If the energy of Jenny Slate could be harnessed, the whole of the East Coast could be powered for a year by the force of her Netflix comedy special alone. Jenny Slate: Stage Fright shines a light on the incredible talent who’s been tearing it up on a slew of your favorite shows, like Parks and Recreation, Kroll Show, Bob’s Burgers, Big Mouth and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. On stage at the Gramercy Theater, Slate shares stories hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking. Then, she invites us into her parents’ Massachusetts home to meet her family and rifle through Nana Connie’s incredible closet, which is lush with designer duds, sentimental gowns, and rapturous glamor. She’ll also share home videos of a baby Jenny figuring out her identity and yearning to perform. Through all of it, Slate offers us a look into her life, both messy and marvelous.
With Stage Fright, Slate reunites with helmer Gillian Robespierre, who directed her in Obvious Child and Landline. You can feel the trust between the two as Slate welcomes Robespierre’s cameras into her childhood room, then dutifully recounts the plethora of Leonard DiCaprio pictures that once hung on its Laura Ashley wallpaper, or reads aloud the secrets scribbled on the walls of her cramped closet. But these asides aren’t of the “where did I come from” variety. There’s also about where she is now. Slate tells her audience she’s back home following her divorce, an event she sees as a failure that she fears may forever define her.
True to her comic persona, Slate presents on stage a bunch of madcap stories about exercise classes, her horniness, and Hollywood, where all the women are pressured to “the physique of Timothee Chalamet!” But between such delicious silliness and excited screams, Slate spills deep fears that are alarmingly relatable. “It’s funny how the government acts like your worst boyfriend,” she muses about climate change, “Where you’re like ‘You did that,’ and they’re like ‘NO I FUCKING DIDN’T. YOU’RE FUCKING CRAZY.” Later, she ties this anxiety to her insecurity about her chosen outfit, a black satin tuxedo of sorts that makes her every move shimmer with elegance. Yet with a shrug, she sighs, “Who gives a shit, death will come for all of us. I’m dressed for it.”
These swift spins reflect not only Slate’s sharp wit, but also the plight of so many of us who are struggling to cope with an unrelenting overload of information, all of which we’re expected to take in while still functioning as a grown human being. Within the show, Slate taps into this by speaking not only about her stage fright, this horrendous anxiety that washes over her before she performs. But also, she speaks openly about self-doubt, self-flagellation, and the fear that of failing at adulting with a candor that’s striking but also inspiring. By giving voice to these struggles, she punctures the persona of the ever-peppy comedienne and complicates it with emotional obstacles to which many, many women and men can relate. In this way, she invites us to laugh at the things that scare us, be they global warming, a government gone off the rails, taking personal risks, dating, or even her parents’ totally haunted house. By allowing us to laugh, she makes all of the above seem less scary, less impenetrable, and less overwhelming.
Perhaps most poignant, Slate explores what is means to realize you’re not the woman you imagined you’d be. For her, that woman was a graceful, badass and beautiful broad named Susan, who takes no shit, has a great time, and always looks cool. She performs a whole bit on how being named “Jenny” (not Jennifer!) doomed her to a life of not being taken seriously. But over the course of Stage Fright, Robespierre and Slate explore the joys of being a Jenny. There is a freedom found in silliness and the fearlessness to explore unusual opportunities, be they trying on your grandmother’s ludicrously pink evening gown, co-starring in Venom, or going on a date with a man in a full-blown suit of armor. Not all of these risks will pay off, but by spinning even her loses into a story, it feels like she wins.
After much sharing and shenanigans, Slate creates a clever climax by knitting together the threads of her thirst, her insecurities, and her insurmountable moxie into a story about her and the moon. It’s an anecdote masterfully told, winning laughter and cheers from the in-theater audience. I won’t dare spoil the fun, but I will say it’s a story a bit bizarre, bittersweet, and beautiful. It left me laughing, tearing up, and immediately considering hitting the replay button. I wasn’t ready to leave Jenny’s warm, weird, and wonderful world just yet.
In short, Jenny Slate: Stage Fright is funny, fearless, and phenomenal. It’s a must-see that may make you feel seen. And if not, may still make you cackle like its charismatic comedian. Don’t miss it.
Jenny Slate: Stage Fright is now streaming on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix