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The Mayor and the Critic Go to Hell

Jane Lynch and SDM’s food critic sit down for a very fast, pleasantly awkward meal at Hell’s Kitchen

Jane Lynch celebrates her inauguration as the mayor of Funner, California.

I just catalyzed Jane Lynch’s fall from vegetarianism. She tried my scallops. It’s like watching a friend dial an ex they’d sworn off. Not on my watch, Jane! I think but do not say.

She can eat whatever she’d like. She’s Jane Damn Lynch, star of screen and stage. She said “cocaine” to Paul Rudd a few times in a movie. Just kept hammering that word, squeezing it for all its comedic pulp. And each time she said it, the scene got funnier. The funny should have died far before it did, but she just kept it alive, juggled the funny.

No, wait. She’s clarifying. Neither I nor Gordon Ramsay have ruined anything, she says (we’re dining in Hell’s Kitchen, Ramsay’s signature restaurant at Harrah’s Resort SoCal, a fairly big deal). We do not have that power over Jane Damn Lynch. She’s been tinkering recently with chicken and seafood, she explains. The chicken-and-fish-only exception has always struck me as odd. Is the line, “Don’t eat it if you can ride it?” But Jane Damn Lynch will not be questioned. Her body, her seafood.

Not that I would have taken any perverse pride in altering the life of a famous and talented person like Jane Damn Lynch. We’d just been talking about why she had gone plant-based a few years prior. “I watched a video of these doctors in their 60s talking about how they went plant-based,” she says, sipping a lavender zero-proof cocktail from a menu of mocktails in her honor at Hell’s Kitchen (Jane Damn Lynch’s been sober a while now). “I noticed how young and healthy they all looked and I thought, Hmmm… maybe there’s something to it.”

I had spent the last day researching her life in preparation for our meal together. And I had not read about her protein trysts. So I thought I’d derailed her. I have derailed things in the past. There is a history of derailing.

Jane Damn Lynch is here on official business. She is now mayor of Funner, California. It’s an ad campaign for Harrah’s Resort SoCal —quite honestly, one of my favorite campaigns (created by local agency, 62Above). First of all, they actually renamed the town. It’s not a nickname or a branding rephrase. It’s the legal operating name of the town. I’m not sure what it takes to rename a town, but I’m guessing money.

Then they named David Damn Hasselhoff the first mayor of this now nonfictional province of gambling and lazy rivers and resort massages and concerts and pool parties. Yes, him of beefy Baywatch slow-motion beach jogging. The Night Rider, a man who isn’t just cheesy (and hot), but actually possesses the cheese, inhabits and owns his emotional fromage, so that what in lesser mortals might be a negative becomes an attribute, a bankable character trait.

The mayorship of Funner is not a democracy. If you’re famous and funny and are okay with going to a SoCal casino for 15-minute meals with media hacks—some of whom take their job far more seriously than I am able to—you get the keys to slot machine city. They hand you an arm falcon, put you on billboards all over San Diego.

Their mayor before Jane was Rob Riggle. He played the role perfectly, his jaw like human skin stretched around an anvil—just a massively proud mandible that projects a certain level of bone structure–based confidence. He had an air of grapes and palm fronds and baccarat.

“Rob was the spoiled boy king,” Mayor Jane Damn Lynch says. “I’m more of the people. And yet I’m tall enough that I’m not really of the people. I walk around, I glad-hand, I float above. I act like I’m one of you, but of course I’m not. I’m six feet tall. I’m regal. I’m a celebrity. I’m not you, you’re not me. You want to be me, and I’m delighted by that.”


Jane Lynch’s mayoral duties include falcon-holding and zen-chasing at Harrah’s Resort & Casino—plus awkward lunches with media pundits.

There it is. That classic Jane Damn Lynch unselfconscious plainspeak, the aristocratic deadpan that makes her character in Marvelous Miss Masel such a vicious treat. I was waiting for that morsel of playacting. She knew I was waiting for it. She gave it to me, a small preapproved gift for her media interviews. I refrain from saying, “Do the cocaine thing.” Composure loosely adheres to me.

