Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Books
30 October 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 11:08am

Jenny Slate’s charismatic vulnerability

In her new show Stage Fright, Slate mines both her irresistible stage presence and her willingness to be open with strangers.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Jenny Slate has had an eclectic career to date: she rose to viral internet fame with a strange little YouTube animation called “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” (she voiced Marcel), had a stint on SNL, and won widespread acclaim for her leading role in the 2014 abortion romcom Obvious Child. She’s had TV roles in Girls, Bob’s Burgers and Big Mouth, but, in recent years, thanks to a number of confessional interviews and a disarmingly open social media presence, she’s built a devoted following just by being Jenny Slate. Her new Netflix stand-up special, Jenny Slate: Stage Fright, mines both her charismatic stage presence and her willingness to be vulnerable. At New York’s Gramercy Theatre, she offers frank and tender anecdotes about growing up in an antiques-filled, “haunted” Massachusetts home, performance anxiety, and her 2016 divorce. These are interspersed with docu-style interviews she conducts with her parents, siblings and grandparents, mostly filmed in the Massachusetts house.

The set begins traditionally enough, as Slate cracks jokes about having a wedgie and teases the audience who “pay to watch”, but gets funnier as it gets more personal. A tour of her chronically horny teen years is a delight, including memories of her first sex dream (“it was me and a boy and we were in a washing machine?”) and a scene where Slate, in her childhood bedroom, goes through a box where she kept a record of things that had made her angry. So is the material about her divorce, when she was trying to be normal but “screaming inside” all the time. Best of all is Slate’s powerful knack for laughing at herself without being unkind, which makes this a funny and invigorating joy to watch. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas

This article appears in the 30 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone