Why Jenny Slate Doesn't Just Want to Shock You

6.6.2014

By Jason Lamphier

The star of Obvious Child goes deeper (and dirtier) than you thought possible

Photography by JUCO

“I’m kind of funny and sort of confusing and super-hyper, and I’m allowed to be here just as much as anyone else,” says Jenny Slate, calling from Los Angeles. She’s mostly right, though “kind of funny” doesn’t begin to describe the actor-comedian and SNL alum’s ribald standup routines and delectably bitchy turns on TV series like Girls, Kroll Show, Parks and Recreation, and Hello Ladies. To witness a Jenny Slate character in action is a little disorienting. The vacuous publicists, narcissistic climbers, and demented slackers she’s embodied all seem to spin in their own gonzo orbit, spewing out twisted logic and wrinkly-nosed nastiness in a whiny, valley-girl drawl, begging you to slap them yet exhibiting an undeniable gravitational pull. If they were real, you’d no doubt hate them, but in that little box they’re stars. (The one exception might be Slate’s titular performance in Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, the irresistibly cute animated short she created with her husband, filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp.)

Now all of those dotty alter egos have led her to what will surely be her breakthrough performance. As the star of the new indie comedy and Sundance hit Obvious Child (opening today in select cities), Slate plays Donna Stern, a freshly dumped, freshly fired 20-something Brooklyn comic who gets knocked up after a drunken one-night stand and decides to have an abortion (on Valentine’s Day, no less). If her first big film role sounds off-putting, it’s anything but—this is Slate at her most relatable, most charming, most complex, and certainly her most intoxicated (see the just-released clip below). We’ve already sung her praises and forced her to flash Elmo (see above) in our summer Hot List (in our June/July issue, on stands now), but that’s only half the story. In fact, most of the banter from our long, raunchy chat probably shouldn’t even be printed. But to hell with it. Keeping with Slate’s own no-holds-barred approach, here are some of the highlights.

On Obvious Child’s Dark Humor:

“If you listen to my standup, it’s also very blue, so I had no reservations. My only reservation with comedy is if it’s just for shock value. To me that’s not funny. That’s kind of lame. The only thing I would ever worry about is if the content wasn’t connecting to a human being. In the case of our movie, it is. It’s very human.”

On Her Character Donna:

“I just wanted to make sure she was lovable. I’ve played a lot of characters people have to laugh at, but not necessarily love. I think that was the challenge: wanting to make her a real person, but still kind of a winner. How do you strike that chord and make the person someone you could meet on the street, but without being yourself? Those are balances that are hard to hit.”

On Etiquette:

“Fart humor is my bread and butter. It’s my specialty. I mean, I’m a living human—I have farts coming out of me all the time. But I’m pretty good about going into another room and holding my butt cheeks open so that no one can hear my fart and then fanning it. I know how to fart in public. I’m not an idiot.”

On Accidents:

“I once shit my pants when my husband and I were doing table assignments for our wedding. He was like, ‘Is this because you’re nervous?’ I was like, ‘I really don’t know.’ Then a week later, at exactly the same time, I was sitting down in the kitchen and shit myself again. I was like, ‘I think I’m dying. I don’t understand.’ But I haven’t shit my pants in 2014.”

On Bestie X Bestie, Her Funny or Die Show With Gay Comic (and Her BFF) Gabe Liedman:

“We get pretty wasted. We get pretty stoned and pretty drunk and pull questions out and everything is improvised. We drink as much as you would with your best friend in a bar for three hours, plus smoke weed. Then my husband is responsible for the directing and editing and turning it into something watchable.”

On Her Upcoming Marcel the Shell With Shoes On Movie:
“The feature will be a lot like the short: a mockumentary-style look at Marcel’s life. He goes to a music school called The Academy of Tunes. It’s definitely going to be about him trying to do his final project and performance there. It’s going to be about his family and friends. I think it’s going to be beautiful.”

On Nude Scenes with Paul Reiser For Her New FX Series, Married:
“I play a reformed party girl trying to live her life as a wife and mother. We don’t have a sex scene, but we do have a scene where I have to be a little naked. I’ve never really done that before. I literally had a triangle over my pussy and that was it, and then a strapless bra thing that sticks on the front of your boobs. But Paul was a gentleman, and I tried not to act nervous, so everything was cool.”

On Future Projects…
“I’m really interested in doing deeper character work. I love big jokey stuff—it’s in my nature to be a total kook. But as I get a little bit older, I really want to express the other things I experience as a woman by finding these characters and putting myself into them.”

…Or Maybe This Future Project

“I really want to be on American Horror Story! I’d love to do horror. I’d love to, like, run screaming from a haunted house with my tits out and just get, like, stabbed in the back and then come back as a ghost. I would love that.”

Watch the "Drunk Dial" clip from Obvious Child below:

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