Jane Damn Lynch is dressed in a purple pantsuit. She looks like she could do some damage with a profit and loss statement, but opts to have shorter people do that. Like, with a wave of her hand, beefy men would whisk you off her premises. But, until she dictates your removal, she’s game to share some beet salad.

All you need to really know about Jane Damn Lynch is that she’s lovely. She is, as she says, elevation-tall. She has textbook posture. She is refreshingly real when she talks, doesn’t seem to be tiptoeing just in case I’m a “gotcha” media hack waiting for her to slip into a luscious scoop. And these days every public figure—especially funny people whose job it is to sidle up to the line of unacceptable and pull back at just the right moment before they say something that incinerates their career and gets them tied to a stake in the public square of social media—has reason to not answer with their honest thoughts and feelings at all.

In the days of cancel, if smart, every famous person would answer like baseball players to every question they’re ever asked. Just say, “Well, I just trust God has a plan,” when pressed about whether they’d like Coke or Pepsi.

The most fascinating thing about my meal with Jane Damn Lynch was the process. When celebrities come to San Diego, especially as part of a media campaign, they tap certain local writers and creatives who might do an interesting job spreading the word. They offer morsels of Jane Damn Lynch personal time.

Usually this results in a social media pic, a lighthearted blurb on the local news to show that San Diego is a place where famous people come, that while you’re kissing good luck charms and praying to dead relatives while you pull the brass appendage on the slot machine, Jane Damn Lynch is walking on the same extremely soft carpet that you are walking on. You’re sharing the room with a shiny human.

But these 15 minute interviews are always fairly awkward for both of you and yield very little substance aside from mutual observations of awkwardness. It’s media as speed dating. Or speed acquaintancing. You spend the first three to four minutes making small talk and trying to establish some sort of baseline connection with Jane Damn Lynch.

You’re trying to prove that you’re the kind of person that can be trusted, that she can go ahead and drop the Big News, the Jane Damn Lynch news that will get San Diego Magazine—this media company my wife and I bought in a state of passion and possibly economically suspect idealism—trending on Google, read by everyone who’s ever loved Jane Damn Lynch. They’ll not only sign up for a thousand-year subscription to go along with their permanent SDM neck tat, but they might also come here to Hell’s Kitchen to try their very good beef wellington (a 1950s classic that’s been revived, it’s basically a full fancy steak baked in a puff pastry, a wonderfully marsupial steak design).

You only get a few minutes with celebrities like Jane Damn Lynch because being a celebrity is like being constantly followed by a flock of birds that are pecking away at the thing you have the least of: time. There are 24 hours in a day and 300 of those hours have been requested of celebrities by various organisms, including me.

Thirty nonprofits would like you to speak at their big annual fundraiser. Ten media outlets would like an all-day shoot in your family home—and, weirdly, just for quirk, a tour of your bathroom. A passerby has thoughts on your last movie and would like to express them in descending order of importance, so if your spouse wouldn’t mind if they borrowed a couple minutes. Just a couple, like 30 or so, if you don’t politely remove yourself.

I’ve been in media for so long that I’ve given up on 15 minute interviews. But I am a bit fanboyed by Jane Damn Lynch. She just seems like the kind of person you could road trip with. She’d have fun thoughts on gas station jerky.

So when Lynch’s people contacted me, I pitched them a short video idea: “The Mayor and a Food Critic Go to Hell” (since I feel like hell is a place many people would like politicians and food critics to at least visit). We’d share a meal, film the banter back and forth. I’d do my food critic thing with the dishes and zero-proof offerings of Hell’s Kitchen (they also have wine and cocktails and all the things, but it’s 1 p.m. on a weekday and I for sure don’t want to get half-buzzed and end up burdening Jane Damn Lynch with the story about the time I wet myself on national TV), casually spelunk through Jane Damn Lynch’s thoughts on life. The video goes viral, SDM buys Meta, Mark Zuckerberg becomes my trusted intern.

