Review: Jenny Slate’s Stage Fright

By Morgan Roberts

Netflix boasts its ability to release a number of comedy specials. If you have seen one special, you kind of get the gist of every other special. The material always differs but the presentation is the same. A comic stands alone, on stage, hoping their zingers land and their poignant messages get across. But when Jenny Slate’s “Stage Fright” landed on Netflix in October 2019, it redefined the comedy special.

Slate’s comedy is a certain brand. Watch her in 2014’s “Obvious Child,” and you will understand what you are getting in for. In the film, Slate plays, Donna, an underemployed, struggling comedienne who learns that she is pregnant after a one night stand. The jokes, and delivery, are killer. Slate adds heart to her humor and humor to her heart. The moments read different but all of the same elements are in play.

For her special, Slate enlisted “Obvious Child” and “Landline” (2017) director Gillian Robespierre. Having a history of collaboration just added to the special. Robespierre knows Slate well. You can tell by the way she frames Slate on stage or holds Slate amongst others in different scenes. She allows for Slate to be intimate with the audience on her own terms, but still pulls us in close so we really pay attention.

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The piece itself, as mentioned before, is extremely intimate. On stage, Slate still proves to be a bubbly, delightful self. She will start off a bit with loud, boisterous feels but always leaves us with her perspective and her truth. She jokes about how she looked like Anne Frank as a child, but was super smug and pious about it. Her stories of existing as a person, her excitement of being amongst people draws you in. She is an optimist at heart but still lets the little bits of nihilism sneak in, like with, “Who gives a shit? Death will come for all of us. I’m dressed for it.”

“Slate dives into her comedy and her own story with love, understanding, and compassion. Not just love for all of the people in her life, but for herself. It is not easy being a human woman on Planet Earth, but Slate takes the time to show that there is still magic in it.”

Intercut with her stand-up, are interviews and conversations she has with her family: her parents, her sisters, her grandmothers. They are funny, interesting, and insightful. But, there are really painful moments that Slate does not shy away from. During a conversation with her father, she’s asked if she plans to talk about her divorce in her upcoming stand-up routine. It is not an easy topic, which Slate explores honestly with her family, herself, and an audience of 400 people. With her father, she mentioned how she is finally at a place where she can talk about it. On her own, with Robespierre, she talks about how divorce was an especially painful moment for her due to the long relationships she was surrounded by. Divorce was not an occurrence in her family. And so, this isolated her further.

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This moment knocks you back. Throughout the entire piece, Slate is nothing short of authentic. Yet, it was this moment in particular that makes you take a step back. The care she took to turn one of the most difficult periods of her life and make it into something funny and beautiful and honest is extraordinary. She did not have to take us there, but she did. With all the love she had to offer.

The entire special is just that: love. Slate dives into her comedy and her own story with love, understanding, and compassion. Not just love for all of the people in her life, but for herself. It is not easy being a human woman on Planet Earth, but Slate takes the time to show that there is still magic in it. Even with all the twists, turns, the letdowns, and heartache, there will always be something to make us feel alive. Comedy comes from the heart. Slate gave us hers in the most beautiful way possible.

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