In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, Jennifer Coolidge is having a bit of a moment. The Emmy-winning star of The White Lotus has finally found the acclaim she so richly deserves, and her hit HBO series—for which she memorably took home the Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series trophy in 2022—has just been renewed for a third season. However, Coolidge has been a working actress and mainstay of American comedy for decades, long before she ever checked in to the eponymous luxury resort.
Who is this beguiling and enigmatic actress we all think we know? Here are 10 facts that might surprise you.
1. She played the clarinet as a child.
Coolidge might be best known as one of the premier comedic actresses of her generation, but don’t be fooled—this is a woman of many talents. “I went to orchestra camp for three summers,” she told Us Weekly in 2020. “I played the clarinet. I thought I might do it for a living.” Most fans of the actress would gladly sit through a Jennifer Coolidge clarinet recital. Make it happen, PBS!
2. She wanted to be a dramatic actress.
Comedy may be Coolidge’s bread and butter now, but it wasn’t necessarily her ambition when she was studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She hoped to become known for more serious roles. “I wanted to be a straightforward actress,” Coolidge said in an interview with Female.com.au. “I became obsessed with Meryl Streep in college, and I wanted to be a dramatic actress my whole life. I was very serious about that, and it went a different route.”
3. She used to pretend to be a Hemingway to get into clubs.
While living in New York in her twenties, Coolidge developed a cocaine addiction that lasted several years. As she told the Los Angeles Times in early 2022, hitting rock bottom at age 27 is what allowed her to “refocus” her life and her career. Yet out of that dark era came one of our favorite Coolidge anecdotes about how she made her way into some of the city’s hottest nightclubs. “I always said I was Muffin Hemingway if I couldn’t get in,” she told Vulture in 2021. Once, while pretending to be Muffin—the least-famous (and totally fictional) Hemingway sibling—“I got thrown out of a club because I was behaving badly, and they said, ‘Don’t ever come back here, Muffin!’” While Muffin likely remains banned, we doubt the club would mind if Coolidge dropped by.
4. She waited tables with Sandra Bullock.
Living in New York is not cheap, so to make ends meet Coolidge worked as a waitress at a restaurant called Canastel’s, where future Oscar winner Sandra Bullock was among her co-workers. “Sandra really had her act together, and she was the hostess. But I was, you know, partying a lot in those years. So it was sort of 50/50 if I made the shift or not. But I couldn’t get fired for some reason. There was this very forgiving maître d', Moreno. All of us wanted to be actresses,” she remembered earlier this year while appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
5. Her first credited appearance was playing Jerry's girlfriend on Seinfeld.
After going to rehab at 27, Coolidge’s career began to take off—albeit slowly. She auditioned for Saturday Night Live but wasn’t cast, and two failed shows (including Saturday Night Special, a sketch show with Kathy Griffin and Roseanne Barr) in the ‘90s slowed her ascent to stardom. Still, Coolidge’s star-quality was undeniable—which may be how she got her big break and first credited appearance on a little show called Seinfeld. She played one of Jerry’s girlfriends, a massage therapist named Jodi who hilariously refuses to give Jerry a massage. “I didn’t really have any jobs before that,” she told GQ in 2015. “I only had lies on my resume.”
6. She was part of one of the most famous comedy troupes in the world.
That resume quickly filled up, though—something Coolidge credits to her 9-year stint as a member of The Groundlings, the famed comedy troupe based in Los Angeles. “The minute I started with The Groundlings, the seas parted and so many cool things happened,” she said in a 2010 interview while promoting her standup tour. “I think I would still be waitressing today if it hadn’t been for The Groundlings.” Her time with the troupe coincided with that of other comedy legends, including Lisa Kudrow, Will Ferrell, and Kathy Griffin.
7. Coolidge credits Ariana Grande for her career renaissance.
Coolidge is a legend in her own right, but even legends need some help. Entertainment Weekly’s 2022 Entertainer of the Year credits her friend Ariana Grande for giving her career the boost it needed when she cast her in the video for “Thank u, next,” Grande’s chart-topping smash hit. “You were sort of the instigator. I really believe that,” Coolidge told the pop star in a recent conversation between the two for EW. “I think if you hadn’t put me in ‘Thank u, next,” and done that imitation, I don’t think I would be here where I am.”
8. She doesn’t live in Hollywood.
Despite being one of the most famous comedic actresses of our time, Coolidge hasn’t lived in Hollywood for many years. Shortly before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she bought two homes in New Orleans—both of which were damaged in that devastating storm. “I’d go down like 10 times a year,” she said of the city in a 2005 interview. While her homes were “pretty bashed up,” even in the aftermath of that tragedy she was confident her adopted hometown would recover. “They’re gonna rebuild that city, and I’m gonna retire there.” Today, nearly 20 years later, Coolidge still calls the Big Easy home.
9. Her house is not what you would expect.
Coolidge is known for her quirky and hilarious characters, but in real life she’s a fan of the gothic. In 2021 she told The Guardian that people are often surprised that she lives “in this very old, dark house with creepy oil portraits on the walls ... [w]hen people come around for the first time, they feel like they’re on a haunted house tour or a fairground ride.” Sofia Coppola even shot her southern gothic film The Beguiled there. Her prized possession in the home? A Parisian automaton called Signor Blitz which has been in her family since the 1850s. So cherished is the Victorian antique that she named her production company after it.
10. She is a fan of her SNL parody.
Despite not being cast on Saturday Night Live herself, Coolidge holds no grudges. “Congrats to the new cast members!!” she tweeted on December 18, 2022. “I know how hard it is to get on that show. I tried my ass off to be one but you actually made it!! What a feat!”
Coolidge was particularly thrilled to see Chloe Fineman impersonating her on the sketch comedy program’s annual Christmas show. “Wow! A massive thanks to [SNL]!!” she tweeted, “and to the exceptionally brilliant impressionist Chloe Fineman with your hilarious imitation!!” Coolidge may not have made the cast, but she would certainly make for an impressive host!