create downtime to stay sane. My favorite things to do with my downtime are to hit tennis balls and to ride my bike. Not at the same time.
That makes me sound really athletic. Allow me to remedy that: I also enjoy watching television, going to movies, and eating food. Food is great. Food whenever possible.

I am disturbed by the level of mental health displayed by your carving out time for yourself….  I am not sure this blog can take this level of health.  However, this healthiness seems to be tempered by the love of food.  So, I guess we can still be friends.

Speaking of food…. Question 6: What is the go to food for you…. All foods ever are on the table (it’s a big time gigantic hypothetical table), what do you reach for first?

There’s a sushi place here in LA that has food so good it kind of makes you angry at it while you’re eating it. You know that feeling? I was just there with a date the other day and he was laughing at how enraged I was by the deliciousness of my baked crab handroll, and suggested I punch it. To prove a point, I DID punch it.

It is good you showed that crab handroll who’s boss!  I have never gotten into sushi…  I don’t like fish in general, and the belly does not respond to spicy that well.  Sushi is just not a treat for me… and I am in Central Ohio, the land of scrumptious seafood (sarcasm), so that is not necessarily a detriment here.  What is a detriment here is my overall distaste for cheese.  People just don’t get that. They constantly try to win me over with cheeses.  It ain’t happening…. but I would push a toddler out of the way for some neufatel… well some good neufatel.

Question 7: Do you dislike something that others insist on trying to get you to like?

Cheesecake. I am often greeted by shock and dismay when I reveal that I don’t like cheesecake. Then, after I’ve expressed my dislike, people tell me that if I just “tried so-and-so’s cheesecake” or “insert cheesecake flavor here” cheesecake, I would at least like THOSE cheesecakes. But I don’t like cheesecake. Thus… I don’t like whatever cheesecake someone forces me to try, thinking this’ll be the bite that converts me. I don’t like cheesecake. I feel I’ve been very clear on this point. I also don’t like the band Nirvana. I respect them immensely, but I don’t want to listen to them. This is the other thing that makes me a pariah.

I understand both aspects of this sentiment.  On the one side I loves me some cheesecake and find it hard to believe that someone is not overjoyed by the sublime smoothness of cream cheese, eggs, and sugar.  On the other side, I don’t like cheese and people keep trying to get me to eat it because they cannot fathom someone not being beside themselves with glee at the mere prospect of eating cheese.  I respect your dislike of cheesecake and suggest apple pecan crisp instead.

Question 8: Other than being the voice of Korra, have you done any other voice acting?

I have… not that much, but some. I did voices in an amazing film - Dante’s Inferno- that was incredibly artfully rendered and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it in any capacity. I also did a pilot for Nickelodeon before Korra that was a huge hoot. I played a smarmy unicorn. Yes, smarmy. There are other bits and pieces here and there, but Korra is certainly the biggest job to date. And it’s been amazing! Like a dream.

I have heard that the voice acting gigs are tough nuts to crack because of the talent and longevity of the existing talent.  I love the work you do on Korra and I could see you getting more gigs due to the quality of that work… if only I were a prophet. I would be prophesying some lotto numbers right now if that were the case.  As soon as I was independently wealthy, I would throw you some voice acting bones, but really I would get myself set up first. Can’t effectively help people from the poor-house now can I?

Question 9:  Have you done any voice-over work?  I understand they are wholly different beasts.  If not, is there a product that you would love your disembodied voice trying to sell?

You mean commercial vo? Like “This vacuum will change your life!”

Interesting that you immediately went to vacuum.  Yes, indeed, that is what I was referring to since VO and Voice Acting are different (yet similar) skills.  So have you done any VO? or what would you like to lend your voice to shill?

Think I got one once? Maybe for… cheese? I’m blanking. I audition for that kind of thing when I have time, but I’m definitely not as skilled at that.

So, it was very impactful for you.  I would even venture to say that it was life altering… well… maybe not so much.

Well, since we are about to turn the corner and start the slippery downward slope… My Mother-in-Law has a wonderful family saying that is an adage as old as time and words to live by.  This sage advice is “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.”
Question 10:  Do you have an adage, saying, motto, mantra, credo in your life? If so, who is the source of the sagacity?

Hmmmm… an actual specific adage… do I?

This is kind of dumb, but the most recent thing that really impacted me was an old favorite song by The National. “Fake Empire.” There’s a line in it that goes “Let’s not try to figure out everything at once.”

