Jenny Slate Doesn’t Want to Gross You Out

“I’m embarrassed about the fluid situation,” the comedian Jenny Slate began, apologizing for her cold. We were talking on Zoom, and she was some three thousand miles away, in Los Angeles, so I told her I didn’t mind. Still, she continued, through coughs, “I’ve found, after COVID, that the sound of fluid in the nose is a turnoff for many people, which totally makes sense. So I’m calling it out—I know that I’m gross. That’s probably all you need for this interview! That’s really the center of my perspective.”

Is it? Consider the contents of Slate’s latest standup special, “Jenny Slate: Seasoned Professional,” an A24 production that débuts on Prime Video this Friday. With her trademark kid-sister zaniness, Slate talks about her “exploded” vagina after giving birth to her daughter, Ida; a seventh-grade orchestra trip that ended in a messy lactose-intolerance incident; and peeing in her overalls while fleeing early-pandemic L.A. But Slate’s perspective isn’t just about bodily fluids. “Seasoned Professional,” she got around to telling me, is a “love story told in reverse.”

Slate took a circuitous path to both love and comedic stardom. Her single season on “Saturday Night Live,” in 2009-10, is mostly remembered for the accidental f-bomb she dropped during her first sketch. Her breakthroughs came later, including her viral video “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” which was directed and animated by her then boyfriend, Dean Fleischer Camp; they later married, divorced, and turned Marcel’s miniature adventures into an Oscar-nominated feature. She starred in the abortion dramedy “Obvious Child,” made memorable appearances on “Kroll Show” and “Parks and Recreation,” and lent her voice (or her many voices) to animated projects such as “Big Mouth” and “Zootopia.” Her first taped special, “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright,” appeared on Netflix in 2019.

Slate, who is forty-one, splits her time between L.A. and what she describes as the “little seaside town” in Massachusetts where her husband, the artist and curator Ben Shattuck, grew up. When we spoke, she was in her home office. Behind her was a painting of her dog Reggie (R.I.P.) watching her other dog Arthur (who went with Camp after their divorce) on a TV set. When I asked her to name the weirdest object in the room, though, she looked around and chose an electric drill. “It’s very easy for me to say that objects have personalities, or, at best, a tiny spirit,” she said. “Just a touch of the pagan.” In our conversation, which has been edited and condensed, we talked about the power of turning forty, her obsession with her therapist, and how Marcel the Shell helps her with parenting.

Jenny, do you remember how we first met?

I definitely remember screaming at you that we should get margaritas but mistaking you for someone else, because I myself had had too many margaritas. Do I remember how we first met? I don’t think I do.

I’ll tell you. It was around 2005, when I had just started at The New Yorker, and you were dating a New Yorker fact checker and would come to our softball games and cheer us on.

Yeah, Josh! What a handsome, nice person. He was my college boyfriend. I loved going to those softball games, and I loved going to the bar afterward. Everyone was really nice to me. There’s a version of that where people are, like, “Somebody’s girlfriend? Blech!”

You were like our WAG. You were our Taylor Swift.

Oh, my gosh, what a friggin’ compliment, man!

You would bring us some spirit, which made up for what we lacked in athletic ability.

You guys were pretty good. Unless I’m wrong. I kind of remember you getting your butt kicked by the High Times team.

Yes! It was, like, Why are you not stoned and wandering off the field? It made no sense.

I would’ve been very stoned as well, and I’m not ashamed to say that. That was a pretty heavy marijuana time for me. Now I haven’t smoked weed for over five years, but at the time I had a really healthy relationship with it. I remember sitting there stoned and being, like, the specifics of this situation are dear to me. They’re softball players, but they work at a magazine. They all have to do that job, but then they’re willing to let each other see them play sports, and then they’re going to drink beer. It just felt so old-fashioned. I was, like, This is what I would have chosen as a kid, and now I get to have it.

I’m pretty sure I knew that you were a comedian then. But it wasn’t until years later that I saw you on “Saturday Night Live” and went, “Oh, my God, that’s Jenny, Josh’s ex-girlfriend from softball!” What kind of comedy were you doing in 2005?

I was right out of Columbia. It’s odd that I became a standup comedian, because I didn’t grow up watching any standup at all. I did grow up idolizing “S.N.L.,” of course, and Gilda Radner. I loved comedy. Anyway, Josh and I were living on Henry Street, in Brooklyn, and I was working at a bakery on Court Street. I had zero connections to anyone in the entertainment industry, but I had [my comedy partner] Gabe Liedman and a bunch of us from Columbia who had been in an improv group. I wanted to one day have a “Strangers with Candy”-type show. Gabe and I watched every episode a million times, and Amy Sedaris is, like, a living god. So we started a sketch group. We practiced and practiced. We had nowhere to perform. Finally, we got a spot at a tiny theatre near Great Jones Street, and we put on a show. Our group was called the Wiener Philharmonic, and our show was called—honestly, Michael, it was called “Doody Calls.” I thought I was going to get discovered, even though nobody knew where this place was and the only people who came were like our families. I can still quote some of the lines.

Let’s hear!

Well, one of my characters was the least intelligent girl in the graduating class, and somebody had made a mistake in calculating the valedictorian. They’re all, like, “Welcome our valedictorian!” and she’s just a big dum-dum. It starts with her going, “Dearly . . . gathered.”

Weren’t you your actual valedictorian in high school?

I was, yeah.

What was your speech like?

Oh, my God. I’m sure it was so self-serious and condescending. I had no idea how to be a person. But I do remember quoting “Mrs. Dalloway,” and the speech was about how what we should angle for is not one diamond-in-the-rough moment. We should look at the world as this scavenger hunt of precious things, and hopefully they’re unlimited rather than one big one that we need to keep tethering ourselves to in order to feel important.

Do you feel like you’ve followed that advice?

I do. I got bullied so hard in middle school, and my mom really drilled into my head, “The people who are hurting your feelings—this is a high point for them. They’re using you to step up a little higher.” First of all, it’s probably not true. A lot of those people probably became really nice and have a good life. But I remember being concerned with making sure that there’s this big feeling of plurality in my life. There’s so much to find. You don’t want to be the person who had that one moment where you sensed something shining. That has always scared me.

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