If you’re unfamiliar with comedy actress Jenny Slate, chances are you’ve still come across some of her projects. From a brief stint on “Parks and Recreation,” to roles in animated features like “Bob’s Burgers” and “Big Mouth,” Slate has made quite a name for herself in Hollywood. Recently, the actress launched “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright,” a heartfelt comedy special only available on Netflix.
The special consists of three parts: onstage comedy, Slate’s beloved home videos and family interviews in her childhood home. These mementos from her past lend the comedy special an unusual, but deeply personal feeling. In the end, “Stage Fright” resembles a humor-filled biopic. Each story, grainy video clip and family interview comes together to paint a vivid portrait of the well-known actress.
True to form, Slate bounds onto the stage and energetically flails to her special’s opening music. But, as quickly as she began dancing, the comedian stops and demands they get down to business. Immediately, the audience gains an idea about Slate’s comedic style. The quick-paced highs and lows spread throughout the actress’s comedy surface from the very beginning of her special.
From here, Slate seems to remark upon whatever passing fancy catches her attention. The ins and outs of her outfit, which she dubs a “female tuxedo for women who like to move,” dominate the conversation. Then, she clarifies that she is indeed a “human, adult woman from planet Earth.” With introductions out of the way, “Stage Fright” jumps to Slate’s childhood home in Milton, Massachusetts.
Viewers watch as cameramen converge on Slate’s house and prep her family for the big screen. Parents, grandparents and siblings affectionately greet Slate, who reveals that she’s always dreamed of introducing fans to her family. As a little girl, the actress didn’t know what documentaries were but imagined the scenario currently unfolding at her house. In her mind, filmmakers would simply decide to show up and make a movie about your life.
The precious naïveté of this memory immediately juxtaposes with Slate’s next round of comedic commentary. In Hollywood, she gripes, “everyone likes the women … to look long and lean, and have the physique of Timothée Chalamet.” As this moment reveals, a long string of feminist comments run through the comedy special. Slate sarcastically laments how “the patriarchy ruined the planet” dubbing the situation “a total bummer.”
Slate’s celebration of women continues as she affectionately tells audiences about her two grandmothers. One apparently possesses the “physique of a little cocktail shrimp” with “non-threatening eagle talons” and a Nancy Reagan haircut. Her comments shouldn’t be mistaken for insults, as Slate explains that she is deeply enamored with both women. She takes the time to compliment her Nana Connie’s voice, comparing it to “diamonds being rolled around in the dust.”
Next, “Stage Fright” cuts to interviews with Slate’s grandmothers, both of whom truly match their granddaughter’s descriptions. These additions enhance the personal vibe surrounding the comedy special. Although not necessarily present for comedic appeal, the moments show the special is handcrafted and beloved by Slate.
After exploring her familial ties, Slate jumps back to unveiling secrets about herself. A relentless optimist, Slate reveals she struggles with sleeplessness simply due to excitement about the upcoming day. Indeed, viewers can easily ascertain the comedian’s optimism even before she identifies the personality trait. Oftentimes, Slate bursts into uncontrollable laughter at her own jokes, and obviously can’t contain her joy onstage.
The optimism remains even when describing her haunted childhood home. As she and her sisters adamantly maintain, the house is teeming with ghosts. Ultimately, Slate concludes that the presence of apparitions in her youth is to blame for her constantly unhinged mentality.
Slate, after exposing her supernatural family secret, moves on to another off-the-record tidbit of information: the awkward nature of her teenage years. Tales of adolescent embarrassment dominate this portion of the special. Later, the actress even provides proof of her teenage angst in the form of a memento-filled box. Long forgotten boyfriends, petty arguments and ‘90s fashion mistakes surface in the conversation, providing solace for viewers who definitely didn’t peak in high school.
Past issues addressed, Slate eagerly moves on to her current problems and insecurities. An intense vulnerability overlays the next two topics, but humor and strange insightfulness keep the performance light.
Stage fright is Slate’s reoccurring nemesis. Its effects range from simple anxiety to full-blown physical ailments. The sentiment, Slate reveals, stems from a natural question: Will they like me? After all, any performance is essentially an act of exchange. Without an audience’s approval, her career will come to a grinding halt. As she eloquently summarizes, “I don’t earn the love unless I give something beautiful…”
Immediately, “Stage Fright” cuts to footage of Slate and her father having a teary, humor-tinged conversation about her divorce. For Slate, the ability to make jokes about a situation is an integral part of moving on. Softly, her father asks if she is ready to poke fun at the memory yet. After replying that, yes, she’s beginning to perceive some comedic opportunity in her sadness, the scene shifts once again.
The well-intentioned, but often misguided advice given to divorcees becomes Slate’s first post-separation joke. As audiences soon learn, suggesting a sad friend go exercise just causes more problems, especially if said friend smokes a ton of pot beforehand.
If you enjoy such antics, “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright” is definitely the comedy special for you. Overall, Slate’s creation feels disjointed, high-strung and relentlessly upbeat: three qualities possessed by the actress herself. The self-deprecating humor relies heavily on Slate’s giggle-ridden persona. She casually throws insults at her own tomfoolery and still manages to emerge laughing and unscathed.
Despite constantly highlighting her vulnerabilities, the actress still produces a lighthearted experience for fans. Additionally, moments with Slate’s family lend the special a heartfelt and intimate vibe. By the end of her first special, the comedian seems to complete a self-introduction to the world. Slate acquaints audiences with her family and provides personal anecdotes to fans, all for the purpose of launching a more intimate career in Hollywood.