Jenny Slate Gets a Little Weird

The delightfully quirky multi-hyphenate is living an unbothered life on the Massachusetts coast.

Jenny Slate by Tim Walker for W magazine.

Jenny Slate has been enjoying a bucolic existence in a quiet New England town with her fiancé, Ben Shattuck, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been working. In fact, Slate is juggling three big projects right now: her first Netflix comedy special, Stage Fright; an upcoming collection of nonfiction and fiction called Little Weirds; and her role as the voice of Missy, the lovable, spastic brace-face, on the animated series Big Mouth. The multi-hyphenate will soon embark on a book tour, where she will hopefully elucidate her fantastical opening essay, “Treat.” which details her desire to become a baked good, specifically a croissant. She’ll also likely face the stage fright she’s been experiencing for years, which is the subject of her comedy special on Netflix.

But first, in her Culture Diet, Slate got candid about collecting art, online shopping , and of course, unplugging from it all.

Why do you think you still get stage fright?

I think that it’s the anticipation of whether or not the people will accept me or like me. It’s a social glitch that exists inside of me and I think I still get it because it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of my work or how my jokes are being received, it just feels personal. That’s the stuff that takes the longest to work through.

Do you ever get that same anxiety when appearing on camera, or is it just on stage?

It’s just on stage, strangely, when I’m going to be off the cuff. The same way that it might feel that way to go on a date, where you’re just like, I’m going to have to bring my personality to this thing.

Did you experience it as a kid, too?

No, I didn’t have it as a kid. And I didn’t really have it before I was successful, I guess. That’s an ugly word to use, but when I was just doing standup on the Lower East Side and I had never been on TV, and I didn’t have any sort of notoriety, I didn’t get stage fright at all. I was always very happy being a stranger in front of other strangers.

Maybe it’s because the stakes are higher when you’re successful?

I think so. It sounds so cliché, but once a bar has been set, it’s really scary to feel that you might let people down. No matter how much work you do, you can’t control how another human being is going to categorize you our place you in their mind. It’s something to let go of, for sure, but it’s hard to do.

Your book, Little Weirds, sort of defies genre, but how would you categorize it, if you had to?

I’m not interested in categorizing it, that’s for sure. I guess that’s why it has been written the way it’s been written. I describe it as a collection of lightness and sweetness that is made to exist as sort of a balm or a tincture that you can consume while you are having your human experience.

What is your favorite part about lending your voice to Missy on Big Mouth, and what aspect of that character do you connect with most?

Missy has a direct line to my own impression of my teenage self, an impression that I did over ten years ago in a one woman show. The show was called “Jenny Slate: Dead Millionaire” before I had ever made any money performing. But the show was about how if I died right then at age 26 as an eccentric millionaire, who would eulogize me and what would they say. I guess I’ve been kind of obsessed with what happens if I die. What is left? What traces are left? One of the characters who eulogized me was basically a teen version of myself, and Nick Kroll saw that, and then years later we kind of reincarnated her as my niece Denise on Kroll Show, and when Nick was creating Big Mouth he asked if I’d be interested in doing this and I was really excited because I feel very dear towards Missy. She is me, from the past.

Getting into the Culture Diet questions, what’s the first thing you read in the morning?

My email. I don’t go on Twitter or Instagram anymore unless I’m posting for work for the most part. So, I try not to start my day with a phone, but I read my email because I am, in my own way, a businessperson, and have to keep track of what’s going on. And then I usually listen to NPR: Morning Edition. In my email, I get The New York Times and The Washington Post so I read those. Then I read a book, a physical book.

I’ve heard that you don’t like to have a lot of computers in your home. How do you feel now that you’ve stepped away from looking at screens and social media so much?

I don’t have a lifestyle or a job where I have to be in front of a computer all day, so it’s really not about the computer, it’s about the phone. I can spend hours on websites that sell beautiful kitchenware. I’m looking at women’s clothing online a lot. Those are things that I don’t feel mess me up, but I do feel that when I look at Instagram a lot, or Twitter, that I don’t breathe deeply. [Laughs.] I start to feel anxiety and it’s not even in a form anymore. It’s not like, Oh that person’s life looks more fun than mine. It’s like a general sense of dread, truly like I’m holding my breath, but it’s in my emotions. So yeah, I feel better that I don’t look at it.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

Right now is Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Tenth of December by George Saunders, and Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. The books get switched up a lot, but what is always there is The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.

What’s the last thing you Googled on your phone?

Well, it’s not, like, very exciting. It’s…a linen duvet cover. [Laughs.] We live in the house where Ben, my fiancé grew up, and it’s a very, very old house. There’s one bedroom that has two twin beds in it, and it’s just my own little personal project of getting new bedding for the little beds. But I also had just googled “The Day the Dinosaurs Died,” that New Yorker article about the asteroid.

Have you found a duvet cover that works yet?

You know what, I didn’t. I didn’t find one that I liked. I filled up a couple carts on different places and then abandoned them.

Is that your usual online shopping method?

