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Jenny Slate talks new stand-up special, 'Seasoned Professional'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

And sticking with funny people, the comedian and actress Jenny Slate has range, from in-your-face characters like Mona-Lisa Saperstein in "Parks And Rec" to voicing the gentle and deeply introspective Marcel the Shell with Shoes On in the Oscar-nominated animated film. And now on stage in her recent specials, she finds a sweet spot between those extremes - a comedian who's clearly at home in front of a crowd but also lets you in on her insecurities.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAND-UP COMEDY SPECIAL, "SEASONED PROFESSIONAL")

JENNY SLATE: Like, my feelings are too much, and they happen too immediately. And nobody wants to deal with them, and nobody will ever be able to give me the amount of love that I need in order to actually feel loved because most people receive love and they hold it in their hearts like a bowl. But for me, I'm more like a colander or a strange, felt hat that just leaks away.

DETROW: My colleague Rachel Martin spoke with Jenny Slate about her newest special. It's called "Seasoned Professional."

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: I know you're not taking yourself seriously with this title.

SLATE: No (laughter).

MARTIN: But at this stage of your life and career, Jenny, you are a seasoned professional. You know that?

SLATE: Yeah, it's sort of like giving yourself a tuxedo because someone says it's time and that it's - you're like, oh, I guess I'll wear this now. But it doesn't, you know, feel like normal clothes. But I think, like, most people can deal with imposter syndrome or whatever. And I went to a hypnotist many years ago - about probably like a decade ago - to try to get rid of my stage fright. And it kind of, like, worked but didn't work. But one of the things that he, I guess, sort of planted in my mind that I do say before I go out every single time is, I'm a seasoned professional and - I am.

MARTIN: You say that, like, as a mantra to yourself to remind yourself?

SLATE: Yeah, it just kind of comes out. I mean, not that I'm, like, totally in a trance, but yeah, I say, I'm a seasoned professional. A lot of times going on stage feels like a little more controlled than whatever the definition of chaos is. Like, it's just a little bit better than chaos.

MARTIN: Yeah. I also get the sense from you, though, that you sort of like to occupy that space that's not chaos, but it's just a notch below. Like, that's, like, a magic place.

SLATE: Yeah, it is. It's not super comfortable for me, but it's not deathly or anything. I just only realized recently that it doesn't have to be totally gnarly. It actually doesn't have to be just throwing yourself into something and hoping something catches you. Like, you are allowed to retain some of the mystery, that livewire energy, and still be a little bit more supported in your professional protocol. And that, for me, means, you know, don't just improvise a whole set based off of scribbles on a piece of paper and be 2 1/2 beers in.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: Like, maybe one beer and a plan that you will try to...

MARTIN: Yeah.

SLATE: ...Stick to while allowing for space to wander - there's a - it's a big difference there, actually.

MARTIN: Yeah, totally. No, I get that - completely. How did you decide what stories to tell in this special? I mean, there's a lot of material. You've lived a lot of life. Lots of things have happened.

SLATE: Yeah. I mean, I'm 400 years old, so there's a lot.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's right. It's a...

SLATE: You know, it's like, ugh (ph), what do you do?

MARTIN: You look fantastic, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You should talk about your skincare regime.

SLATE: I know. Well, that's what everyone wants to know - just about my epidermis. And that was the title, the understudy title...

MARTIN: "My Epidermis" (laughter).

SLATE: Yeah, "My Epidermis" by Jenny Slate, Ph.D. But I'm 41 1/2.

MARTIN: Congratulations.

SLATE: Thank you so much. My head is still on my body, and I'm not - yeah, I'm not a - like, living in a sarcophagus yet. I'm still going, still ticking. But I just - it's the first time in my life that I really do feel rather safe, where I'm not like, oh, my goodness, why did I choose that? What's wrong with me? But I'm really, like, within my challenges, and I'm working. And I wanted to be like, what - how did I get here? - because this is better than I ever thought it would be. And so I realized that I keep telling a love story kind of in reverse, like starting with the, like, birth of my daughter and then reversing all the way back to how I decided to trust in the developing love that I have with my husband. And I was interested in telling that story because a lot of the elements of the story sound like pieces of a disaster or just weirdness. But in fact, for me, they are the elements of a living romance and personal success.

MARTIN: I love that, and I'm so happy that you're in that place.

SLATE: It's cool.

MARTIN: Yeah, it's really cool. You talk about this in your special - I mean, having a kid, everyone says it changes everything. You know, it changes your life and your perspective, and you love so big. All that is true. But I feel like you are a person who would also appreciate that it is just a major trip to look at another human and be like, I made you. You're - this - you, this human...

SLATE: (Laughter) Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And now you exist outside my body (laughter).

SLATE: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAND-UP COMEDY SPECIAL, "SEASONED PROFESSIONAL")

SLATE: It does still feel like I'm like, it was me. Like, I did it? Like, I - it's hard to wrap my mind around it. And, like, I was pregnant for a long time, and I understood that I was. But like, even on the way to the hospital when my body was, like, really hurting and stuff was starting to leak out, I was just like, kind of feels like someone's going to sub in here, though.

(LAUGHTER)

SLATE: Now that my daughter - you know, she's 3 years old, and the other day she said, big planets are wonderful. And I just was like, how did you learn how to - what? Like, it's like you - I mean, this sounds so degrading towards her, but I don't mean it to be. I just mean - I'm just trying to, like, sort of shine a light on the miracle of it - is that it's almost as if a - I had a pet that started talking.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right, yes (ph).

SLATE: Like, it was already enough that she was here...

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: ...You know? And then, like, I was, like, drinking chocolate milk with her. And she said, are you enjoying that?

(LAUGHTER)

SLATE: I was like, hell yeah, girl. Like, I am. I freaking love chocolate milk and you know it. Are you enjoying yours? It's just like, what is this? This is so weird. You were not here before.

MARTIN: Yeah, I know.

SLATE: I also - I'm constantly reminding myself that, like, a 3-year-old doesn't have a fully developed, like, whatever, prefrontal cortex or - you know? So it's like...

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: ...They can't - they don't have impulse control. And it's like being around someone who's really drunk or just tripping so hard.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: And you - and it's crazy sometimes because you're like, you just said that you want to go to the park, but you took all your clothes off. And like, you know, I would never say this to her - and I don't know if you can say this on your show - but there's a part of you that's like, you're [expletive] yourself over right now, hon...

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: ...You know? Like, we're not going to get there if you're naked. It's not going to happen. And it's like, look, I wish we could go naked.

MARTIN: That's right (laughter).

SLATE: Like, I mean, I don't actually want anyone to see what I have going on right now. Like, I don't want a physical body at all at this point. I would love to be just a collection of fallen leaves, but like, I get it. I get it.

MARTIN: Jenny Slate, her most recent special is called "Seasoned Professional." It's streaming now on Prime Video, and it is so worth your time. Jenny Slate, thank you so much.

SLATE: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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