It’s maybe not the fireworks-inducing, heart pounding, Wind-Beneath-My-Wings answer I’d like to give, but it’s been resonant for me the last couple of years.
I would have to say that “let’s not try to figure everything at once” is at least just as impactful as “don’t let the fuckers get you down.”

I am going to take this to a deeper level.  Question 11: What is the question in your life that drives you?  What is the question in your core that you are constantly trying to answer through your thoughts actions and deeds?  For example, my question is “How can I bring my professional life and career more in line with my personal life and goals?”…. and go!

I like yours. Can I take yours?
I guess mine, before I stole yours, would be something about balance. How can I balance finding contentment in the moment while still fostering my ambition for an enriched future, balance my probably-more-than-healthy-dose of fear with confidence and maturity, balance career with anything that doesn’t involve career, etc.

Balance is always a tricky thing, and I have to say that the aspects you are trying to balance are great and very well though out. For the record, I think my over-arching question just altered itself… it does this from time to time.  The newest version is “What exists that you cannot help but participate?”  I am a bit lost right now as far as what I want to do with my life.  Cataloging holes in the ground for the department of transportation just is not cutting it.

How about a palette cleanser here.  Question 12: As one of the creators of SF Sketchfest, what aspect of the festival is your favorite part in 2012? and has that changed since the festival started 11 years ago?

The immediate answer that springs to mind is our INCREDIBLE staff and volunteers. We have been so lucky to build a family of amazing, talented, professional teammates. When we started the festival, it was pretty much just the three of us doing everything. We had a great Tech Director and a fantastic House Manager (who is still with us today), but we were selling tickets, selling concessions, ushering, driving talent to the airport, and everything in between. It’s a completely different experience having people we love and trust helping us make this labor of love come together year after year.

Well, even wee little peeps much as myself in far away Ohio have heard of SF SketchFest, so whatever you and your team of folk are doing, you are doing it well.

Here we are at the dreaded 13.  Question 13: Do you have any specific superstitions that you hold or any rituals that you do?  For this purpose a ritual could be something as simple as saying some phrase to yourself prior to taking the stage to center yourself or something complicated that involves robes, chickens, alters, and snakes.

Hmmm… I’m not that superstitious. But rituals… I mean, I guess I am pretty consistent about throwing my audition sides away the second I leave an audition. That’s more about putting it behind me so that I don’t have to think about the impending rejection, but it’s pretty ritualized at this point. Like, if there isn’t a garbage can nearby, I feel irritable until I have gotten rid of them. Ugh. What a gross, boring, Hollywood answer.

Yes, you are soooo Hollywood.  I was just saying to my wife yesterday that if that Janet Varney gets more Hollywood I will just scream.

I asked 2 of your friends this question and they asked for your input (the delightful Pat Francis and the deep Paul Gilmartin).  Now is when you get to repay the favor. Question 14: Fill in the blanks.  I find that I am mostly _________.  Other people find that I am mostly __________.

Oh! The question I have secretly been dreading!

I find that I am mostly thinking about what I’m going to eat next.

Other people find that I am mostly overly excited about something or other.

Oooh!  I have questions that people actually dread?  That is teh awesome!  It is sad to say that I have become that predictable.  In truth, you are clearly overly excited about something or other and you can barely contain yourself… (is that how “Yes/And” works?)

Question 15: Is there something that you are currently over excited about right now?  It could be a project, a face cream, a new restaurant, a belt, a car, a smoothie ingredient, a new computer, a pet, a list of random things…

I am always over-excited about my podcast.
I am over-excited about a weird craft project I am working on as a surprise for my boyfriend.
I am over-excited about my recent discovery of NO salt turkey at the Whole Foods deli meat department.

Well, I am excited about your podcast (I am catching up on the episodes right now.  LOVE. IT).  You are quite the pleasant and adept host, and I will hear no other evaluation of your podcast hosting abilities unless they are more glowing.
It is always great to have a weird art project going on for your significant other.
I had a lovely Turkey Reuben today from a local sandwich shop.  It is like we are less questioner and questionee and more connected on a higher level.

A little bit about the podcast for the uninitiated… Janet gets amazing female guests on her podcast and asks them wonderfully inciteful questions that tend to focus on the guest’s identity and progression of identity through adolescence and into their adulthood.  It is great. You have already had on some insanely great guests for your podcast, Question 16: Who is your unattainable guest?  Who is the person you would put a basketful of kittens in the rain to have as a guest?

Number one wish is Emma Thompson.

