Jenny was open about her disappointment at not being cast in the much-anticipated HBO series Apatow is producing for Lena Dunham, with whom she has become friendly, and whose talent she effusively admires. (She was also passed over for the role given to Kristen Schaal—another friend of hers—in Dinner With Schmucks.) Slate has a few new projects on the go, including work on a CGI adaptation of The Lorax, and she’s always looking for more: “I audition all the time.”
Slate is not the kind of actress who will come in and take over someone else’s vision. “I want to be directed,” she said over dinner at Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, where she is a regular and popular with the staff. Perhaps this is a function of her having created and performed her own material for so much of her early career. During a segment at a Big Terrific show in April, Jenny mocked the improvisational component of the audition process—specifically when an actor is encouraged to “play with it.” “I hate when they say that,” she complained, laughing. “You play with it!”
Although she is polite about it, Jenny is clearly not a fan of Los Angeles. “I never wanted to be thrown into a cattle call experience,” she explained. While being based in New York might not offer quite as many opportunities for work as Hollywood could, Slate wouldn’t have it any other way. “I will do it on my own terms, even if I have ups and downs.” In 2009, Jenny took a role on one of the few television shows that are shot in New York, HBO’s Bored to Death—as Jonathan’s (Jason Schwartzman) love interest, Stella. Slate appeared on five of the show’s (better) episodes, and was an audience favorite.
When describing her “dream job” of hosting a TV variety show in the style of The Carol Burnett Show, Jenny said she would want Schwartzman to be the first guest. “It’s because of him that I have an agent,” she said. “He and his wife Brady are two of the most special friends I have in my life.”
Jenny Slate is not a private person. She is perfectly comfortable—even eager—to share intimate, ostensibly embarrassing details about her life. She’s a “sleep eater,” and had to stop buying pudding cups after too many instances of waking up with them in her bed. She recounted a time she was so taken aback by the magnitude of her own fart that she wet herself in alarm and laughter. When a dress she was to be photographed in proved to be see-through, she assured the crew it was no problem, since she’d had a bikini wax that morning.
One gets the sense that Slate is aware of her power to disarm. It is not a question of sincerity—her kind of candor can’t be learned—but there’s an understanding that she is the center of attention and that she’ll be the one to set the mood. She is unfailingly polite, punctual and gracious—it is from this platform of decorum that Jenny dives headlong into a raunchiness that sometimes flirts with Sarah Silverman territory, but without the alienating sense that she is aiming to shock. Rather, Jenny just wants to be free to say “pussy” and make fart jokes and wear her need for validation on her sleeve. And she wants everyone else to have the same freedoms.
Jenny is more famous than her two life partners, and while neither could be accused of hanging on—both are talented and successful outside of projects with Slate—Fleischer-Camp and Liedman seem content to let her lead. Gabe and Jenny share an equal amount of dialogue and (deserved) laughs when they are onstage together, but it’s Jenny who drives the narrative, with Gabe acting as something of a piercingly funny chorus. And while Jenny is almost always looking out at the audience, Liedman’s gaze is more often turned subtly in her direction.