How Janet Varney Found Her LA Magic

The creator and star of IFC’s “Fortune Rookie” discusses her love for CBD and why she always wears a helmet.
How Janet Varney Found Her LA Magic
Courtesy of Dolly Avenue

There’s an excitement to Janet Varney’s voice that’s infectious. As we connect by phone mid-morning, Janet’s enthusiasm and friendly demeanor are certainly reflective of someone who’s in the running for an Emmy. But as she thoughtfully explains, the road to her successful career in comedy almost didn’t happen.

What motivated you to move back to acting after pursuing a career in interior design?

I would say I didn’t have a strong sense of anything else that I could or would do growing up, other than performing or somehow being involved in the entertainment business. When I made the decision to move to San Francisco, I had already abandoned the idea of making a living off anything performative and had developed an appreciation for things like architecture and people making their own furniture. Around that same time, I started performing sketch comedy for fun because I was cajoled into it by three of my friends from SF State who wanted to form a sketch group. I was sort of backing into performing comedy, which continued all the way until I moved to Los Angeles.

Is there anything from interior design that influences the way you create content?

I don’t know that I’ve taken anything from that world other than any type of project management – and that’s what I was, a project manager – can be crossed over into production of another sort. Because I founded and produced a comedy festival where we’re managing our own budgets and are adapting year to year as we grow, those are elements on a more practical level that have become invaluable to me working on the production end of show business.

As a performer, certainly some of those skills are handy, but I can’t say anybody has hired me for an acting job and then asked me to dress the set. [Laughs] But I’d probably be pretty happy to do that.

How did you know acting was the career for you?

I was very reluctant to put all my eggs in [the acting] basket because I didn’t want to feel like I was just being judged for what I looked like or what my voice sounded like. I wanted to feel like I was a whole human. One of the things I loved about comedy was it wasn’t so focused on the physical, and I felt my values were pretty grounded in quality of work and ideas. So when I finally came to Los Angeles, I did so begrudgingly at the request of my managers who said “why don’t you come down and give pilot season a try. If nothing happens, you’ll go back up to San Francisco.”

Like many other people who “try on” the idea of performing, I couch surfed, and went from writing purchase orders and balancing budgets to deciding what skirt to wear as I was faxed audition sides. I had to get out my Thomas Guide and figure out where Fox Studios was. It was so surreal. It seemed absurd to me that this was my “job.” I felt like I was floating above my own life. I was watching it happen, thinking “this is so strange.” 

And then I sort of started working right away, which forced me to reckon with the fact I was staring down the barrel of a career that was secretly what I had always hoped for but been afraid of. I had to look at myself in the mirror and shrug and go “this feels right.” Coming down to Los Angeles and engaging with literally hundreds of people who I respected, who were in the same kind of situation that I was in and wanted to make their own stuff, who wanted that sense of community…I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the people first. I found my own LA Magic.

Where did you find the inspiration for “Fortune Rookie”?

Los Angeles is the kind of place you make fun of but you also love. Perhaps not surprisingly, when I made “Fortune Rookie” with IFC, I unconsciously instilled and injected that same LA story influence into what we were writing. The show is much more surreal than just a standard “let’s make fun of LA.” It’s sort of this upside down “Alice in Wonderland” version of that. But it’s still very much a valentine to a city I find absurd but also absolutely adore.

The things that piss you off about it are also the things that create the light to make fun of it.

Absolutely. Coming into the city in the way that I did and then falling in love with so many things about it, even while having this “filter” through which I could feel contemptuous about this thing, or sad this certain portion of the population may have different ideals than me…when you can flauntly make fun of it, you find a different way of dealing with it that somehow feels more productive.

What was your first experience with CBD?

When I first started using, it was in response to a neck injury I had gotten when I was riding my bike up in Griffith Park. I hit a pothole and flew over my bike and landed on my back and neck.

Helmet or no helmet?

Always helmet, always helmet. I was raised by a very avid cyclist father who put me in a giant white bell helmet with a bright orange trim. It looked like I had a second head. I had to double pad it since they weren’t making kids helmets back then and have always been “safety first” ever since. I can’t imagine riding without one.

Anyway, [the accident] created this patch on my shoulder blade where the scar tissue became arthritic. I was trying to manage the pain but didn’t want to do so in an overly addictive or pharmaceutical way. My boyfriend is a journalist and was writing a piece on CBD and through the process of his own research became convinced I should try it.

Why CBD over THC?

I smoked a ton of weed as a teenager and then my freshman year in college had one really really bad high from a bong. I had this horrible out of body experience. And unfortunately, in the several times that I tried to go back to smoking pot after that, it would happen every time. So I stopped. For a long time I’d get scared of getting a contact high from going out to things like a music show. 

Long story long, my boyfriend says “I think we should try CBD” and I say “no no no no no, that’s pot.” He really broke down for me the difference and shared the research he’d been doing, and we started using Apothecanna, the Colorado company that’s pure CBD. I absolutely felt the benefits and the fact that it helped so much was really exciting to me. Just within the last year I graduated to 10 to 1 CBD/THC. I’m officially now taking in THC with zero ramifications and eventually would like to get high and giggle with friends again.

Follow @janetvarney and check out for shows and festival information

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