Jenny Slate: Self Esteem is Jenny and Dean’s most recent collaboration: an experimental, genre-defying film project that is best summarized in the director’s own words. “It’s just footage of Jenny going about her day while three unnamed people (in a voiceover) praise her every move,” Fleisher-Camp said in the Bostonian interview. “I guess the conceit is that it’s a video Jenny might have hired some company to make to help her with her self-esteem, and these voices are just saying exactly what Jenny wishes strangers would say about her if they saw her across the room.”
“It started as a fantasy that I have had since I was a teenager,” Slate said in an email, “That people who â€˜matter’ would be watching a live feed of me in my house, just doing whatever, and that they would just NEED to see me, that they would find it SO INTERESTING, and that they would talk about me to each other in a positive way. But then when we started talking, it became a mix of honest things and ridiculous things that I should be embarrassed about wanting.”
The reception of Self Esteem has been mixed. When screened at an art gallery, the audience found it hilarious. But when it was shown at Big Terrific—a weekly show Slate co-hosts with Liedman and Max Silvestri in Williamsburg—Fleischer-Camp insisted that it “bombed” (although I would disagree). “Maybe it’s not the kind of thing people really laugh out loud about, even if they love it. Too arty for a comedy show, too funny for an art show? If that’s what we’ve created, I don’t mind.”
Whatever it is that they’ve created, it perfectly demonstrates Jenny’s awareness of her own motivations and her understanding of the latitude acknowledging them offers her. Rather than trying to walk the tightrope between insecurity and narcissism, she allows them both to fuel her act. This kind of thing has been done before—Kathy Griffin comes to mind—but it hasn’t been done in quite this way, or by someone as youthful and promising and sought-after as Jenny. “I’m still trying to get my head around my self esteem. I think it’s either really good, or it’s terrible and psycho. I just literally can’t tell sometimes, but I’m a happy girl, so maybe it’s normal?”
As is often the case with talented, multifaceted, and hungry performers, it’s difficult to pinpoint where the act ends and the “real” person begins. It’s something Slate seems to be conscious of herself. “I don’t want to be eaten by my goals,” she said. “I want to learn how to be a good person and a good adult.” It is important to Slate that she is known as a kind, considerate person—her Twitter bio includes the assurance: “I can promise to almost never hurt your feelings.” It’s not an empty promise: Jenny is cognizant of everyone’s comfort level around her, and thoughtful to the point of neurosis. Weeks after she made a justified and far from incendiary observation about the place of female comics in Hollywood—prompted by a discussion of the Judd Apatow film Funny People—she was worried that it might have come across as too critical. “I don’t want to shit on anyone,” she said.