Yeah. I’m the worst! That’s such a bad thing that I do, but I’m like, this isn’t really hurting anyone. It’s not like going to a store and taking a bunch of shit off the rack and then being like, I’m sorry, I’m actually not going to try anything on! This is like, nobody cares. But I’m trying not to do that because I start to feel like I’m getting something done for my home and then it’s just time and energy spent. It’s not good.

What TV shows have been keeping you up all night?

I have been watching I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, which I think is the funniest show that I’ve ever seen in my life. It is so fucking good. It’s the best show. We watch Baskets a lot, we love that in our household. I love Aidy Bryant, I love Shrill. I think she is so, so wonderful. There’s not a lot of TV watching in our house right now.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

I saw Brittany Runs a Marathon and I loved it so much! We drove to Providence, almost an hour to see it. It’s so good. It truly leaves no stone unturned. Structurally, it’s just so well written. It’s so warm. It has an interesting message, and Jillian Bell is such a good actress. I really think she deserves to win all the awards. I really, really hope that she does. But I really want to see Judy. I love Renée Zellweger. I think she is one of the most talented actresses we have, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I want to see her movie and congratulate her on it forever.

What podcasts have you been into lately?

I listen to On Being pretty regularly. I enjoy Krista Tippett’s whole thing. I listen to This American Life and Radiolab. I’m not taking deep dives into the podcast world, but we listen to The Daily, too. For the most part, I feel like Ben and I have been taking advantage of the summer and the fall, and we go on lots of long walks. We just took a long walk through the woods this morning, even though there’s a big storm and that was exciting. There’s a pear tree on the land here, and we took some pears from the tree and strolled around. I was reading Elizabeth Hardwick this morning because I feel like every few years I read Sleepless Nights, and then I feel like the stupidest person in the world because she is the smartest person. I’ve been spending a lot of time not plugged in.

What’s the last piece of art that you either bought or ogled?

I just bought a piece of art by a Moldovan artist named Elena Bria. She is incredibly talented and had a show out here, and I ended up buying one of the pieces. She’s so similar to this tradition of John Singer Sargent. I also love the artist Paul Heyer, he’s really spooky and exciting and beautiful. I love Caroline Rose Kauffman, her art is so pleasing to me. But if there was any piece of art that I could buy—and I don’t know where to get it—I really wish I could have a Barbara Cooney original painting. She illustrated a lot of children’s books and they’re beautiful paintings, but I don’t think I can afford it.

What’s the last song you had on repeat?

“Slide Away” by Miley Cyrus! And “Prophet” by King Princess. I love that song, I listened to it a million times this week when I was doing photo shoots. And a lot of Lizzo.

What’s the last concert you went to?

Joan Shelley played on Cuttyhunk Island at the artists’ residency. I requested that she come there. I am obsessed with her— her music is so beautiful. The last big concert I went to in a venue was the Gregory Allen Isaac concert, which was almost a year ago. I don’t see a lot of live music, but I did open for Andrew Bird at Largo and I saw that concert. Then I interviewed him afterwards, which was a true delight.

Are you into astrology at all?

I’m an Aries, with Cancer rising. I’m a double Aries, meaning I have an Aries sun and moon. My birthday is March 25th and my fiancé’s birthday is March 26th, so, you know, our house should basically just be on fire. We’re fiery people but we’re also pretty dreamy, both of us. Recently, it just doesn’t feel like my horoscope is making any sense for me, and I wonder why. I read for my rising sign too. I read Chani Nicholas, Susan Miller, and the Astro Twins, but what really makes sense for me is the Kaypacha Report. He’s this very chill dude in Hawaii, and he makes videos, and basically it’s like, here’s what’s happening in everybody’s chart.

What do you do to make your curls look so good?

What I do is, when I’m in the shower, I run my hands through my hair after I condition it so that I don’t have any tangles. But when I get out of the shower, I put my hair in a towel, but I don’t touch it, even if it looks all tangly. I don’t run a brush through it, I don’t run my hands through it. Then I flip my head over and I spray in the Captain Blankenship mermaid sea salt hairspray. And then I just leave it. Sometimes if I’m in a rush, I diffuse it, but mostly I’m not in a rush because I live on a peninsula by myself with my fiancé. [Laughs.] I just let it air dry. But the key is to not touch it, at least for me. Once it’s starting to dry, I flip my head over again and I sort of scratch my scalp to loosen up just the base of the hair. If I want it to be bigger, I take a Mason Pearson brush and I just brush from my center part to three inches down, so I’m not brushing through all the curls. Just at the top of my head, as if I’m making a tiny little hat for myself. And that’s it. That’s what I do. I also sometimes use the Ouidad climate control. I think it’s called climate control cream. Not the gel.

What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?

Exchange “good nights” and “I love yous” with my partner, and I always say, “I hope you have a good dream.” He says it too. Usually, we read at the end of our night. Right now, I’ve been reading The Wind in the Willows, and it’s very peaceful.

Related: Jenny Slate Is Engaged to Ben Shattuck