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TV/Film Jenny Slate's "Stage Fright" is intimate and silly and perfect

Dec. 10, 2019
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In March of 2016, the inimitable Jenny Slate tweeted, “As the image of myself comes sharper in my brain & more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.” I approached this tweet the same way that overzealous moms in memes approached “Live, Love, Laugh” signs: I had it taped all around my suburban childhood bedroom, and truly believed that those words held the key to finding fulfillment and happiness in life. 

I would like to take this time to thank Jenny Slate for tweeting that. That tweet alone shielded me from the emotional turmoil of believing that private school lacrosse boys were in their right minds when they didn’t reciprocate my very short-lived infatuation. 

Slate’s comedic ability knows no bounds: she’s graced our screens voicing Missy Foreman-Greenwald in the too-real show Big Mouth and acted in Obvious Child; this fall, she made her stand-up comedy debut in the Netflix special Stage Fright.

Stage Fright is an hour-long intimate stand-up special with Slate recounting family stories, her childhood in Massachusetts, and personal anecdotes—complete with a dance to a Robyn song. However varied the topics of Slate’s comedy bits were, the one dominant theme throughout the show was intimacy. 

Slate walks you through her childhood (both physically and figuratively), complete with tours of her childhood home. Her bedroom is decked out in kitschy rose-flower wallpaper, evoking a nostalgia that feels like coming home from college and unexpectedly finding a shoebox of your childhood memorabilia while cleaning your room. It’s the small moments—like when Slate talks about how she had “27 Leonardo DiCaprio posters right there!” or when she climbs into a small nook in the back of her closet and uses her iPhone flashlight to reveal the names of crushes and mean girls she’d written in colored pencil. 

Later on, Slate explains that she named her special after her lifelong battle with debilitating stage fright. As someone who has suffered from stage fright and a very unsettling fear of public speaking for most of my life, I was awed. 

My own middle school experience was plagued with an all-consuming fear of public speaking that stemmed from a combination of childhood shyness and the casual cruelty of middle schoolers. It didn’t seem to help that almost every week, there was a class presentation to be done. My middle school teachers offered the misguided advice that the only way to beat this “stage fright” was to eloquently speak with zero stutters or pauses. Any sign of nervousness was a weakness. 

My friends joined speech and debate and theater to overcome their own stage fright, but mine stayed with me. I tried adopting a fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality whenever I had to operate in public spaces. I always felt like speaking clearly and eloquently was a telltale sign that someone had conquered stage fright. 

Well, enter Stage Fright—the stand-up special that proves you don’t need to speak eloquently or clearly to have a booming and successful stage presence. Just take Slate’s very exaggerated voice impression of her grandma, repeated throughout the special. Another shining moment revealing Slate’s confidence and silliness is when she recounts the first sex dream she ever had. The premise of the dream is that they “were just in a washing machine, going ‘round and ‘round.’” Slate smiles and sums up the dream as “gorgeous, erotic...creative.”

Her whimsical personality is at the forefront when she tells stories about how her childhood house is probably haunted. Or, the very New England-esque reason why her name is simply “Jenny” and not “Jennifa.”

Slate is both intimate and silly, and it’s this contrast that fascinates me most. When she starts discussing her divorce, she talks about the otherness she feels in certain family scenarios when she realizes she’s the only person in her family that’s been divorced. Slate admits that she hasn’t talked about her divorce much, but she still cracks jokes with a smile on her face. 

Stage Fright was a humorous glimpse into the childhood stories that shaped who Jenny Slate is today—in all her magnificent and inimitable glory. To me, the most compelling part was seeing that conquering stage fright isn’t a linear process. Flawless public speaking skills aren’t an indicator of how successful someone’s performance skills are—just ask Jenny Slate.