Hardly a day goes by when someone, usually a teenage boy or a man who remembers his teen movies fondly, doesn't recognize Jennifer Coolidge and blurt out: "Hey, you're Stifler's mom!"
It's not as if Coolidge could forget American Pie, the 1999 movie that put her on the pop-culture map as the original cougar. (Take that, Courteney Cox!)
Her fans wouldn't let her.
The funny lady, also known for her hilarious turns in ensemble works including A Mighty Wind, has made a career by completely committing to characters — no matter how absurd.
From a soup-loving gold digger in Best in Show to the delightfully evil stepmother in A Cinderella Story, a modern take on the classic tale, the actress steals scenes in ways big and small.
But after a bad breakup, Coolidge is taking her career in a different direction. She has a juicy dramatic role in a new movie and is doing a stand-up tour that brings her to Lexington this weekend.
"It's just to keep myself from getting bored," said Coolidge, 48, who has been packing comedy clubs since summer and has weekend bookings for several months. Stand-up provides interaction with the audience, she said.
"I sort of live in Los Angeles on top of a hill, in a secluded house behind a wall," she said. Stand-up is "really good for getting back and interacting."
Even with the success of female comics including Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, stand-up is primarily a boys' club. Coolidge hopes to bring a female perspective to the stage, she said. Her act is evolving, but "it's just kind of storytelling," she said. The focus of much of it is "living in Hollywood and going through a really bad breakup."
"I don't even know what I am going to say yet," she said.
The work has helped her put her life into some kind of perspective, she said.
"It's so weird. It's so amazing. You look back after a breakup and look at the weird things people say and what you tolerate," she said. "In the end, it's a common theme for most women, getting involved with the cynical narcissist."
Her most appreciative audience has been women and gay men, she said.
Coolidge is taking risks in her professional life as well. Her latest movie is The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans, a drama in limited release.
She plays the alcoholic stepmother of the main character, played by Nicolas Cage. No one, she said, was more surprised than she was to get the part. Dramatic roles have often eluded her because her comedic talents are so well known.
"You kind of get pegged in a box, and it's really hard to get out of," she said.
She auditioned for the movie in New Orleans late in the process. "All the L.A. actresses had already auditioned," she said.
She has a house in the Big Easy. "New Orleans is my saving grace," said Coolidge, originally from Boston. "Whenever I'm not working, I go down there."
So when the filmmakers came to town, she walked from her home to audition for director Werner Herzog. Caught up in the audition scene, she threw a paper bag containing some "really hard pieces of bubble gum."
"I almost took out Werner's head," she said.
Not a winning audition, she thought.
But she got the part.
"It took a German man who had not seen my work" to give her a shot at a drama, she said.
Looking back, she said, "it just seems like it was really one of those meant-to-be things."
Cage, she said, was great to work with.
"I really liked him. He was really cool. He's really smart. I was impressed with him," she said.
She, however, fretted for several weeks into filming that producers would discover that they made a mistake by casting her and get "rid of the comedy girl," she said.
Coolidge said her dream job might be movie roles with screen legends Jack Nicholson or Anthony Hopkins, but, she said, that seems unlikely.
"I can't imagine Anthony Hopkins saying, 'I would love to work with you,'" she said adopting a deep British voice.
But, you never know. A drama seemed unlikely last year.