Janet Varney, Actor


Cool Tools Show 207: Janet Varney

Our guest this week is Janet Varney. Janet is an emmy-nominated actor, comedian, writer and producer. You may know her from Stan Against Evil, You’re the Worst, Fortune Rookie or as the voice of Korra on the Legend of Korra. Now you can find her on the hit sci-fi comedy podcast Voyage to the Stars. You can find her on Twitter @janetvarney.

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Show notes:

Papa & Barkley CBD/THC balm for muscle soreness (From $30)
I have a neck injury from some cycling mishaps that I’ve had in Los Angeles, which is not the most bike friendly city. And I was not a person who consumed a lot of cannabis after my late teens, so for me it’s been really cool to see how that industry has changed and been able to grow in California so that people like me who are looking for alternative methods of pain management and stuff are able to benefit. This particular company is one that I came to after trying a bunch of different healing-type of balms that contain a very small amount of THC and a very large amount of CBD. And I quickly have become such an adopter and such an advocate for people who may be worried like, “Oh, I don’t want to get high,” because that was me and I’ve really been able to get a lot of comfort from this stuff. It’s a small little company and I just love what they’re doing. For me it is very much a daily tool in that I apply it during the day, kind of all day as I do all kinds of different activities. So, for me it’s a tool that enables me to use all the other tools. This is just topical so you don’t take it under the tongue or swallow capsule or smoke it or anything. It’s just a wonderful balm, like lotion or a massage oil. Again, I’m not necessarily the person who’s going to advocate for a bunch of holistic stuff that’s untested. As much as I would like to be a little more new-agey and “woo-woo,” that’s not really my bag. So, I say this as a person who was recommended this by a physician and they were right. It’s good for arthritis, good for aches and pains, good for if you have a pulled muscle. It’s kind of like putting Icy Hot on, but it doesn’t have that same kind of hot burning cold feeling.

New York Times Crossword App for iPad
No one says that doing puzzles is bad for your brain. It’s something that I just find so satisfying for me. I’m a real busy bee. I have a very active brain and so I like to have a little something that I’m working on that keeps my brain occupied. If I’m, for example, on a set on a TV show, it’s nice to have something that’s very portable that you can open and close at will and work on a little bit at a time. What was so groundbreaking for me with the crossword puzzle is you can think you don’t know the answer to something and you can walk away and do something totally different and come back two hours later and suddenly it’s as clear as can be. That was a really exciting lesson for me. This idea that just because you don’t have the answer to something right away in your life doesn’t mean that you can’t get there, and that something else in your life might not help you provide the clarity to another element of your life. As simple as a crossword puzzle is, for me it’s sort of profoundly changed the way I think and the way I reason with myself. You can customize the app to be as helpful or as unhelpful as you want, depending on what the level of challenge you want to be is. You can have it tell you if you’re on the wrong track… they have a pencil or a pen facility where you can say, “Oh, I’m going to pencil this in. It’s a lighter color so that I can remember that this was one I was less sure of,” as you’re going through and filling them out.

Outward Hound Fun Feeder Dog Bowl ($11)
We have a very, very smart puppy that we were sort of cajoled into fostering in February of this year when he was just a couple months old. He constantly needs stimulation and he’s very food oriented because he was a stray and a rescue. He always has this anxiety about where his next meal is coming from. So what you find out is that you can put that to everyone’s advantage by giving him puzzles. We have these different things that we use for when we give him his meals. One of them is called a Snuffle Mat, which is hilarious. It is this sort of felt blanket thing, that has all these little strips on it and you scatter the kibble all through these little felt envelopes. It’s machine washable. It is a long process just to prepare, so we don’t use the Snuffle Mat that often because it’s like, “20 minutes later my dog is ready to eat his food.” But we use this maze bowl, this interactive bowl where it really looks like a maze, and then the walls of the maze is where all the kibble goes. It’s this whole process by which he has to turn around, in a full 360 degrees, around this bowl and really strategize how he’s going to get all of the food. So it slows down his eating and it’s also very stimulating. He sort of pushes the food around, he’ll get a little pile going and then he can eat that. At one point, he got so excited about it that he got to the end and thought maybe there was still food in it, so he turned it over, picked it up by the side of the bowl and was sort of carrying it around hoping to shake something else loose, even though there was nothing left in the bowl.

Break Out Reflective Jacket ($228)
I live in a very hilly area, where there are no sidewalks. This reflective jacket, which is just sort of like a nice soft white sweatshirt, has reflective panels on it, sort of in a vest shape on the front and back, and when a car’s headlights even get close to that thing it blazes. I like to think that people think that an alien has landed because it doesn’t look like a safety patrol vest or what you’re used to seeing a utility worker wearing, it is just this very bold, very consistent, bright, solid, blinding white. I will tell you, boy, as soon as a car’s headlights hit that they invariably all slow down, they proceed with caution, they hug their side of the road, so it really does its job because it makes me feel like a superhero when my super power is just getting cars to slow down on small streets, but it has served very valuable for me. And it is very comfortable. It breathes really well and it’s good for running. It’s definitely a technology and a fabric that I think they haven’t figured out how to make cheap yet, but hopefully it will become more affordable for everybody. For me, feeling safe was worth the investment.

Also mentioned:

Voyage to the Stars Podcast
I’ve done a lot of podcasting in my time, as well of improvised podcasting, but I’ve never worked with such a specific outline for a story. What I love about what Ryan Copple, our show’s creator, has done is he’s given us a very detailed plot that sort of takes the story along and continues to move the action forward, which as much as I love improv, sometimes it’s hard to hold onto a thread of what a plot is doing if you’re busy, hamming it up. What’s been really fun is this hybrid version, where we know the story we’re telling, we know the points we need to get to. In that regard, I think the closest thing to it is probably something like Christopher Guest, where the writer has the faith in the actors that they will get out and get through the story so that it’s interesting and entertaining and really holds up in terms of plot, but also gives that spontaneity and flexibility of making it feel more like it’s happening right in the moment. The hardest thing about doing a show like this is being in a room on a microphone with a bunch of hilarious people whose stuff you don’t want to ruin by laughing, uproariously, because I have a very loud laugh. So it’s been an exercise of finding ways to laugh without making any noise, which sometimes makes my face sore. It’s Colton Dunn, Felicia Day, Steve Berg, Kirsten Vangsness and this amazing table of wonderful guest actors who have come in episode to episode. We have these really fun kind of cliffhanger episodes where we cut it in half, so that week by week you have a little bit of suspense with each guest star in each character that they play. We’ve just been so lucky and it’s been so fun because we have a wonderful camaraderie and if I can just pat us on the back a little bit, I will give all of my co-stars the credit for it, but really great chemistry as the five of us. Then when we have these different energies come in, vis-a-vis, these guest actors, they bring this whole new energy in, and with improv that’s always really exciting because it’s fun to be surprised by people. It’s fun to figure out what your rhythm is going to be with a new person. And we record them well enough in advance that once the episodes actually air, we have all forgotten anything that happened in that room so we can listen to it with fresh ears and are surprised and delighted and a little weirded out that we have this blank where a memory should be, but that’s kind of how improv is.


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