Jenny Slate On Her New Netflix Special And The Joys Of Radical Authenticity
In her new Netflix comedy special, Stage Fright, Jenny Slate blends a revelatory family documentary with confessionals and a freeform stand-up act in a team-up with Gillian Robespierre, her Obvious Child and Landline collaborator, that feels charming, interesting, hilarious, and utterly unique all at the same time. It's also open, relatable, and in checking those boxes, conveys a sense of authenticity that Slate is chasing as a performer and a person. It's something we discussed recently with the actress and comedian who is best known for her work in the above-mentioned films, Park and Rec, and Big Mouth.
Across our conversation, Slate also offered insightful, no-bullshit takes on her past apprehensions about doing a comedy special, evading formulas, resisting nostalgia, and how the special serves as an emotional time capsule.Hey, you know what? I needed that special. I was telling a friend the other day how I had not seen a really great comedy special in a while and I was just a bit exhausted by all the kinda bro-y stuff and this was perfect. Like really refreshing.
Wow! That means so much to me. I wasn't expecting that. Thank you. It's so funny. The reason why I didn't make a special for a long time was that I was like, this is so prescriptive. It just feels like everybody does it in the same way and it does feel bro-y and how many hoops am I going to have to jump through just to get a special? Like blah, blah, blah. That actually is not how it went down for me at all. In fact, it was a lesson learned that I should continue to have the optimistic attitude that I normally have. But when I made the special, I wasn't sure whether or not people were going to be like, "Yes, this is a comedy special" or whether or not it would just seem like an in memoriam. [Laughs]
In fact, I wanted to call it In Memoriam and everyone kept saying, like, "You need to just stop acting like somebody is doing you a huge favor. You have a space to fill, like, do your work. You've been doing it for so long, why not make it legit?" I'm glad that I did.I read somewhere that you really had no interest in filming a special, so I was curious, beyond what you just said, what was it that changed your mind?
Well, first of all, it did used to seem to me that, before Netflix existed and was making this content, what I would hear from my friends about what they had to go through to get a Comedy Central special or whatever... that didn't seem fun. That just doesn't seem fun. Also, the idea that it would be like once you do your special, you can't do those jokes again. You have to come up with new things or people would tour over and over again in order to get everything right to do the special. That just did not seem fun to me. I've always done stand-up... except for at Largo in LA, I've basically done it for free. Occasionally, I'll go to a college or do a festival, but I mostly do small shows because that's what I prefer. Because I feel that I can be creatively authentic.
I am not a joke writer. My comedy is relational and experiential and it's like going out to dinner with somebody. It's free form on purpose because I make myself laugh when I make comedy. It's for me as well. I didn't understand that there could be a space for that. But then when I saw my friends doing specials for Netflix and it was like, "Oh, well hold on, like Kroll and Mulaney are doing Oh, Hello and people are being really original." I felt like maybe I can do my thing. That also coincided with a time when I was starting to tour a little bit and doing festivals. I would do like Moontower or something in Austin and play the Paramount and play the Wilbur in Boston and play 1,200 people, which is the max for what I will perform for.
Anyway, I asked Netflix, "Can I do an hour and interview my family, so that I feel like people really get a sense, just a little taste, of where I come from and they can understand that I'm not getting on stage and just saying something that I could say to anyone, but that I'm saying it that night based on who I perceive the group to be?" They were like, "Yeah, sure." I was like, "Wait. What?" I was like, "Okay. I want to choose my director and have an all-female crew," and they were like, "Yeah. Alright. Okay." It was just like, I'm expecting someone to be like, "You can't do that." They put no limits on me, which was really nice.
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