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Jenny Slate on ‘Bored to Death,’ ‘Marcel the Shell,’ and Life After ‘SNL’

Oct 18, 2010

“I have to try to get home around 7—I have to give Reggie Watts his diabetes shot. I give it to him in his neck.”

This is not a bit from Jenny Slate’s standup routine. This is reality. We’re on the set of our photo shoot with the rising starlet—her very first studio shoot, in fact. She’s talking about her dog Reggie Watts, named after her friend, the comedian Reggie Watts. The enthusiasm she radiates when talking about her friends is exactly what you’d expect from someone who names her pets after them, but even that doesn’t compare to the pure joy she wears when talking about acting.

Picture 17 Jenny Slate on Bored to Death, Marcel the Shell, and Life After SNL
Photos by Kareem Black

It’s been a big year for Jenny Slate. Over the vociferous protests of fans she was recently released from the cast of SNL—a job she began with a headline-grabbing snafu last year, accidentally dropping the f-bomb on live TV. But it was also a year in which she created “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On,” one of the year’s most beloved pieces of comedy, hailed by everyone from EW.com to New York Magazine, who honored “Marcel” with its venerated “high-brow brilliant” designation. And of course, there’s her role as the ethereal Stella on HBO’s “Bored To Death” with Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis—a role she describes as a wish answered. With “Bored To Death” Season 2 just starting and critics still buzzing from “Marcel The Shell,” 2010 looks like the year Jenny Slate breaks out.

How did you get involved in Bored To Death?
I was just auditioning for a one-episode part, and suddenly it just became a recurring role. Also I had known Zach—his girlfriend is my best friend. I’d known him for many years and I didn’t tell him that I was auditioning because I didn’t want him to think I was asking for a favor. But then when I got the part I was so proud to tell him.

How did he react when you told him you were going to be on the show?
I think he knew I was nervous so he just teased me a lot, which made me feel comfortable. It’s nice to be teased a little bit because you feel like one of the gang.

You like being teased?
I like being teased for things that are idiosyncracies, like, “Oh Jenny you always eat way too many Doritos when you’re watching television,” or like, “Your purse is always filled with trash.” But I would hate to be teased for like, the way my body looks—that would be horrifying. But being teased for something like farting is great—and you always deserve it. If you fart you deserve to be teased. That’s my one rule in life. Really cool rule. [Laughs]

How awesome is Ted Danson?
Ted is a god. He’s so wise and such a good listener, and so inquisitive. I wish I knew his secret. I saw him on the street once before the show, and I remember I looked at him and he just looked right at me and smiled. And I was like, Woah, Ted Danson! He’s so vibrant, I was like, “He’s like the sun!” That’s the impression I had of him. And then when I met him, I felt the exact same way.

Were you familiar with Jonathan Ames‘s work with before auditioning?
Yes. Majorly. I first read “I Love You More Than You Know.” The whole time I was like, Oh my gosh, this person lives in my neighborhood! What if I see him? What will I say? Then I had a sighting, in Cobble Hill. I was like, There he is!
Picture 37 Jenny Slate on Bored to Death, Marcel the Shell, and Life After SNL

Through being on set with Jonathan, do you get to hear any pervy stories that haven’t made it into his books?
Yeah there’s always a good story. Sometimes we even battle it out over who has a grosser or more embarrassing teenage slash poop story.

You have teenage slash poop stories?
[Laughs] Tons! It doesn’t shock me at all. I had a pretty embarrassing teenage experience. I have been lactose intolerant for my entire life. I’m just an accident waiting to happen in terms of what I eat. I am allergic to oysters, but I eat them all the time.

What happens?
I throw up.

That’s a bad allergy.
I can’t resist them. Barfing from something that you love is almost like—”I loved it so much that it made me explode.”

[Laughs]
Also as a teenager I saw myself as a total outcast, and I hit puberty really late, so I always felt like such a child amongst growing young adults. Lots of people go through that, but it’s not the best.
Picture 56 Jenny Slate on Bored to Death, Marcel the Shell, and Life After SNL

But that’s what makes people funny, right? It seems like the best comedians have always felt like outsiders.
I think everybody has their own recipe and motivation for being funny. I’ve always wanted to be a comedian, but mine stems from wanting to say something that I truly feel and hoping that people will love me for it—putting it in a light that makes people smile and makes their energy go up. I like comedy because I think it makes people happy, rather than because it makes you seem funnier than other people.

Let’s talk about Marcel the Shell with Shoes. It’s one of the funniest things to happen all year.
I’m horrible at one-liners in normal life—in my standup it’s just stories. But when I do Marcel, in trying to figure out what his character was, those one-liners came up. Dean [Fleischer-Camp] directed and animated and edited it. I would do Marcel and it would be so easy to fill in the blank—you just think of the smallest weirdest thing. Just to improvise is my process with that.

Did growing up in Massachusetts make you want to come to New York?
Yes! I am and have always been really afraid of the dark. I hated growing up when everyone in my family when go to bed and I would still be up, scared of the dark. In New York I go to bed and there’s always somebody with their light on across the street, or there’s a 24 hour diner—I just like the idea that you can go to sleep and if you woke up with a start the world would be there.
Picture 6 Jenny Slate on Bored to Death, Marcel the Shell, and Life After SNL

At some point when you were a kid you were like, Wait, there really is a city that never sleeps?
Yeah! The city that never sleeps! It’s awesome. I would always imagine the Statue of Liberty as a gigantic babysitter. I think I’m meant to be here, specifically in Brooklyn.

Between Zach, your Ames sighting, and your Ted Danson sighting, this whole Bored to Death thing was really karmically meant to happen to you, huh?
Sometimes I feel like that. I think I’ll always cherish it, because it was my first job, and it was a good job and I made really true friends.
Picture 19 Jenny Slate on Bored to Death, Marcel the Shell, and Life After SNL

Catch Jenny Slate in Brooklyn at Cameo on Wednesday evenings at 8:30pm for her comedy show Big Terrific—it’s free!

Styling by Valissa Yoe
Ballerina white look:
Capezio Dancewear tights, leotard, tutu
Jeffrey Campbell shoe

Ballerina pink look:
Capezio Dancewear tutu
Versace shirt

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