She accidentally dropped the F-bomb during her first SNL episode. She created the obsession-worthy Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. And she's currently starring in Obvious Child, which tackles everything from bathroom jokes to reproductive rights. Clearly, there's lots to love about Jenny Slate.
But the hilarious star wasn't always so irresistibly brazen.
"I started my career as an actress by being a stand-up comedian, because I was really intimidated by the idea of, like, getting in kind of a big cattle call of young actresses," she revealed. "I didn't really know how to get into the business, but I knew what I wanted to say and felt like that would be the best way to show everyone who I was or what I was like, or maybe what my potential could be."
As luck would have it, she was right. Not only did her stand-up chops get her noticed, but those roots still help her relate to the characters she portrays on-screen. Particularly so with Donna, the rough-around-the-edges stand-up comedian she play in Obvious Child. "The style that Donna performs in is my style," Slate said. "You know, it's storytelling; it's very honest. Some people would think it's kind of blue, but I just think of it as honest. I think it's pretty delightful."
That's not to say, though, that Donna is Slate. "I think the difference is that I'm pretty aware of my boundaries," Slate asserted, squashing any notion the character is based on her. "I would never do anything to embarrass my husband when I'm onstage, and I think Donna doesn't get that yet. But I identify with her and I identify with the need to connect with a lot of people who are strangers."
Slate does confess that, despite Donna lacking the clear objectives she has always had, the two do have something else in common. "I certainly understand what it's like to be dumped," she laughed. "I've been dumped a lot. A lot."
But if there's one prevailing thing Slate doesn't envy Donna, it's the fact that Donna is enduring the ending of her 20s — a period of time in her own life that Slate is more than happy to be on the other side of.
"I'm glad for every part of my life that I've had, but I would not go back," she asserted of that decade. "No! They're hard, and everybody acts like they're supposed to be this time when you're kind of, like, getting everything together. For me, I was like really struck by the fact that they were a surprise second adolescence."
Basically, being in your 20s sucks, she says. Stress and tension linger over that era of her life like a watermark. Still, like so many things that are better in retrospect, it was a learning experience.
"I had my college degree, I knew what I wanted to do, I thought I knew myself, and all that still didn't add up to the large amount of unknowns," Slate said of the "really, really stressful" time. "But I think you grow a lot within that time. I know I did, and my friends that went through it."
So don't go giving up on life just yet, 20-somethings. According to Slate, those years taught her some pretty profound s***. "I thought that everything was supposed to be tied up by the age of 30," she ventured. "But I honestly don't know why I felt that way, because I wasn't one of those people that was like, 'Gotta be married by the time I'm 30, gotta have kids by this point.' And I guess I would say to myself that there's a whole lifetime to find out who you are. There's no one point that supposed to be that time."
At 32, Slate is comfortable enough in her own skin to not shy away from topics that might make others squeamish. Like farts. And poop. Or any manner of bodily function. However, unlike the 20-something version of herself, perhaps, Slate now appreciates that not everyone, well, appreciates bathroom candor.
"Everybody puts the image out there that's right for them," she said. "You know, if you don't want to talk about your poops and farts, I don't give a s***. I just care if you're nice when we meet. I think really, honestly, everybody has their own story to tell. For me, I like what happens with my body, but also I realize that not everyone wants to hear it."
Slate's cool with the raunchier stuff in Obvious Child, sure, but it's the unspoken dialogue surrounding Donna's abortion that Slate felt really drawn to.
"I think we're lucky to be part of a conversation that wants to destigmatize abortion," Slate elaborated. "She makes a clear decision and has a safe procedure. The parts of her life that are difficult are not, 'Will she or won't she have the abortion?' It's the different complications that come with making a large decision in your life and figuring out how to connect that decision to the other people in your life."
For Slate — whose upcoming projects include the FX series Married in the fall and a Marcel the Shell film adaptation — the movie, much like her life, is about the art of toeing the line between chaos and calm, charming and offensive.
"We all have the right to a complex experience no matter what our gender is, and that's what we show," she mused. "That's why our story's a modern story, and well-thought out because we treat those nuances and those complications and complexities with a lot of thought and heart and humor."
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