I would absolutely love to hear you chat with Emma Thompson.  You are a delight, she is a delight.  It would be like a delight squared, and who doesn’t like the square of delights.

Question 17: In all the conversations you have had for the podcast, have you found any common threads that seem consistent from conversation to conversation?

If I may just be obnoxiously humble-braggy about the concept of the podcast, I think one of the most consistent things that happens is that guests are surprised to discover what memories come up for them and how much they enjoy turning their thoughts back to that time.

Throughout all of my myriad of 20 Questions I have found that the people I talk to are very gracious with their time.  It is amazing how complete strangers will give so much time for something that is so truly insignificant.  I have a readership of, at most, 450 people a week.  For example, you have given me slivers of your time, in between doing your podcast, voice acting on Korra, promoting and acting for Burning Love, stuff for SF Sketchfest, etc, etc, etc… I am always amazed by the graciousness of the people I ask these questions.  I love answering my random 20 Questions, like the one that is being posted on July 31st about our new house, or the one I did a few months back on Birthdays, but I am always in awe of people giving me their time.  So, preemptively, thank you very much for all the time you have given me

Turnabout is fair play, so, It is time to turn the tables now.  Question 18: Other than what I do for a living, what question/s do you have for me?

Are you watching the Olympics? Why do people not care about women’s sports except the Olympics? What’s one of your favorite books?

Q1: I am watching the Olympics as much as I can… stupid job getting in the way of Olympic watching.  That is a tricky question, and I think it has to go back to how unbalanced our society is.  There is a societal pressure that tries to keep women down.  There is a consistent pressure for women to look and act a certain way.  I think society is not ready to see women in any other light than as supermodels.  Supermodels are the perceived physical ideal.  Their measurements are unattainable and their photos are rarely un-shopped.  When people see female athletes, who are at the peak of physical conditioning, and notice that they all have different body types and that peak physical conditioning does not actually mean the supermodel look… it makes that goal even more unrealistic for women. My wife and I were watching last night and were commenting on the different body types associated with the different sports, and how none of those body types were what is being idolized on magazines and TV/movies. I hope that I am getting my point across and not just being rambly. I am a soccer guy and I love watching women’s soccer, but I think that I am in a minority.

Q2: Hmmm… The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss comes to mind immediately.  It is the first book in a trilogy (the 2nd one is out and the 3rd has yet to be published).  Rothfuss is a wizard with language.  You taste his words as he weaves a picture.  They roll around in your mouth giving you glimpses into a different world.  Another book that I love is Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  That is just a delectable book about Jesuits making a mission to an alien world and the hijinks that ensue.  By hijinks I mean first contact and cultures clashing.  Simply amazing.

Question 19:  What are leaving with from this 20 questions that you did not bring with you?

Well, I think we both know I’m overwhelmed at the realization that there is pecan cobbler.

Pecan Cobbler is an overwhelming thing.  Just remember everything that can be made into a pie can be made into a cobbler of some kind…. all you need is enough butter and sugar.

Okay, the final question…Question 20:  What is next for you?  Be as concrete or as vague as you want to be.  Be as realistic or philosophical as you want to be as well. 

Right now I’m working at HuffPost Live getting ready to launch on August 13. It’s an amazing team of people… what’s “next” for me is to endeavor to become as smart as they are. Me like be smartt.

Smartt goods.

Thanks so much for doing this.  My 20 questions have been getting overly male and getting some strong female energy into the blog is always a welcome difference. You are a talent to be reckoned with and everyone should consume every bit of media and entertainment you create because you are simply amazing.  I am eternally grateful for the amount of time you have taken to do these 20 questions and if you were able to enjoy this half as much as I did, you should have had a good time.

Please everyone give Janet a follow on the twitters, listen to her podcast, watch her on Burning Love, listen to her act on The legend of Korra, watch her field questions on her live Huffington Post Live gig.  She is an amazing talent and a wonderful person.  I feel better just having had this chat with her.

To recap:
So many boxes in the house…. so many boxes
The select button on my phone is dying
So is our fridge
And the airconditioner
We are using a painter for the rest of the rooms that need the paints
The kids’ rooms are painted
Q’s dresser and bed are painted
The basement is getting painted
The downstairs will be painted next
Moving into a new house is hard
Janet Varney is just plain awesome
Leave off “awesome” in that last sentence and it is a put-down
Not like an animal “put-down”
I need to set up my home PC
There are some Never Not Funny’s that I am behind on
Have a great weekend everyone

Donate if you wanna…. way down on the left… I would love to buy a pizza