29 October 2019
The newest Netflix comedy special, “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright,” is an extended exercise in vulnerability. Rather than pure onstage stand-up, the special mixes in interviews with family and home-video footage.
Jenny Slate is an actress from such productions as “Parks and Recreation” and “Venom,” but she has also been a comedian since the early aughts, touring the country with her comedic partner Gabe Liedman.
I would not have guessed this from watching her comedy special. Her set is loose, unpolished and often tangential.
It sounds like Slate is thinking out loud for the first time rather than performing comedy bits that, according to her social media feeds, she has spent years refining.
Slate’s style can be considered bawdy humor, or possibly body humor; she runs around the stage, kicking and punching, incapable of standing still. Movement and screaming are crucial components to many of her jokes, as is masturbation.
Other topics broached include being Jewish, being lonely and being raised in a haunted house her entire life. The latter of these topics was the subect of a book co-written with Slate’s father, Ron Slate, titled “About the House.” Slate also co-wrote two children’s books based on her viral YouTube video series “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.”
Ron Slate is one of many family members to make an appearance in “Stage Fright.” When with her family, Slate is a different person than onstage. She is quieter, deliberate, choosing her words with care. Her demeanor is calm and still. It is obvious Slate cares deeply about her family, even as she teases and wheedles family stories out of them for the camera.
Meanwhile, the home-video clips are chosen for comedic effect: in one, Slate as a young child can be seen picking her nose.
Three quarters into the special, yet another element is introduced: Slate being interviewed while she prepares to film the onstage portion. This interview is not funny at all, but it is necessary to tie everything together.
This is where we see Slate at her most emotionally vulnerable, and suddenly both the calm family interviews and the hyper-energetic onstage performance make sense. Slate is showing the audience herself, all her parts. I do not know if it is comedy, but it is undeniably brave.