A (Mostly) Clean Slate
Published November 11, 2010
JENNY SLATE IN BORED TO DEATH. PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO/BARRY WETCHER
When word broke in September that comedian/actress Jenny Slate’s contract with Saturday Night Live had not been renewed, cries of outrage could be found all over the World Wide Web. The uproar was understandable; the announcement came a little less than a month after Slate’s adorable collaboration with boyfriend Dean Fleischer-Camp, a half-animated video called “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On,” went viral. Clearly, Slate is talented, the virtual mobs moaned; why, then, did she get the boot from NBC?
Thankfully, it seems that Slate may get the last laugh. Marcel has now been viewed 2.4 million times on Vimeo and YouTube combined; it’s such a hit that Slate and Fleischer-Camp are in talks to create a children’s book and a TV show based around the infectious character. Slate’s also been keeping busy with another web series called Bestie x Bestie, a recurring role on HBO’s Bored to Death, and a part in the upcoming 3-D adaptation of The Lorax. We caught up with the comedian a few weeks ago to chat about life after SNL—and, of course, Marcel.
HILLARY BUSIS: You once told Pop Candy that you’re “not very Internet-y.” But considering all of the online videos you’ve done, you’re kind of an Internet celebrity.
JENNY SLATE: Am I?
BUSIS: You don’t think of yourself that way?SLATE: No. [LAUGHS] No, I just think of myself in… in normal life, I guess. I mean, nowadays, performers who want to create their own material put it on the Internet. I never knew whether or not it would make an impression—and frankly, I didn’t care that much about how it would be received.
BUSIS: So when you and Dean put “Marcel” together, you weren’t trying to create something that would go viral.
SLATE: We weren’t trying to do anything at all, except to make something that we liked. At the beginning of my career, fresh out of college, I did everything that I could do. And now I’m a little bit more selective. I think that’s sort of a natural process.
BUSIS: Were all of your lines as Marcel improvised?
SLATE: Most of the time I was improvising, and there were a couple of one-liners that we had thought of together before. Which I think is a nice mix. Because the one-liners are fnnny and cute, but I like it more when Marcel just talks a little bit about what he likes and what his life is like.
BUSIS: Are there any lines you’re particularly proud of?
SLATE: I like when he says that he’s afraid to drink soda because he’s afraid he’ll float up onto the ceiling. Because he has such a little body, and I just imagine a little bubble in his stomach, making him drift up.
BUSIS: Were you surprised when you found out that the video was blowing up?
SLATE: I was, for sure, because I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before—I’ve never thought of myself as the person that would happen to. There are a few blogs that I read, but I stay off of the Internet for the most part. I really like to just stay in the normal world, the real world. So yeah, I was surprised. I was surprised by how many people were touched by it. But I wasn’t surprised that anybody found it touching, because I think I created it really honestly. I was very proud of it.
BUSIS: Bored to Death‘s season finale airs this Sunday. How has your character, Stella, evolved since you first came on the show? Weren’t you originally only supposed to appear on one episode?
SLATE: Yeah, that was what I was told. What I love about it is, the character is very clear, but Jonathan and the two different directors I worked with this year gave me room to sort of develop her in my own way. I saw her as someone who really knows what she wants, but she’s very, very dreamy. And she’s so kind, but she makes the most selfish requests. It’s almost shocking to me, the things that Stella asks of the character of Jonathan Ames.
BUSIS: You still perform standup, and in your weekly comedy show, Big Terrific. How has performing live changed for you since you started appearing on TV?
SLATE: It hasn’t changed very much. The crowds are bigger, for sure. And for a while, I experienced a little bit of stage fright, because I had never been exposed on such a large scale before Bored to Death and SNL. But that went away, because I thoroughly enjoy doing standup.
BUSIS: Do you think your comedy has changed since you’ve become better known?
SLATE: No. [LAUGHS] My comedy has always been the same. I’ve always been the same. I have the same personality that I had as a 7-year-old.
BUSIS: Yeah—there’s such innocence in so much of what you do. Is that something that you consciously try to cultivate?
SLATE: I don’t try to do anything. I think the moment that I’m like, “Oh, I have to be this way or that way” is the moment that I become sad, or maybe an asshole. So I just try to be myself and put out what is most natural. But I think I am—I mean, I’ve seen a lot, been through a lot. But something remains sort of naïve within me. And I just try to nurture that.
I don’t want to grow a thick skin. Some people say, “Oh, you’re an actress, you have to get used to criticism.” But I don’t accept that. I’ll never get used to criticism, and I’ll always care about whether or not people like my performances—because I’m an entertainer, and I want to please.
BUSIS: So can you describe your comedic style, in a phrase?
SLATE: Hmm. I think my comedic style is at once bashful and explosive. It’s a little bit perverted, and a little bit ladylike and old-fashioned, which is a great mix. Sort of tangy. [laughs]
BUSIS: Have you been watching SNL this year?
SLATE: I’ve watched a little bit of it—but now that I have my Saturdays free, I like to go out. [LAUGHS] I’d say I’ve seen a healthy amount. An amount that’s healthy for me.
BUSIS: I wasn’t sure whether or not you wanted to talk about it.
SLATE: I guess I prefer—I don’t really have anything to say.
BUSIS: Do you see yourself ever collaborating with anyone from SNL?
SLATE: Sure! Life is long; there’s not that many comedians. When I left the show, one of the things that was most important to me was that I would keep the friends I made. Kristen [Wiig] was very special to me; she’s a very special person. Her modesty, and her kindness, and the amount of attention that she gave to me is something that I’ll always be grateful for. I miss them. I miss Kenan [Thompson], and Andy [Samberg], and Bill [Hader]—I miss them all. They’re great. But we’ll all hopefully keep working.
BUSIS: What do you watch on TV?
SLATE: I watch Bored to Death, I watch Eastbound and Down. … I’ve always thought HBO has the best programming. I watch Mad Men.
BUSIS: Your necklace is a little Joan-esque, with the pendant hanging down.
SLATE: It’s a bullet with a crystal. Yeah, it is a little Joan, though. And this one is from Jason [Schwartzman]. It’s a gold cinderblock. He and Brady [Cunningham], his wife, gave it to me for my birthday.
BUSIS: Why a cinderblock?
SLATE: I just wanted it. It’s heavy. What is the Freud book—I think it’s Dora—where he talks about how she’s wearing a pendant around her neck, and she’s fiddling with it? I think he relates it to masturbation. Oh! So I should probably put this down. Either that, or I really like you.
THE SEASON 2 FINALE OF BORED TO DEATH AIRS THIS SUNDAY ON HBO.