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.

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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. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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