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Jane Lynch Is Not Playing Games With the 'Weakest Link'

The actress talks about failing at pandemic reboots and hosting a new version of the popular game show

Jane Lynch stands at the podium as the host of the NBC show Weakest Link

Chris Haston/NBC

This week, Jane Lynch takes on the iconic hosting gig of the rebooted game show Weakest Link (Tuesdays, starting Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. ET, on NBC). The comic, actress and singer, known for her roles on Glee and in films including Best in Show, talks with AARP about her comedy idols and crushes, her rescue dogs and why she disappointed herself during quarantine.

Why we'll love Weakest Link

It's really approachable but also much higher than pop culture. The Weakest Link is based on the BBC format: We talk about NASA, history, astronomy and literature. You have to read a couple of books to answer the questions; you had to have paid attention in high school. That's why I like that. It's a little more taxing to the brain. You learn so much, and it's such great competition, too. Nine people compete, and they have to try to work as a team, but only one of them is going to end up with the money.

Taping a show during a pandemic

We're all together on the same stage. I'm about 8 feet apart from them; they're about 6 feet apart from each other. We built this wonderful set. In the original the audience was always in black and you barely hear them, so we just eliminated them.

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Why she wouldn't want to be a contestant on a quiz show

I liked watching them growing up, but I don't like playing games. This is my second hosting gig [after Hollywood Game Night], and I'm a frequent player on 25 Words or Less, a syndicated show. I don't like game night, but I do like that trivia stuff.

On playing herself playing a host

What's the little machination, the negotiation I do with my personality when I do this? It's just another form of me. I pick and choose particular things. I have to be in charge and exert a certain amount of authority so those are there. I'm not playing a character at all; I'm playing certain aspects of myself as a game show host. I'm playing Jane Lynch if she were a game show host.

Her quiz-show-host idol

I loved what Anne Robinson did with [the original] Weakest Link — that kind of severe-schoolmarm thing. I can tell when the host is good, and I hold myself to that same level. I'll be myself. On Hollywood Game Night, I'm hugging everybody, going “That's OK” [when they lose]. In this one I'll be a little more harsh but with a wink, because I'm a nice person. I don't want anyone to feel bad for too long.

On being a dog mom

We started with three [rescue dogs] — we mostly adopt seniors. Millie, bless her heart, passed away. Now we have a black cocker spaniel named Bernice, and she's pretty old. We've had her a couple years, and she's basically deaf. And we have Rumi, a puppy. Well, we call him that, but he's 3. We found him in a canyon. He's a black cocker spaniel as well, but he's a bit of a piece of work. He's cute and sweet but kind of aggressive, and he can be mean to Bernice, so we just have to be careful about the two of them.

Lynch Fast Facts

Actress Jane Lynch sitting in a chair in a fall-themed background setting

Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Age: 60

Hometown: Evergreen Park, Illinois; raised in Dolton, Illinois

Current projects: Weakest Link (NBC/Peacock), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)

Greatest Hits: Glee; Best in Show; A Mighty Wind; For Your Consideration; The 40-Year-Old Virgin; Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Role Models

Animated history: Voice roles in Space Chimps; Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs; Shrek Forever After; Rio; Wreck-It Ralph; Ralph Breaks the Internet

Accolades: Five Primetime Emmys, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, one Golden Globe

Education: Bachelor's, Illinois State University; Master of Fine Arts, Cornell University; honorary degree in fine arts, Smith College

Pen to paper: Autobiography Happy Accidents (2011)

On being funny

I studied regular acting, but I found myself in sketch comedy. I came out to L.A. with a bunch of friends, and we continued to do sketch comedy together, adding people from the Groundlings [the famed Los Angeles–based improvisation theater and school]. So when the Christopher Guest thing came along [starting with Best in Show, in 2000], it was really a real joy. Then I got to be in a bunch of really funny movies in the early aughts, if you will, with the Steve Carells and the Will Ferrells — a lot of good stuff.

Why she loves Carol Burnett

I loved that even though it was called The Carol Burnett Show, she was part of an ensemble, and she was really generous in that way, too. It didn't strike me until I was older that it could have been very much just about her. But she got the best people to surround herself. It was really egalitarian. She had these amazing people acting with her and guest stars and musical numbers, and the costumes were just amazing.

RELATED: Get the latest from Lynch's (and our) idol, here: Carol Burnett Is Still Going Strong and Living in the Now

Comedic-crush confession

John Mulaney is a masterful stand-up. I laugh so hard, and every moment is precise. A lot of comedians walk around on stage going, “I don't know; I don't know.” Their jokes aren't built. Every moment is choreographed for that guy. I love him. Sarah Cooper, who lip-syncs Trump on Twitter, is amazing. She takes something that he says and acts it out as herself; she doesn't wear a costume or anything. She's become a bit of a phenomenon.

Top quarantine screen binges

I watched some of Better Call Saul, probably four or five seasons of that. Maybe I watched all of that. Unfortunately, I'm a Twitter/cable-news person, and that hasn't served me very well. I follow a lot of really smart people, but I follow a lot of political people, and these are really dramatic, tough times. I also follow some really funny people, and I laugh out loud — Michael Ian Black, Rob Delaney, Andy Richter just crack me up. Sometimes I'm on there too much and I need to step away from the Twitter.

Top quarantine confession

I did nothing. I disappointed myself on every level. I thought I'd do yoga, but I didn't. I thought I'd lose five pounds, but I didn't. Well, I did, but then I'd gained it back. One thing I did do is [walk]. I live in Laurel Canyon — too many hills. I'm not that ambitious. So every morning I get up and put on a cute little walking outfit and go down to West Hollywood. I have a favorite coffee shop there, so I pick up a cup of coffee and walk in that cute little neighborhood. It's a good thing; get some good fresh air and vitamin D — and 7,000 steps by the end of the day.

Keeping busy in a pandemic

I do voice-overs. I do a lot of animation. So for the first couple of months [of the pandemic], I did it from a little studio I made in my house. Now the studios are very safe places to go, so I could have a couple of jobs a week — which is great — where I get to go out and, you know, put on a pair of pants.

Goals for a new decade (Lynch turned 60 in July)

I stopped having goals when I was about 45, and never looked back. I have much more fun if I just stay in the moment. A lot lighter.

Advice to her 21-year-old self

Just relax. It's not even in your hands — you are so being guided. You are so fine. I would say, “Jane, 21-year-old Jane, there's no such thing as free will anyway, so freakin’ relax."

We are all in this together

One of my favorite things is walking down the street and you see everybody in their masks, and you smile at everybody. Even though you can't tell, the eyes smile. There's a feeling of solidarity. I'm wearing this mask not just for me but for you.

Watch it: Weakest Link is on Tuesdays, starting Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. ET, for three weeks; then Mondays, starting Oct. 19, at 10 p.m. ET, following The Voice.