News came back from Jane Damn Lynch’s people. They’re in! And, and, and! I get 45 minutes! What a luxurious time treat! As the date of our lunch gets closer, less fun emails arrive. The first says no video will be allowed. Since that was the concept, it’s deflating. The magic of Jane Damn Lynch is seeing her deadpan face as she says something lovely or wrecks your world a bit with her smarts. I’m a person on TV. She’s a far more famous and talented person on TV. It could’ve been great!

But we’re adaptable. Okay, I say, then let’s do an audio recording so that people can hear Jane Damn Lynch sparkle. We’ll release it as a special podcast. News comes back. No go on the audio.


Troy Johnson and Jane Lynch pose for a photo mere moments after agreeing to launch a chain of daytime restaurants together (just kidding).

At this point, I nearly pull out of the brief lunch with Jane Damn Lynch. As righteously cool as it would be—and I’m going to get to eat Gordon Ramsay food, for chrissakes—we’ve got a company to run. I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time. As I’m about to cancel, my vision fills with an image of Sue Sylvester striding in her tracksuit like a dark lord of physical education down the halls of whatever the high school was called in Glee. I don’t cancel on Jane Damn Lynch.

About 15 minutes into our lunch—Hell’s Kitchen is lovely, exactly the big flashy kind of restaurant I want when I visit a casino, and the service and food are very good—I see Jane Damn Lynch’s people start to shuffle a bit off to the side. They seem to be sending code to Jane Damn Lynch. She’s doing her best to stay tuned into our conversation, and this is where I get the juiciest bit I’m going to get today:

“If I never act in a TV show or film again, I’m totally okay with that,” she says.

DID YOU HEAR THAT, INTERNET?! Jane Lynch says she would be fine NEVER ACTING AGAIN! There is a vague impression that she might be done acting but that’s really missing the point and misconstruing her words because she’s just kinda saying that she’s grateful for what she’s got and has a keen sense of inner peace if it all ended today! Put all the viral on this article! Send it to the moon! You’ll have my acquisition offer next week, Mark!

A slight activity, a buzzing, a “next, please” vibe starts to take hold of Jane’s people off on the side. My liaison, a very good PR person named Mary Ann, comes over to the table. “We have two more minutes,” she says. I look at my recorder. It’s only been 20 minutes! I was told 45! Some wire has been crossed and now there’s panic.

Jane Damn Lynch and I were having a grand old time. I was luxuriously backstroking in her minutes, which she’s graciously sharing—and now, bam! I’m thefted minutes! I need to get a few really usable insights into her life and thoughts on Funner and mayorship. Pressure’s on.

So I pull the classic pro move that I’ve learned over many years of journalism: I choke.

At some point in trying to bridge the gap and seal that human connection in speed-media—the clock is ticking, you have two minutes, time for the journalism hail mary—you will find yourself talking about something you have no good reason to share. Like some random fact about a sibling or how you enjoy Pez as a concept but struggle with the chalkiness. Some odd secret about your life will fall out of your mouth despite neither party requesting nor really wanting access or exposure to that info. I think I tell Jane Damn Lynch a story. I’m not sure. Kinda blacked out.

“Well, I’m a fan of fun,” she says of her Funner mayorship. “They came to me and said, ‘We’re actually in a town called Funner, California.’ And I was like, ‘I have to be the mayor of this town.’ Funner, is that a word? It’s a word in my heart.”

Anyway, she’s very polite, a consummate pro. She gives me far more minutes than she was asked to give. I am the bird on her minutes, and I respect how much she’s indulging my pecking at them. After we say our goodbyes—and, as you’ve learned by now, I didn’t get a real story from Jane Damn Lynch aside from maybe this longwinded story about trying to get a story from Jane Damn Lynch—she actually comes back to the table and gives me more time. We casually chat about how we love our wives and how I grew up with a gay parent. We dabble in light politics.

Then a production crew starts to mic her up so that she can film new mayor videos for Funner, California. Our minutes have expired, and she is now being asked to distribute the minutes elsewhere.



So Jane Damn Lynch and I will not be going into business with each other, either. But the scallops were great.

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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